Gold foil illustration of stars


The Fear That You’ve Lived an Ordinary Life

While you’re in it, life seems epic. Fiery, tenuous, and unpredictable. But when you look back over your story, or try to put it down on paper, you can see more of it at once than ever before—and yet it seems somehow diminished. Humble. Almost quaint.

So you begin scanning your life, looking for something interesting or beautiful. You see an ordinary house, on an ordinary street. It looks smaller than you remember. You once had wild dreams and obstacles and risks looming all around you, but now those look smaller, too. You remember giants and goddesses and villains, but now all you see are ordinary people, assembled in their tiny classrooms and workspaces, each moving around in little steps, like tokens on a game board.

No matter how many times you rolled the dice, it was always these little moves, here and there. Do a little work. Take a little rest. Make a little friend. Throw a little party. Feel a little boredom. Have a little rebellion. There are so many of these token moments, that you could have sworn were supposed to represent something else, something bigger. You keep adding them all up, as if there were something you must’ve forgotten to count, some stash of glory that fell off the back of a truck.

You may well adore the life you have for everything it is. You know it isn’t groundbreaking, but you wouldn’t change a thing. Still, you can’t shake the feeling that something is missing.

Maybe the trouble is, you were never really “in it” to begin with. Maybe when you first started building the life you wanted, you put so much thought into what might happen that you started losing sight of what was happening. As if you had known all along that this wasn’t the world you expected. A world so low and common that you tried to keep your distance, so you began floating somewhere above it, where nobody else could look down on this life you built. That is, nobody else but you.

Ancient Greek κοινός (koinós), common, ordinary, stripped of specialness + -φοβία (-phobía), fear. Pronounced “key-noh-foh-bee-uh.”

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