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Can the ordinary achieve the extraordinary?

I have heard many a times, geniuses doing things no other man or woman could match at their time. Their caliber and determination. I am certain that all of you have heard similar stories. Well today was certainly not a good day for me, as i was hit hard by reality. I am by nature, ignorant and like to think too much of myself, no matter what consequences be. I recently gave a competitive exam, and well it didn't turn out well as i was 500th of the 4000 people who gave the test. People have their highs and lows, however the question i intend to ask here is, can an ordinary person like, me, do something greater than simply living in melancholy and perish? Is a life full of discoveries are reserved for the extraordinary and the ridiculously hard workers?

Is there a way to be extraordinary and do you know some ordinary people who have achieved extra ordinary feats?

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    Oct 12 2013: The ordinary achieve the extraordinary on a very regular basis.

    What constitutes 'ordinary' and 'extraordinary' is so variable from person to person and from culture to culture, that the things that seem ordinary to you, might actually be extraordinary to others.

    The way we measure intelligence and capability is highly suspect, and judging yourself (and the rest of your life) so harshly on an exam result I'll wager has little to do with your own capabilities and intelligence, but rather illustrates a huge flaw in our education systems. Exams measure memory ONLY. They therefore measure what we think, rather than how we think - and in a ridiculously short space of time. They do not account for the multi-faceted nature of intelligence, nor can they measure where someone's natural aptitude lies.

    I'll have another wager: I'm willing to bet that you do have an extraordinary, innate talent that hasn't been discovered yet. The fact that it hasn't been discovered is not your fault, but rather the fault of the system that is supposed to efficiently facilitate that personal discovery.

    The life full of discoveries is yours for the taking. You just need to "know thyself" first - that's where the real work is, and the clearer path to the extraordinary.
    • Oct 12 2013: Excellent words, and i suppose you speak with experience. I as a kid with none, have tried a billion different things, to name some; guitar, basketball, swimming, table tennis, singing, physics, math, debating, programming and writing.
      I love all of these things. I can do any of the things i listed above all day with absolutely no hesitation. However, as i have already assumed you speak with experience, how would you discover where your true passion and aptitude lies? I have tried, and i have found that i am very good at all of the things i have claimed to do above, yet i cannot find a clear path to follow. As an Indian, i am expected to do engineering to have a secure future, like a million other youths. Which i don't mind much, because i love physics and mathematics, and i think i can handle chemistry for the next 3 years.

      Nevertheless, i always find something missing. Its like a part of me is just not open to the world. When i do anything, anytime, it feels like a small part of my mind is closed, as if i cannot utilize my true mental abilities. It is very annoying, because for that very reason, i am never at my best. I always find within myself, something kept safely inside a box, something vulnerable. I am not sure if it is actually my mind which is closed, or if its simply the 'individuality' which we experience, the reason i can differentiate between the laptop i am typing on and me. Yet, i feel that once i can, 'open' this box, i would be better off, both mentally and physically. This close mindedness has become really bothersome and whenever i do anything, i always curse my brain for feeling so lonely and closed, making me furthermore inefficient.

      Do you feel the same and is this normal, or its just a wrong mindset i have adapted? :/
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        Oct 13 2013: Yes, what I said is loosely based on experience. It took me a long time to find out that how I see the world is very different to how I was expected to see the world, and those expectations from my parents and my education were more powerful than anything I could possibly contemplate intrinsically. Those expectations were for me to enter the sciences, but my natural leanings were (and still are) in the arts.

        I did not recognise early enough, the power of what came naturally to me, which I now know with some certainty, positively affects my competence, happiness and self-esteem.

        Finding the thing that is missing - the part of you not open to the world - is not easy in an environment where expectations of you to be a particular type of person, and to study what everybody else is studying, is perhaps too strong...? I get the impression you are better than that, not least because you are recognising that something is missing at this early stage in your life - an important first step towards a 'self-actualised'** future.


        I think it's important now for you to find out in more detail what that "close mindedness" is about, because it could be part of the same thing - ie it could also be concealing what it is that is missing in your life.

        How to do this? There are no set rules, but my feeling is that taking time out to think introspectively, positively and constructively in a supportive environment, could help you open the box to find that thing that is missing. That might mean taking a year out from studying and the pressure of expectation, which I expect may be difficult for you.

        I do feel the same, and yes, I think it is entirely normal. In my view, a "wrong mindset" is one that conforms blindly to external demands, without consulting the "inner voice"
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    Oct 13 2013: Hell YES!
    Allan has written very eloquently in answer to your question, so I won't be repeating the sound advice he has already given you, the only things I would like to add/ suggest from my own experiences is:
    1. Having a little more faith in yourself.
    2. Stop comparing yourself to others - we are all unique!!!
    3. Do not be afraid!!!! Fear is the straight-jacket that limits us in all our endeavours.

    Finally in my experience, life should be lived as an adventure - it never really turns our how we would like or how we would expect - so work hard, try your best, let your spirit be your guide.
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    Simon K

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    Oct 9 2013: Every person is extraordinary since there are no same people in the world, and each of us has our own characteristics, but the social trend makes many of people considered as ordinary. There are no ordinary ones, I think.
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      Oct 12 2013: I agree Simon....every person is extraordinary.....we are all different....each have our own characteristics, skills and talents. Unfortunately, sometimes the trend is to judge ourselves and compare ourselves to others, putting ourselves and others in categories like "ordinary" or "extraordinary".

      You write..." I recently gave a competitive exam, and well it didn't turn out well as i was 500th of the 4000 people who gave the test. People have their highs and lows..."

      You were 500th of 4000 participants? So, you were in the top 500! You are absolutely right my friend....people have highs and lows. Try not to be too judgmental with yourself because of one test?

      Pay attention to your own insightful words Rafi...
      "I don't see anything as good or bad, i accept every act in its entirety and with no bias..."

      Welcome to TED conversations Rafi:>)
  • Oct 7 2013: Do not think of yourself as ordinary. There are many forms of intelligence.

    Check these out:

    Do not let a test define your life!

    So the question becomes, do you have the right combination of intelligences and knowledge to solve problems in a way that may occur to no other person?

    Be observant, objective, try new things, work hard and look for new ways to solve old problems.

    That is the incubator for the extraordinary.
  • Oct 7 2013: Ordinary become extra-ordinary when people do the extra things which ordinary people dont do. People have to the mindset of doing anything. Anything in this world is possible. There has always been a tree inside a seed. But, the seed has to be sown, to be given water etc. The problem with ordinary people is that they sow a seed today expect a tree tomorrow. Perseverance is the key to achieving greatest things in this world.

    People have to have confidence in themselves. Else, moon would ve been still distant far!
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    Oct 6 2013: There are no extraordinary people, only ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary deeds.
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    Lejan .

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    Oct 6 2013: So basically you are looking for a shortcut, or did I understand you wrong?

    The achievement of the extraordinary is a combination of variables, of which not all can be intentionally manipulated.

    The world will never know how many extraordinary people never got the chance to realize their potential, but I assume there have been, there are and will be thousands of them.
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    Oct 12 2013: Rafi... I believe in power of absolute faith in God Almighty. Furthermore, total truthfulness was that ingredient that makes a human being achieve the extraordinary! When young, I was always fascinated by God Almighty. Not knowing what God Almighty meant, I started travelling path of absolute truthfulness as prompted from within.

    No matter how much I searched, I could not get a preceptor to guide me in the spiritual journey of life! Most people prayed to or worshipped God. I wanted to go beyond that. I wanted to reach God in this very life. All my life I have never been to temples, churches or mosques. I believed that God Almighty existed within me in miniscule form as my soul atman, the spirit within! If I were to reach God in this life, I had to look within, not outside of body!

    I read everything relating to Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Maharishi Ramana, the two spiritual stalwarts who reached God in their lifetime! 25 years of yoga meditation, I finally landed in laps of God Almighty in wee hours of third of August 1993 at 37 years of age. This is my last manifestation on mother earth... 8.4 millionth manifestation, last in cosmic life cycle!

    I never wanted to become a person with higher status. I just wanted to serve the community and for this I followed dictates of Mahavira (24th Tirthankara of Jainism, preceptor). Mahavira rightly said, do not preach anything unless you become a Mahavira, an enlightened one! I am presently engaged in writing commentary on Bhagavad Gita, the foremost of all sacred scriptures existing on mother earth. The moment this commentary becomes available to masses... purpose of my life would have been served!

    When I look back... I recall grace of God Almighty. A lad from village writing commentary on Bhagavad Gita that reaches masses was something unthinkable. Truly, anything is possible in this world! If we have the will, a fixed goal in life... we can always find the way! More on BhagavadGita -
    • Oct 12 2013: I am much impressed by your strong beliefs and ideas, i bet you are a man of a strong foundation and perfect ideals, however, when i venture into the unknown, i.e. to me, god... Rationality is something which i find lacking. In every great legend, from Mahabharata to Ramayana, i find meaningful lessons, a reminder of truth, nevertheless i fail to believe in the existence of god, as everything seems to be irrational if his presence is proven.

      I don't see anything as good or bad, i accept every act in its entirety and with no bias, a deed good or bad is the same to me, with different intentions at heart, and i don't think that IF there is a god, he would care about good and bad either, for he would be the creator of both the sides, and they are but 2 sides of the same coin.

      However, i have always been fascinated by people with different approaches of life, most even by people who believe in god and accept it as a fact, so i'd like to ask you, How do you maintain your belief against all the recent developments in science and technology, and how does it affect your life? I can't think like many people can because i tend to reach extreme levels of stubbornness, and even though there is no solid scientific proof against god in any form, i find religious beliefs of a heaven and hell simply senseless, but i mean no offense. I might be able to accept the fact that there is a god, however when religious beliefs and things like bible come into play, i find it highly unrealistic.

      I find religion a way to keep humanity under its own boundaries, which to some extent is a wonderful thing, because without a guiding light, humanity can go haywire. However when i look at its rationality and the possibilities, i find it exceedingly unverified and biased way to look at things...

      I would really appreciate if you could provide me some insight from your point of view, how you look at things and why you choose to do so...

      Thank you for your time and patience :D
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        Oct 12 2013: For knowing everything related to God Almighty, absolute faith in God was necessitated... something that was missing from lives of most! The most human beings tried were pray to God or worship God. People feared travelling spiritual path to reach God... lest they lose family life! Everything in domain of God Almighty only became clear when we reached stage of enlightenment (kaivalya jnana)... never before. At that level rationality of the physical manifest world carried no meaning.

        All my life since six years of age I have always trusted God... no matter what! In my spiritual travail, I do not remember how many times I had to eat hell for breakfast, how many contemplations of suicide! Yet, my faith in God Almighty never dwindled. My goal of life was absolute... reach God in this very life as we do not know what form our soul atman manifests in next manifestation. I had to see and meet God in this very life... no matter what!

        Spirituality starts from the point where science ends. For example... it is only a few decades past when most scientists world over agreed that the present cosmos started with a big bang. Everything related to big bang theory, evolution of life in cosmos is explicitly detailed in Bhagavad Gita of Hinduism. Everything from stage of big bang to dissolution of cosmos (Pralaya in Hinduism) is clear in Bhagavad Gita like ABCD. Even concept of heaven and hell is made explicitly clear in scriptures of Hinduism. More on concept of heaven -

        For reaching God, I did not follow path of religion. All my life I believed in spirituality that directly led to God Almighty! Understanding difference between religion and spirituality is of utmost importance to realize God in present life. Initially when I started in search of God... I had no inkling about religion or spirituality. More on religion and spirituality -
        • Oct 12 2013: It is not really heaven, hell and spirituality i am concerned about, but i really respect the words. It is indeed necessary to realize that religion and spirituality are two worlds apart. However, I believe science never ends, it is a dynamic, ever evolving process of realization and discoveries. If i remember correctly, the Greeks once believed that a solar eclipse was a sign of bad deeds and evil, while the occasional halley's comet was a sign of destruction for some cultures...

          To be very honest, i don't believe in spirituality and individuality at all, i perceive things as they scientifically are; atoms. But this does not mean spirituality is irrational. It is only me who isn't capable of rationalizing spirits and the supernatural. But i would still strongly object your statement that spirituality begins where science ends, because to me, science never ends. It goes as far and wide as the universe itself, simply waiting to expose its true beauty.

          On another note, it isn't belief which drives discovery, as you tell me that i need to have absolute faith in god. It is but curiosity which drives discovery, and the drive to know. I don't believe that spirituality can be explained by any sciences at our disposal, so i do not agree.
          However, you seem to be more knowledgeable about these things and so i ask you, how do you explain spirituality and individuality, as you referred to souls and other things of such sort, and to you, is enlightenment simply the acceptance of a greater power, a simple call for forgiveness and blessings? Or is it a plea for reality, and the truth of life, right and wrong? Is it simply acceptance of subjugation, or is it realization?
  • Oct 7 2013: Agree with Edward but would add that many are driven by extraordinary circumstance.
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    Oct 6 2013: the best work we can do ever it's the best passion that we have ever in this world ,find your gift ,your gift will turn into your happiness and for to meet yourself again...good luck
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    Oct 6 2013: Do you think who are considered to have done something "extraordinary" were such since their birth ?
    Is it so that life of "extraordinary" people is full of extraordinary things/deeds.......?
  • Oct 6 2013: Many people have the misconception of the "extraordinary" achievers as if they are born with the capability endowed with it, and the rest of us can't or weren't born with it. furthermore, often the extraordinary achiever wasn't even recognized as such until he succeeded to reach this status. And BEFORE SUCH EVENT, EVERYBODY THOUGHT THAT HE WAS JUST AS ORDINARY AS EVERYBODY ELSE. You can easily find many examples like that throughout the history. In other words, you as the top 12.5%-tile rank in this test, is not an uncommon candidate to become an extraordinary achiever later on by the historical standard. I am not trying to pamper your self-confidence, but my assessment isn't too wild in the historical standard either.
    The opportunity to be extraordinary depends not only on your ability or talent, but also on the occasion of having a good adviser, colleague, or just the right circumstances, and your own enthusiasm and grit. In summary, the predictive judgment never worked out very well, so that many extraordinaries often started as ordinaries, or vice versa. (i. e., many prodigal young children never grow up to be great achievers)
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    Oct 6 2013: Yes, you can. Many people are extraordinary for their courage and kindness and grit in helping people regardless of their ingenital DNA.
  • Oct 5 2013: The vast majority of extraordinary things are a collaboration of large numbers of ordinary people working in unison.

    While you do have your occasional lone genius, they are the exception, not the rule. They're actually getting rarer and rarer as time goes by, as our definitions of extraordinary are stretched ever further. Teams can always be made larger and more encompassing; a genius, no matter how clever, is still only one man (or woman), and is severely limited in scope by it.
    Ideally, you want your geniuses as parts of those teams, which in a way, demotes them to simply the most central cog in the machine. Important, but typically not indispensable. Most extraordinary things nowadays have grown so complex, there is no other way to do it.

    By the way, don't take those types of tests too seriously. No one has any real clue how to properly test for genius, or even intelligence. The current tests all point in the right general direction, but are hardly accurate, and also fail to take into account things like how you work with other people, or the drive to accomplish.
    Or just plain old connections, or even dumb luck, both of which can have a bigger impact on your success than anything else, and yet require no extraordinary ability.
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    Oct 5 2013: Everyone is able to do valuable things. Check out the talk by Drew Dudley.