Are you original or ordinary?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.


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Which is better, being ordinary or being original?

Careful – think about this before you answer. We sometimes tell our kids to be original without thinking about the cost. We adults sometimes forgo being original without thinking about the benefits.

Ordinary people do what is expected.

There is a lot of safety and security in being ordinary. You don’t have to risk criticism as much as original people. You don’t get singled out for punishment. You don’t get much attention. But attention can be a problem if it brings with it negativity and derision. Who wants to be different if that difference is going to be punished?

Ordinary people get left alone but they also don’t get many rewards.

Being ordinary has some survival benefits. People or animals that are too different from others in the herd get driven out. In some cultures, the mentally ill are sent into the jungle to live alone. Better they get eaten that the productive people the reasoning goes.

In those sorts of situations being too original has its punishment.

Some people would prefer to be ordinary. They are willing to forgo the attention and the rewards which accrue from originality in order to avoid the criticism that comes with being unique.

Ordinary people can be counted on to do what is expected, no more and no less. This also means that they attend the preferred religious and political gatherings, think the correct things and largely do no one any harm. They also are slow to change when the circumstances shift.

Society needs conformity. Ordinary people conform. Even original people need to be original in the prescribed manner.

Original people do something different.

Originality, unfortunately, is also connected to making mistakes. The more original you are the greater the risk that you will do something, new, something unique, and it will be a total unequivocal failure.

Highly productive people do a lot of new original things; they also make some mistakes which can at times be highly visible. Even when original people do not fail, others will resist the changes the original person is causing. The establishment does not like change. Not unless it is change they created, change they can control and change that benefits them.

Not everyone likes originality. We tend to like the familiar, the routine and the expected. Even our excitement needs to fall within prescribed limits.

Edison is reported as saying he tried thousands of ways to make a light bulb before he found one that worked. The result could have been viewed as a man who made a record number of failures.

He reframed this as having found out thousands of things that would not work. By persistently trying things he eventually succeeded. He succeeded because he kept trying. Another person might have given up after a few dozen failures and worked on something else that had a better chance of success.

A less original person would have given up a long time before that success occurred.

On the job front, originality is not always valued.

Most companies want to keep their originality confined to a couple of departments. If you work in engineering or advertising departments then originality, up to a point, may be valued. Be careful about being too original if you work in a shipping department.

Highly original people tend to migrate to occupations and to places that encourage originality. Universities and colleges can afford to foster some level of originality because they incubate the original people for the next generation.

Countries that encourage originality find the highly innovative people migrate there. They also get stuck with a lot of dissidents who want to change the very things that brought them there.

In the arena of originality versus ordinary, you have to take the bad with the good. I for one would prefer to be more original but not everyone in my life sees it that way.

Which works best in your life, originality or being ordinary?

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Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at

2 thoughts on “Are you original or ordinary?

  1. Pingback: Taking stock of yourself. Posts about self-discovery | counselorssoapbox

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