How ordinary people achieve the extraordinary

We are all ordinary. Every single one of us is an ordinary person who has a set of talents, opportunities, challenges and experiences to work with. Whether we turbocharge those into greatness or lie on the couch is usually entirely up to us. But to start with, we are all ordinary to the core.

When I use the word ‘ordinary’, I mean normal, human, grounded, real. I don’t mean average, mediocre or dull.

Remembering how ordinary we all are is humbling and encouraging at the same time. It keeps your feet firmly on the ground when you remember you’re just as ordinary as all the other humans on this Earth – and it’s enormously motivating to think you’re as ordinary as people who’ve had an enormous impact. You are just as ordinary as Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey, and Bill and Melinda Gates. We’re just as ordinary and human as each other. How cool is that?

The spectacular point of difference that some of us benefit from is the simple location of our birth. To be born in Australia, Canada, Japan or the Netherlands offers a very different set of opportunities compared with being born in Madagascar, Bolivia or Iran. Basic human rights, healthcare and education on offer in rich countries give their residents a leg-up I have never taken for granted.

I have always thought that healthcare is the number-one priority for humanity because you can’t educate a person if they’re dead. But I was wrong: we are all screwed without a healthy planet. There is some extraordinary work to be done.

On a sunny Saturday in June 2019, I gave a speech to a room full of volunteers, united in the fight against poverty, for Results Australia, a grassroots advocacy organisation. Like the miracle worker I am, a speech on how ordinary people achieve the extraordinary was delivered in under 40 minutes. If you hanker for a deeper dive, there’s a whole chapter called Ordinary in my memoir, Get the Girls Out (HarperCollins 2019).

Here are the top four ways that ordinary people achieve the extraordinary. Let’s go!

  1. Publicity

As one of my heroes, Greg Bloomfield taught me, the only difference between ordinary people and extraordinary people is publicity. That simple. Everyone has extraordinary potential and so many people are doing amazing things, we just don’t hear about it. You’re probably already being extraordinary, you just haven’t had your gob on the cover of the Good Weekend yet.

Don’t be shy to seek out the media; it’s how you gain traction, a following and momentum behind you. So keep up the good work and pitch your schizz to a journo sooner rather than later. If you have no idea how to pitch to the media, go to one of the Meet the Media events run by Media Stable. It’s like speed dating with the media and a fast, furious upskill on how.

  1. Momentum

You can’t pull off the extraordinary all on your own – you will die of exhaustion. Furthermore, humans don’t thrive in isolation, so build momentum behind you with a team of supporters, employees, a cheer squad, loyal fans: whatever army you need to create momentum. Make it fun and they will never leave you.

The best armies are diverse. If you look around and everyone on your team, in your network or cheer squad looks just like you, this means your supporters and advisors, and therefore your informed outlook will lack diversity of perspectives. Leonardo da Vinci was very keen on diversity and cross-industry learning in the 1500s so this is not a new idea. Intergenerational collaboration is so successful because as humans age the brain cells for risk-taking decline. So you need young risk takers and older risk assessors on your team. I have the funniest story to tell which illustrates diversity in teams but you’ll have to book me to speak to hear it.

Look for diversity in age, ethnicity, religion, ability, politics and sexual orientation. Gender balance is a no brainer. Including women is not diversity, as women are 51% of the population, lads! With a broad, diverse team behind you, whatever extraordinary work you are up to will gain momentum. You will reach people you never thought possible all because you were simply inclusive.

  1. Courage

Courage is like a muscle. Practice and it won’t be so hard to call on when you need it. I call it “pushing your nerve” when you are practicing the art of bravery, pushing your sorry ass out of your comfort zone to the other side of fear. In the past, I have hated making phone calls. I felt like my voice was being auditioned and I had to think too fast on my toes, so for years I avoided calls. Eventually, I pushed myself to make phone calls every single day. This made me much better at thinking on my feet and has improved my voice. Now I walk onto stages and speak to thousands of people and it doesn’t phase me at all.

I often wind up doing courageous things just because I don’t want to look dumb by admitting it scares me. There is nothing wrong with that, if it gives you the nudge to achieve something that was being held back.

  1. Charm

Charm will take you far. By charm, I mean good manners, flexibility, friendliness and calm. So much more is achieved and people are much more accommodating when you treat them with charm. I can’t think of a situation where panicking or losing your charm helps a situation. This doesn’t mean that you have to kiss ass, it is simply that people respond better to being treated well. Be consistent with your charm. I am backstage a lot of snazzy events and have done some live TV. Nerves are on edge and there is no room for screw ups but the true professionals always keep their charm no matter how under the pump they are.

Want politicians to help you? Say thank you when they do a good job. Want journos to remember you? Retweet their articles with positive commentary. Want other extraordinary people on your momentum train? Give them kudos for their achievements. It’s all part of being charming.

May you go forth and be extraordinary.

This blog was co-authored by Grace McKay and Lucy Bloom.

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