Ordinary Greatness

I finished the C.S. Lewis biography last night, and this is what I learned.  

No matter how famous a person may be, their life ends up looking almost exactly like everyone else's. They have good days, they have bad days. They get married, or they don't. They fight with their family, they love their family. The eat breakfast, they drink tea.


I spend a lot of time thinking about how to become an extraordinary human being, and this what has surprised me: being extraordinary turns out to be ... kinda ordinary.


It's not all that flashy.


It mostly has to do with work, family, and friends. Β The extraordinary ones are just more disciplined. There's a section of the biography where the biographer discusses Lewis's working habits. In Lewis's own words, this is how it went during his time as a student:


"Called at 7.30, bath, chapel and breakfast. . . . After breakfast I work (in the library or a lecture-room which are both warm) or attend lectures until 1 o'clock when I bycycle out to Mrs. Moore's. . . . After lunch I work until tea, then work again til dinner. After that a little more work until yea, then work again till dunner. After that a little more work, talk and laziness & sometimes bridge then bycycle back to College at 11. i then light my fire and work or read till 12 o'clock when I retire to sleep the sleep of the just."


And as a teacher:

  • 7.15 a.m. Woken by scout with cup of tea
  • 8.00 a.m. Chapel
  • 8.15 a.m. Breakfast with Dean of Chapel and others
  • 9.00 a.m. Tutorials begin, continuing until 1.00 p.m.
  • 1.00 p.m. Driven home to Headington (Lewis did not drive)
  • Afternoon: working in garden, walking the dog, time with "the family"
  • 4.45 p.m. Driven back to college
  • 5.00 p.m. Tutorials recommence, ending at 7:00 p.m.
  • 7.15 p.m. Dinner


And finally, in the words of his biographer:


"While a Great Bookham, Lewis had fallen into a set routine that continued, with appropriate adaptations to his curcumstances, for the rest of his working life. The morning was set aside for working, the early afternoon was set aside for solitary walking, the last afternoon for more work, and the evening for talking."


There's no pixie dust, no magic. Work that matters comes slowly, over years. Years of afternoons spent at the desk, at the work bench, at the canvas.


It's comforting and wonderful to know that this life, the life of great men and women - it's available to all of us.