Winners Anonymous: Breaking Our Addiction to the Extraordinary

I have a confession:

I sometimes regret adding the “Dr.” to my web presence. I sometimes cringe when I see it in the URL. Because I think it’s awfully easy to hide behind those two extra letters and a wall full of diplomas. It’s easy to be the expert. It’s easy to be the guy with the answers. It’s easy to let others assume I have it all together.

Psychotherapy is a strange animal: we pay to consult with an expert but, ironically, if the expert pretends to have it all together, it actually interferes with the process of healing. Because hiding behind the “expert” status directly conflicts with some of the fundamental goals of therapy:

To fully embrace our humanity.

To accept we are all messy-beautiful creatures.

And to settle into the peacefulness of this conclusion: we’re all pretty ordinary, and that is blessedly good enough.

Fear of the Ordinary

In her new book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown suggests our refusal to lose is the result of “…the shame-based fear of being ordinary.” She describes it as “the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”

We don’t hate to lose because losers are failures. We hate to lose because losers are ordinary—ordinary humans who make mistakes and advertise their brokenness in a million different ways—and we have allowed “ordinary” and “worthless” to become dangerously intertwined.

I think we’ve become convinced extraordinary is the only acceptable way to be:

Ordinary people with a skill for acting are elevated into celebrities. Young men with a skill for putting a ball through a hoop are marketed into multi-million dollar gods. Entrepreneurs with a skill for innovation are put on magazine covers and a pedestal we call affluence.

It destroys them—celebrities overdose, athletes develop God complexes and go rogue, and innovators work themselves to death—but we ignore the effects of our obsession with the extraordinary. Instead of calling it what it is—a disease—we scrape and claw to participate in the epidemic.

In our kitchens and living rooms, marriages crumble beneath the weight of each spouse’s need to feel more extraordinary than their partner. On playgrounds, our kids compete for the mantle of the Most Extraordinary with basketballs and words and fists. And in the public square we turn politics into religion and religion into politics and we battle to the bitter end, claiming our group is extraordinary and everyone else is a loser.

We run from ordinariness like we would run from a ghost. And, indeed, we are running from a ghost. It’s the ghost of shame whispering in the quiet recesses of our hearts, and the lie on its tongue is this: “To lose is to be ordinary, and to be ordinary is to be nothing.”

“I’m Just a Dude”

Several months ago, I was at a pub with a friend, enjoying a late dinner. The televisions on every wall were advertising the extraordinary in various forms of athletic endeavor.

ESPN like a drug dealer of greatness.

My friend and I talked about our temptation to have eye-catching careers, to be model husbands, to be exalted fathers. We talked about how easy it can be to get lost in the adoration when things are going well, and to get lost in despair when they are not. 

And then he said something that was a game-changer for me. He said, “Kelly, I say to myself, ‘I’m just a dude,’ and I remind myself that is enough.”

I’m just a dude.

And that is enough.

We must uncouple “ordinary” and “inadequate.” We must remember that all of us are human. We have hearts that beat, lungs that breathe, and souls that are hungering for a sense worth. We must feel this in our bones: I’m just as ordinary as everybody else. And we must love ourselves and the people around us, not in spite of it, but because of it. 

Winners Anonymous

Most 12-step programs begin with a confession. In Alcoholics Anonymous, the initial greeting goes something like this: “Hi, my name is So-and-So, and I’m an alcoholic.”

Well, I have a confession: I’m just a dude.

What would you think about starting a new 12-step movement with me? We could call it Winners Anonymous. We’ll confess our addiction to winning. We’ll admit we’re all craving the drug of victory and the euphoric feeling of “extraordinary” that comes with it. We’ll embrace that we are all ordinary losers. And we will resolutely insist that we are ordinary, messy, and beautiful people, all at the same time

I’ll go first:

“Hi, my name is Kelly. And I’m an addict. I fight to win so I don’t have to feel ordinary, because I’ve confused being ordinary with being not good enough. I want to break my addiction to winning. I want to remember ‘I’m just a dude.’ And I want to experience the peace and freedom that come from being ordinary while swimming in grace.”

Want to join a bunch of ordinary, beautiful losers?

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.