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What does it mean to be ordinary? A conversation with the Kentucky author of 'An Ordinary Age'

Harper Perennial

How do outside pressures like starting a family, going to college, getting that dream job, or buying a house impact young adulthood?

Navigating the world while trying to meet exceptional societal expectations can leave people feeling lonely, inadequate, and guilty. It’s an issue Owensboro, Kentucky, native, Rainesford Stauffer explains in her book, An Ordinary Age: Finding Your Way in a World That Expects Exceptional.

Through a series of reported essays with young adults and her own thoughts as she reflects on her personal experiences, Stauffer reminds people that Millennials and younger generations are more than avocado toast, lattes, and allegedly lazy work ethics.

“It (the book) talks to young adults about different pressure points in their own lives,” Stauffer explains. “Things like pressure to have a dream job, or to make college the best four years of your life, as if everyone goes to college. And also, things like loneliness and friendship and figuring out how to tune out the noise of perfectionism and accept yourself as enough as is.”

Hear the radio version of the conversation with Rainesford Stauffer

Stauffer provides a sense of community through her book the reminds young adults that they aren’t alone in their journey of young adulthood and that being ordinary is extraordinary.

“When I imagine ordinary, I imagine a sense of being enough. Of feeling like enough. Of feeling full. Of being able to look around at the different parts of your life and the people in your life and know that everything is there for a reason and it’s choices that you’ve made that matter because you made them.”

Stauffer spoke with WKU Public Radio about her book and touched on an array of topics including work/ life balance, the importance of identity, perfectionism, and how to find a sense of home.

She talks about her favorite chapters of her work and breaks down how it felt writing a book about the pressures of young adulthood while, at the same time, grappling with those exact feelings herself.

“There’s something to be said about writing and reporting about it when you’re sitting in the messiness of it,” she says. “I think that personally it took so many things that I felt were broken about me, or wrong with me and really showcase that no--we are not in it alone as we are navigating all of this. Our circumstances and barriers are different, but so many of these feelings are the same.”

Throughout the conversation, Stauffer lays out her hopes for young people to break free of societal norms and reject the social script.

She answers the most pressing question at the end of the conversation: what does it mean to be ordinary?

“Enoughness and worth don’t come after you perfected yourself first. Who you are right now, your most ordinary self, is someone worth being and a life worth living,” she says.

Click the listen button at the top of this article to listen to the full conversation with Rainesford Stauffer, Owensboro native and author of An Ordinary Age: Finding Your Way in a World That Expects Exceptional.

Former student intern Alana Watson rejoined WKU Public Radio in August 2020 as the Ohio Valley ReSource economics reporter. She transitioned to the station's All Things Considered Host in July of 2020. Watson is a 2017 graduate of Western Kentucky University and has a B.A. in Broadcasting Journalism. She also has her M.A in Communications from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN. Watson is a Nashville native and has interned at WPLN-FM in Nashville. In 2019, she won a Tennessee AP Broadcaster & Editors Award for her sports feature on Belmont University's smallest point guard. While at WKU Public Radio she won Best College Radio Reporter in 2016 from the Kentucky Ap Broadcasters Association for her work on post-apartheid South Africa. Watson was previously at Wisconsin Public Radio as thier 2nd Century Fellow where she did general assignment and feature reporting in Milwaukee.