100 Days of Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary has changed my life.

I have always tried to appreciate the little things in my seemingly ordinary life. However, I had no idea that a daily practice for 100 days would help me get through the most difficult loss of my life. What began as an art project became a cathartic journey and my saving grace.

When the 100 days began, my mom was relatively healthy. Living with cancer but healthy and happy. She played badminton, sang opera, and danced hip hop with great enthusiasm and energy. By the end, it was her birthday and she was already gone from this earth.

The 100 Day Project

Let’s rewind. You see, it started off as an art project that I joined on a whim last year. At the time, I had a growing desire to tap into my inner artist and follow the footsteps of my mom, who was an artist. I was looking for a creative outlet when fate rang my doorbell.

One day, my kickass friend and former coach Lindsay Jean Thomsonmentioned that she and creative genius elle luna were leading a global art project called #The100DayProject. Basically, you commit to creating for 100 days and share what you’ve created with the world via social media on Instagram.

Anyone could do it. Fun! Expressive! Creative!

So in 2017, for 100 days straight I participated in a global art project.

Why “Find the Extraordinary in the Ordinary?”

Admittedly, when I first heard of the project, I struggled with how to start. What could I stick with for 100 days? Drawing? Photography? There were so many talented artists out there and I felt intimidated. However, the idea came to me when I decided to not take it so literally. What if I interpreted it as a theme instead? A daily practice? An expression?

The light bulb finally came on. I would find something extraordinary each day, share my photo of it, and write about it. By doing this I could create “word art.” And thus #100daysofextraordinaryintheordinary was born.

Here’s how I explained my project on Day 1 of 100:

• Day 1 • “Today marks the beginning of my 100 day project, in which for 100 days straight I will find the extraordinary in the ordinary. This is my life’s motto, so I’m excited to share it with you. Often times, we go hunting for things to make us happy. We buy things. We seek happiness in others. But you know what? The extraordinary can be found in the ordinary. Just look. It is within you and around you.”

Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary is a way to practice gratitude and be present, but in a less touchy feely way. Almost like a game. Like a treasure hunt. Like turning lemons into lemonade! 🙂 It means taking what you are experiencing, and finding something awesome about it.

A lot of us may feel like we just live ordinary lives. We work hard, maybe live modestly. But the secret is we actually all live very extraordinary lives. We just have to pay attention and be grateful for what we have in our daily lives, rather than wish for more money or a bigger apartment or a partner who looks like a movie star.

How I Found the Extraordinary in the Ordinary for 100 Days

At the beginning, it started off lighthearted. Chill. Just a hashtag and some colorful pics on my Instagram.

• Day 14 • “Sitting before a summer of love. ✌🏼❤ My best friend asked me to join her for her 100 days of sun salutations today. We did a bit of yoga in the park in front of this sign at the museum. Life’s pretty extraordinary when you can spend it doing simple things with the friends you love.”

  • Day 16 • “Detour. Sometimes on an ordinary drive you just have to pull over and take a moment to admire the extraordinary view.”

  • Day 35 • “Sweet 🍦🌳. Working from home today meant that I could walk to get gourmet Salt & Straw ice cream during lunch. That’s pretty damn sweet! Ordinary Mondays can still be extraordinary if you make them. Especially with a little honey lavender & lemon custard. 😺”

And then things changed.

  • Day 38 • “Perspective. Today my world was shook up, skewed…going downhill even, as I heard from my brother that my mom’s cancer was worsening. We had planned to go together to China next week, to take my mom to the homeland she hadn’t seen for 30 years. But life has a way of giving you that new look on things, just when you think you’ve adjusted. It keeps you on your toes. But it’s beautiful even in its melancholy brokenness. I find that extraordinary.”

Things start to get heavy here. One day it’s just ice cream and a few days later, that damn “c” word. I’ll never forget how gutted I felt on Day 38. This was when the roller coaster began.

  • Day 41 • “Mom ❤. Spent the afternoon with my mom. After a health scare last week, she is feeling much better. I am more grateful than ever for her existence. Especially since she has blood cancer. Sometimes dark times happen to remind us of the light. To remind us that each day with our loved ones is extraordinary, even though they may seem ordinary. Happy Mother’s Day, to all you beautiful, strong, superhuman moms out there. Thanks for giving us life.”

  • Day 44 • “An ocean from home 🌊. It was my brother’s birthday today and we celebrated with a hike in Hong Kong. Not too long after we arrived in a little Chinese surfing village, we got a call from my mom in the hospital in San Francisco. She is too sick to join us in China but wants us to go see her homeland for her. It’s heartbreaking to not be able to do this pilgrimage with her, but we also must if she wants us to. We are sending our love across the ocean to my mom. At least we are connected through our phones. Modern technology is astounding and we’ve already talked to her about 10 times today. We may be far apart but never in heart. That is extraordinary.”

  • Day 48 • “See you later HK. Spent literally all day crossing into China via public transportation. Sad to say see you later to Hong Kong but excited to explore China. We made it to Changsha today aka my mom’s childhood hometown. Modern transportation takes you places much faster than ever before. We are connecting at an extraordinary pace.”

  • Day 52 • “Reunited with Mom 💚 This is my mom. A miracle happened and my mom made it to China after getting out of the hospital. We are finally reunited in her hometown. It was amazing to hear all her stories from childhood and to meet her friends from that era. She was really determined to make it back here so we could see the motherland with her. When you are very determined, all roads will bring you forward. 💪🏽 Human willpower is extraordinary.

  • Day 54 • “Ancestry. Today we made it to my mom’s ancestral village. The school here in this little Chinese village is named after my mom’s grandfather, who was the headmaster/principal for some time. We went to go visit the graves of my great grandparents and my grandparents in the forest. I kept thinking about how extraordinary it is to pass down heritage and tradition through generations of ancestors and offspring. Ancestry of ordinary people leaving extraordinary legacies for generations to come.”

  • Day 64 • Melancholy for mom 💔 These past few days have been tough. My mom is in the hospital in China with a complication from her cancer that is worsening. I took this photo of her the first day she arrived in Changsha a few weeks ago. We knew the journey would be challenging for her body, but good for her soul. I’ve been so sad but thankfully I went to dinner with a childhood friend who lifted my spirits. Thank goodness for friends, who become more like your family over time. Friends who you choose as family, and who allow you to be just the way you are, sad and all…that’s extraordinary. ❤

  • Day 70 • “Ships passing by. This morning I was supposed to fly to Berlin, where I was planning to live for the summer in my dream apartment on my dream street. However, life, as it always does, changes. Though it was difficult to delay that dream for now, San Francisco is where I need to be right now for my family. So this afternoon, I went on a walk with the sole purpose of enjoying my home city with grateful eyes… Often I travel to seek human connection, but I found it here this evening, right in my backyard. I met up with old friends, and made new friends. By the end of the night I was having conversations about flamingos in Salzburg with an opera singer in a bar. Traveling in your own home city on an ordinary day, what an extraordinary adventure.”

  • Day 74 • “GO, still. She’s going, still. We got my mom back home into the United States, just in the nick of time. We rushed her from the airport straight to the emergency room. My brother had flown to China to retrieve my mom. Had she stayed in the hospital there any longer…I don’t know. Her vitals were fading fast. We looked at the scans she had in China and see that the cancer has spread all over. The clock is ticking, but for now, we have her for a bit longer. She’s in great care in the ICU, with a team of empathetic doctors and nurses doing everything they can to save her. Each extra moment we have with my mom is extraordinary.”

  • Day 77 • “My extraordinary mom forever ❤ Last night my mom crossed the bridge to the other side. With my brother and I next to her, she peacefully let go of this life to join my dad. My mom was an extraordinary woman who lived more fully, even with cancer, than most others. She sang opera, danced hip hop, traveled the world, created beautiful art, and marched to the beat of her own drum. She lived exactly on her terms. We savored our moments together in these last few years. Our trip to China together was important and probably gave her soul some peace to reconcile the present with the past. We had hoped to have more future days together. We believed that we still had longer with her but she went quickly and unexpectedly in the night. One can never be ready for the loss of a parent, at any age or time, but we’ve had the privilege of exchanging heartfelt last words and “I love you’s” in multiple conversations.Today I wake up to a new life without my mom on earth, but with her in my heart and within me in mind, body, and spirit. My brother tells me that I’m exactly like mom. I take that as a compliment and I will proudly carry her with me forever. She will live on in me, and I will live on for her. I feel everything right now. I am not numb. The best way for me to honor her life is to feel everything, alive. The world is not gray right now. I see it all in full extraordinary color, just as she did. Mommy, I thank you. I love you. I miss you. I promise to keep you alive in me always. ❤”

My heart was so broken. Day 77. It was here that people would’ve expected me to stop. When I lost my mom I thought that I couldn’t go on…but I had to. I wanted to. I needed to carry the spirit of my mom on.

So I did.

  • Day 78 • “A new dusk, a new dawn. It’s the first day of my life without my mom. My heart hurts. I went to the ocean to wash the sorrow away with the waves. I’m grateful for the huge outpouring of support and love from all my friends. Though the sun sets, it arises again each new day. That is extraordinary." 

• Day 82 • “A life of wonder and adventure. We’ve been combing through hundreds of photos for my mom’s funeral service. She lived a life of wonder and adventure, and taught us to do the same. In this throwback photo, we are her little explorers in Grand Canyon. I remember that we rode a bus there and she later recounted how well-behaved and curious we were, even as kids…even when the bus broke down and we were on the side of the road for hours. Though we grew up poor, we grew up rich in experience. My mom made sure that we’d appreciate every drop of life by seeing the world’s beauty. She took us by the hand to show us a world of extraordinary adventure. 🌎 I will carry on our extraordinary adventure with her in me always.”

  • Day 84 • “Friendships 💐 In my darkest hours, my friends shined light. ✨ I have been blown away by the level of support that my friends have offered. Food deliveries, flower deliveries, a whirlwind of messages, endless phone calls, intimate personal visits, and even a fabulous invite to a Hollywood red carpet premiere! And also the countless comments and words left by you guys on my social media posts. Writing and sharing about my mom has been cathartic. I hope that it’s brought you some feelings, inspiration or wisdom. Thank you to all of my extraordinary friends for all the love and support. Your friendship is extraordinary.”

  • Day 89 • “Art intersects. Spent a day bathing my soul in art. Found the perfect art gallery to rent to showcase my mom’s art in a posthumous exhibition. Also hopped around to different galleries and museums, including SF MOMA. There’s something so soothing about getting lost in art. Art is an extraordinary expression of emotion.”

And finally…

Day 100 • “White wave 🌊. My name is Jennifer, and it means ‘white wave’. I follow the tide and hug shores. My ocean is deep. Today I feel a sense of great achievement, as I’ve finally completed the 100 day project! For 100 days straight, I chose to ‘find the extraordinary in the ordinary’ (my life’s motto.) I started this creative project as a way of practicing gratitude for being alive. At the beginning, I just knew that my inner artist wanted to come out through my photography and word art. But beyond that, I didn’t know what to expect. I had no idea that my life was going to change forever in such a transformative way. In the past 100 days, I’ve been to 4 countries and 1 funeral- that of my mom. 💔

Losing my mom has changed me forever. But it’s been so cathartic and humbling to share this journey so honestly with you all. Through my return to writing, and through sharing these emotions so vulnerably in public, I’ve been able to slowly but surely process everything that’s happened in the past 100 days.

100 days ago, I had a mom who was happy, healthy, and alive. Now I have a mom who is no longer on this earth, but who lives on in me. She was an amazing artist, and I will carry her gifts on through expressing this driving creative force deep within me. I am proud to call myself an artist. I hope that I’ve inspired you to share your art or story too, and to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. Thank you for allowing me to bare my soul to you. You are extraordinary. We all are."

Thank you for following along on this journey. If you’d like to see more posts from my journey, please see it on Instagram here: #100daysofextraordinaryintheordinary.

You can also follow me on IG@ jennmchoi. For this year’s project, I will be learning #100daysgermanwords and chronicling my adventures as an American expat living in Berlin.

Also, I highly encourage anyone thinking about it to participate in #The100DayProject. (It may change your life too!)

Cheers to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, and the artist within each of us!

Originally published on Medium here.