We watched We Bought A Zoo a few days ago, and recently the special features, and it really is a pretty great story. In the fictional movie version, a guy loses his wife, presumably to cancer, and decides to move his family to a property that includes a broken down zoo. Of course he's looking for bigger meaning in life and a sense of purpose.
The thing is, his story is familiar in terms of people who do extraordinary things. It seems like the impetus for these actions is often some catastrophic or otherwise life changing event. It's certainly not a story limited to fiction either. There are plenty of examples in everyday life.
The question is, does it really have to be that way? Does something big, good or bad, have to happen to us in order to do extraordinary things?
I think you first have to figure out what "extraordinary" is. I think as time passes, it's easier to lower the bar. For some, getting through the next day is extraordinary. For others, raising a child who is at minimum not a drag on society is a big deal. For me, I think I believe that you have to positively affect others. I'm not entirely sure if the scale matters. It might.
That issue of motivation is a big one. The easier thing is always to not do hard things. We definitely seem to follow a curve in terms of desire to do those hard things. When we're young and the experience of life hasn't persistently tried to beat us down, we want to change the world. As we close in on 30, issues of comfort, safety and a lower tolerance for risk cause us to get complacent. In our 40's, I think we start to become acutely aware of the passing of time, and may not do things that one would describe as extraordinary, but definitely less safe and comfortable. By the time we cross 50, a lot of our ability is simply rooted in experience. The more practice you have at life, the better you can be at it. As I theorized before, though, a catastrophic event can render that curve meaningless.
I don't think that ego or desire for recognition plays into it much. A little, perhaps, but I don't think it sits high on the scale.
I think we're in a volatile time in our history where we need people to do extraordinary things. It doesn't matter if that means they write a good song or build a house or cure cancer. Our culture is so fatigued with war, hate, suffering and general malaise. It can't take much more. We all choose to be a part of the problem or a part of the solution.