What happens when you stop striving to be a standout? Do you disappear? Do you suddenly become worthless? Or worse, mediocre? What happens if you don’t end up doing anything special?
Because even if you do, someone will always have done more than you. They’ll have made more, created more, accomplished more. They’ll have better families. More beauty. Better trips. And more purpose. Like a stroll through the Met, each room becoming more opulent. More historic. More, More, More. You’ll always be tiny compared to such grandeur.
Here’s the hard truth: you’ll never be the most special. Someone will always do it better.
That’s not disappointment. That’s not failure. Actually, I’d argue, that’s freedom. It’s wild hope for a life with texture.
When you give yourself that reality check, you give yourself the freedom to stop trying to prove yourself and instead to find meaning in whatever you determine to be meaningful. What would happen if the only person that needed to validate your existence was you? What happens if the only person to impress is you? What happens then?
I can tell you what happens. You stop striving to be special at the cost of feeling special. The latter is determined by you. The former is externally sourced and thus dependent on the whims of culture, luck, privilege, and circumstance. You make different choices and you relax into your days like the left cushion of the living room couch. You look at your life from a place of “how do I feel” versus “what have I done.”
Not so long ago, I had the heartbreaking honor to write an obituary for someone incredibly accomplished in their career. And while it’s definitely a part of their legacy as the vessel with which many lives were changed, work took up just a few lines of text. Everything else was about the big love. As I reflected on that reality, reading the final print out from my row at the service, I remembered one of the first exercises in my freshman journalism class was to write an obit. It’s a haunting writing prompt (my mother hated it) but it leaves an inheritance of insight, especially for the then 18-year-old girl who spent most of that morning wondering if her hips looked big (they did, but who the fuck cares).
What if choosing nothing special meant that the obituary written for your life reflected one lived with deep meaning and likely, incredible accomplishments. By pursuing what feels average on the measure of a day, you’re actually pursuing what will one day be great on the measure of a lifetime.
If you sit down to write your magnum opus, frozen by expectation, you’ll probably write nothing at all. But if you sit down to write anything at all – shitty, confusing, hints of helpful – you’ll probably create something great. You might even have your opus. This metaphor could be imposed over quite literally any endeavor: training for a marathon, starting a business, finding love, improving your community, running for office, inventing something new.
There are exceptions to this, sure. Some people do walk out of the womb absolutely gifted, and others develop their standout talent with time. But statistically speaking, most likely you’re not one of them and neither am I. That’s not a hopeless thing, that’s a beautiful thing. It’s like finding the light switch in the hallway closet a year after moving in. It’s there waiting for you to find it. And it will make everything easier when you do.
This idea is all good in well, but means little if you don’t know how to apply it to your movements and to your mindset. Here’s how I’m applying it to mine:
Ask yourself: What makes a day feel special – love? creativity? health? adventure? connection? novelty? ideating?
Then decide: What daily actions can create that feeling – kissing? writing? walking? taking the alternate way home? eye contact and smiling? books? quiet time?
Without question, you’re special because you exist. Stop relegating that decision to others and you’ll start seeing the world with a freshly cleaned lens.