I’m Not Special and It’s Okay

Comments 37

one million people

I’m going to die and no one will care.

I don’t mean “no one,” like zero people. Maybe someone will cry or write a nice note on an online memorial. I mean “no one,” like hardly anyone.

I’m not whining. It will probably happen to you, too.

Sometimes I hear about someone dying—someone famous. So famous that the death gets reported on primetime news, or becomes a trending story online. And even though they’re so famous that that happens, AND I’m a pretty informed guy, I still often won’t know who the dead celebrity was. Maybe they were an older actor or musician. Maybe they were successful business people or a famous Olympian.

I don’t always know.

They lived and made so much noise that their deaths were national or global headlines. And yet the news doesn’t faze many of us because the loss doesn’t register in our daily lives.

The World Doesn’t Revolve Around You (or Me)

It kind of blows your mind when you first realize this.

I had always heard how “special” I was, and that I was destined for big things.

The doctors told my parents I was probably going to die when I was born, and so when I didn’t, everyone said: “It’s a miracle! God kept you alive for a reason! You’re here to do something special!”

I heard that a lot, and because I didn’t think my family lied, I believed it.

But then you wake up one day divorced with a disappointing bank account and an untidy home. My family is a bunch of dirty liars.

“A lot of people are afraid to accept mediocrity because they believe that if they accept being mediocre, then they’ll never achieve anything, never improve, and that their life doesn’t matter,” Mark Manson, one of my favorite writers, wrote in his most-recent post In Defense of Being Average. “I find this sort of thinking to be dangerous. Once you accept the premise that a life is only worthwhile if it is truly notable and great, then you basically accept the fact that most of the human population sucks and is worthless. And ethically speaking, that is a really dark place to put yourself.”

I always wanted everything bigger, better and faster. More money. Bigger houses. Cooler “stuff.”

Maybe I wanted it because there wasn’t much money floating around when I was growing up. Maybe I wanted it because I felt entitled since psychologically, I’d always bought the I’m gonna be special! notion.

I think my sense of entitlement was a major factor in my divorce.

My mom was better than some (in terms of teaching me about personal responsibility), but the truth is, I didn’t have a lot of chores growing up. If my school work was complete, I could mostly do what I wanted.

Then, when I became an “adult,” and wasn’t working, I wanted to be playing.

Sometimes my wife would get upset with me because I’d scoff at housecleaning on a Saturday morning when there was fun to be had.

Maybe that happens to a lot of couples. Maybe some moms spend so much time serving dad and babying sons that some boys grow up never understanding what personal responsibility looks like.

Maybe a lot of women are married to guys like that.

After my wife left and I started seeing my son only half the time, I completely freaked out. Maybe it was grief. Or sadness and anger and feelings of rejection. Maybe it was shame or guilt.

I just know I woke up every day feeling so horrible that dying didn’t scare me anymore.

When something scares you and gives you anxiety, and you can’t escape it because it comes with you wherever you are, and always greets you first thing in the morning, it fundamentally changes who you are on the inside.

I think sometimes people feel that feeling for the first time when they’re younger because they lost a loved one unexpectedly, or because of some other unfair trauma.

I somehow got to 33 before learning the most-important lesson I have ever learned: There’s no such thing as happiness when everything hurts on the inside.

Meaning, all these stupid things I thought mattered like money and toys and houses? A billion dollars and a yacht couldn’t have saved me from despair.

It was my wake-up call. None of this shit matters.

Imagine yourself at the end of your life. What sort of legacy will you leave? Describe the lasting effect you want to have on the world, after you’re gone.

I couldn’t think of anything to write. So I was grateful to WordPress editor Krista for posting this prompt today.

What do I want my legacy to be?

The truth is, in 100 years, no one will remember me. No one’s going to care.

There’s something unsettling about that. But maybe liberating, too.

I like to imagine myself peacefully drifting off in my old age looking out a window at something serene outside my home. And maybe that will happen.

But I could just as easily die in some dreary hospital room.

Or in my car.

Or five seconds from now if my heart stops beating.

Manson continues: “The people who become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they are obsessed with improvement. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. That they are mediocre. That they are average. And that they can be so much better.

“This is the great irony about ambition. If you wish to be smarter and more successful than everybody else, you will always feel like a failure. If you wish to be the most loved and most popular, then you will always feel alone. If you wish to be the most powerful and admired, then you will always feel weak and impotent.

“All of this ‘every person can be extraordinary and achieve greatness’ stuff is basically just jerking off your ego. It’s shit sold to you to make you feel good for a few minutes and to get you through the week without hanging yourself in your cubicle. It’s a message that tastes good going down, but in reality, is nothing more than empty calories that make you emotionally fat and bloated, the proverbial Big Mac for your heart and your brain.

“The ticket to emotional health, like physical health, comes from eating your veggies — that is, through accepting the bland and mundane truths of life: a light salad of ‘you’re actually pretty average in the grand scheme of things’ and some steamed broccoli of ‘the vast majority of your life will be mediocre.’ This will taste bad at first. Very bad. You will avoid eating it.

“But once ingested, your body will wake up feeling more potent and more alive. After all, that constant pressure to always be something amazing, to be the next big thing, will be lifted off your back. The stress and anxiety of feeling inadequate will dissipate. And the knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane existence will actually free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish with no judgments and no lofty expectations.

“You will have a growing appreciation for life’s basic experiences. You will learn to measure yourself through a new, healthier means: the pleasures of simple friendship, creating something, helping a person in need, reading a good book, laughing with someone you care about.

“Sounds boring, doesn’t it? That’s because these things are average. But maybe they’re average for a reason. Because they are what actually matter.”

Life is my son being happy to see me after a long weekend.

It’s a sunny day on the lake with friends.

Life is a new album I want to listen to over and over.

It’s when someone likes something they read here.

Life is finding joy in the mere fact we’re breathing.

It’s giving more than we take.

There are 7 billion people in the world. And if even 10,000 people (which is a lot) knew who we were and cared, we’d still be impacting less than one thousandth of one percent.

Describe the lasting effect you want to have on the world, after you’re gone.

I won’t have one.

Life is being okay with that.

It’s leaving things around us just a little better than we found them.

37 thoughts on “I’m Not Special and It’s Okay”

  1. I love this post. Love it. After Amy passed, I did a lot of soul searching to figure out who I wanted to be and what I wanted people to remember about me, when I’m gone. I came to the conclusion that I just want to be the best ‘Andi’ I can be and make people I care about happy. Genuinely happy. I want to know I gave my whole self to those who mattered.

    1. I think that’s it. I think that’s the thing we’re supposed to do when we remember not to be selfish assholes.

      Thanks for reading, Andi.

    1. It feels good to be honest about hard truths, once you get over the part that makes you feel like vomiting.

  2. we are all especial in God’s eyes….for me, I don’t care if no one will remember me when I die because, I will never know it anyway.You’re right by saying, it’s not really wealth, prestige,,fame or material gains that really matter it’s the simple everyday existence that money cannot buy…..like love without it the world is a lonely place to live .

    1. There is literally no amount of money, fame, success, or material wealth capable of acquiring the feelings and life experiences that bring us real joy.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

    1. Thank you so much for taking a minute to check it out.

      I do most of this stuff hurried and on the fly, but I do try to be thoughtful as well.

      I’m so glad you thought this was.

  3. Hmmm. This is a tough one for me and I’m not sure why. But tough isn’t necessarily bad, is it?
    It’s not that I think we need to strive for greatness or to be remembered in some grandiose way, but my belief instead that everything we does matters. Not so much that it should choke us, stop us in our tracks. But that even small kindnesses (and meannesses) matter. When I die, it would be amazing to be remembered for hundreds of small kindnesses.
    And when I think of the people who read your words and have taken comfort from them in the face of what must feel like insurmountable challenges, well then I’d say you have hundreds (or thousands, really) of small kindnesses covered. Which is pretty special, actually.

    1. I, in no way, am suggesting life is meaningless and that what we do doesn’t matter.

      The little things DO matter. I think maybe they’re everything.

      And yes, a life well lived, is one where our love and generosity and kindnesses affect others, sometimes, subtly moving them to do more of the same.

      Life matters. We are ALL special in the context of the universe.

      The mathematical odds of being an alive human being on Earth in 2015!??!!?!? It’s barely calculable.

      We all hit the lottery just to have a shot at this.

      This uniquely precious and rare opportunity to live.

      And I really want people to make the best of their life. And I believe living a life of constant improvement, emotional maturity and sensible psychology will help people live life more robustly.

      We should manage our expectations… not in order to be cynical… but in order to experience the real joy in everyday living.

      Which you seem to do as well as anyone I’ve seen.

      And which I’m always trying to do better.

      Thank you so much for reading, Jen, and always commenting so thoughtfully.

  4. You ARE special. So there.

    You make a difference. You set an example by being the kind of good person that other people aspire to be like.
    I’m not toasting to mediocrity, yours or anyone else’s. Blech. That’s like saying, “why should I strive for unbridled joy, when I can just be sort of content?”

    1. You’re the best.

      To be fair to Mark Manson and what I thought was his excellent piece, he specifically writes that mediocrity as a GOAL is a wretched idea, but mediocrity as a result is okay.

      20 percent under achievers. 20 percent overachievers. Majority of people lie in the middle 60 percent in MOST areas of life. Even really exceptional people like Michael Jordan. He is shitty at marriage and human relationships. Maybe he’s a terrible writer or socially incompetent or drinks too much and pisses himself.

      The idea is simply to take it easy on yourself.

      We’re all not going to be President, or astronauts, or rich, or cure cancer.

      But we all have one or two things we excel at and it’s worth pouring ourselves into those things. I try.

      We all have the opportunity to constantly improve, and to help others, and to love, and to give more than we take in all things.

      Worthy endeavors, all.

      Thanks for checking this out. Still thinking about you missing your son since I only read that this morning.

      I hope you’re finding ways to relax and enjoy life.

      1. I agree that there are a couple of things that are worth giving 200% to. Being the best parent we can be is a priority, since that shapes the future.
        “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.” – Jackie Kennedy Onassis

  5. Oh I’m so happy to be average! Nothing special. What you wrote about anxiety following you and changing who you are fundamentally is so honest and is right where I am these days. I am striving to be the kind of person who is happy with what I give out, not what I get back. I just want to be good enough to like who I am. I’m getting there. The way you write about your experiences helps. I’ve read a lot of your posts now and I am grateful for your searing honesty and eloquence. You’re helping me. Thank you.

    1. No, thank you. Comments like these make me feel really good and encourage me to keep writing because sometimes it matters to someone.

      It really means a lot to me. Especially when I think about the miracle of you being so far away and reading these things I type all the way over here.

      I obviously don’t know what you’ve been through. Following my divorce and what I perceived to be my life’s greatest failure in losing my family, I didn’t like myself for a very long time.

      And I’ve slowly found my way back. One blog post. One new friendship. One good decision. One disciplined workout. One fun activity with my son. One date. One whatever… at a time.

      It’s been incremental. Just two years ago. Writing here.

      Felt worthless. I had never known that feeling before. I used to roll my eyes at people because I thought they were weak and undisciplined. I thought they had bad attitudes.

      And then I was finally there. Just, dying.

      Everything was shit.

      It’s a slow climb. I’m not all the way back. But I like myself. Bravery, confidence, strength? Soaring, relative to two years ago.

      Maybe the climb is what it’s about. Maybe that’s the only way we ever figure out what we’re really capable of and what really matters.

      I don’t know.

      I appreciate so much you reading (lots of posts now, you said!) and taking time to leave this kind note.

      I hope you’re feeling okay. I hope you remember to just breathe when it’s scary, because it always passes.

      And I’m glad you want to give.

      Changes everything.

      Thank you so much, Pippa.

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  7. Really lovely post. I always try to remember, “I am never as important nor as unimportant as I think I am.”

    It’s kind of interesting, often people who suffer from addictions, tend to have this narcissistic idea that they are special. If you believe you are special, then you are truly alone, disconnected from the rest of the human race, lonely, usually disappointed with yourself. “Special” is not such a good thing, it means different, set apart.

    As to entitlement, I actually empathize a great deal with men there. That’s a tricky one. The truth of the matter is that men need a bit of entitlement just to make their way in the world. Then we turn around and tend to beat up on men for what we perceive to be their sense of entitlement. There’s a real fine there between a healthy sense of entitlement and a completely arrogant expectation that one will always get what they want.

    1. The loneliness part is so real. I think it’s why there is such a high rate of depression and reports of loneliness coming from celebrities. We see these famous, beloved people with nearly unlimited financial resources, and they’re total train wrecks because they need alcohol, drugs and sex to numb the pain.

      They appear to have everything our egos crave. But they feel empty. Totally.

      And it’s because the things that matter can’t be bought. They come from spiritual, mental and emotional health that can only come from connecting to people, a sense of community and involvement. And above all, love. Giving it freely and receiving it from people who love you for you, and not because you’re rich and famous.

      It’s such an important thing. Maybe the most important thing. And so many of us forget every day as we chase these other shiny things.

      We’re so funny. People.

      Always nice to hear from you!

  8. I really enjoyed your post, is so true and I never actually thought about how could my perspective in life and happiness could change, but after reading your post I realized that as soon as you make amends with life, and that making an impact is nearly impossible, you raise your chances in being someone simply happy.

    I love how truthful are your posts, keep writing. You are changing lives and don’t even know it

    1. “Changing lives” might be something of an overstatement, but I do think I’ve succeeded at getting some people to think about things in ways they haven’t before and to ask themselves better questions about what we really want from life.

      And I do feel good about that. Along the way, it helps me reflect on those things and makes me better in my personal life. It’s been such a good experience all around. Writing here.

      I can’t thank you enough for checking it out and taking a moment to leave a nice comment. I appreciate it very much.

  9. “But then you wake up one day divorced with a disappointing bank account and an untidy home”

    or you wake up one day, married with a disappointing bank account, an untidy home and a teenaged daughter. How the %!? did that happen?

    Here’s to mediocrity, and a wonderful sense of humor.

    1. Perspective and laughter are so, so important. Thank you for reading and leaving this note! 🙂

  10. This is such a rare message to read, and it makes me laugh (with pleasure). I am forever amazed at the barrage of self-help material urging us to aim for the top, follow our dreams, and especially to be better than everyone else. Just a minute: how can everyone be the best? My motto: very very good is good enough. My other motto: don’t peak too soon.

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  12. I want to make a difference to the world before I leave. Even if no-one ever finds out. And along the way I will enjoy the smallest things in life. Thanks for sharing boss:)

  13. Yah it’s just I’d wanna do that I mean I want to leave a legacy,feel special and all that krap but think about it.When you see someone being praised for something do u care…no you with that was you.Like in history class when you’re learning about gorge Washington or someone like that do u really say wow I’m so proud of him….when it all comes down to it no one cares it’s all about them so realize that.(it’s just me my phone and my right hand?)

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  17. you seem like a nice person but I could never settle for mediocrity, I’d just end my life

  18. Hey, just wanted to thank you for this article. I ate some of those average veggies for the soul today… at age 32, I could really relate to this post. Tomorrow I am going for a walk outside just to prove to myself nothing changed just because I let go of being special – it’s not my job to let the sun out. Average regards instead of best ones, Danielle

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Matt Fray

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