You’re Not That Special

Why this thought can liberate you

Feb 26, 2019

Life Lessons Personal Growth Self-Improvement Self-Awareness
two lighted pink and white candlesticks

Photo by Alyssa Stevenson

This is the thought I have in the Uber ride home from a workshop I attended out of curiosity. It came out of nowhere, seemingly, and yet, it felt like the missing puzzle piece I was struggling to find for so long. It was one of those rare thoughts you have once in a blue moon that hits you like a brick, penetrating to the core of something you’ve been struggling with and haven’t been able to find the answer to. I felt something shift inside of me. Like a weight that I had been carrying around for decades just lifted. It was liberating and alarming all at once.

“You’re not that special,” it kept repeating. Whose voice it was, I have no idea. And it wasn’t something brought on by the workshop, either. The material we covered was about how to stay motivated while going after our dreams. Quite the opposite message than the one repeating in my mind. But within seconds of hearing it over and over, a smile began forming in the corners of my mouth, to my great surprise. It was a smile of recognition and relief, the kind that only comes after having reached a long-awaited milestone on the path to self-awareness. Though I couldn’t articulate why, I knew deep down that this would change everything.

I don’t know when or where the seed for the idea that I’m special was first planted. Probably sometime in childhood. Regardless, it stayed with me through adolescence, early adulthood, college, all throughout my 20s, and into my 30s. It became a part of me the way a scar becomes a part of us — after a while we don’t notice it.

Looking back, I realize now how much it affected my decision-making in every area of my life. How it impacted the way I viewed the world and my place in it. How I related to those around me. If I’m special, I must have a special purpose, a special contribution, special friends; I must major in something special and work in a special field and of course marry someone special. And if I felt misunderstood or lonely, it was because I was so different (aka special) that no one understood what I was going through. Sound familiar? Blame it on my Enneagram personality type (which I partially do), my upbringing, or whatever, it was how I interpreted my world.

It’s no wonder, then, that I was often met with disillusionment and deep frustration as I attempted to find and fulfill my calling. Nothing I did, wrote, studied, learned, read, worked on, dreamt up, or pursued was “special enough.” Whatever that means. None of it met my unrealistic expectations of specialness and significance. I cringe at the thought now and at all the time I wasted trying to find this singular brand of special that I was sure existed somewhere just beyond my grasp.

The way I see it, feeling special and feeling different from others go hand-in-hand. And both of these collectively caused an invisible wall to be built between myself and others that didn’t allow for true connection. Vulnerability requires openness; thinking you’re different keeps you closed. This type of thinking made it difficult to relate to others. It even prevented me from putting my work out there, lest it ruin the work’s specialness. cringe

At the end of the day, we are all more similar than different.

We all have dreams and goals and desires. We all struggle with something, want to improve in something. We all want to find meaning in life. It is pretty likely that the next person I meet has relational conflict in their lives, a favorite self-care habit, and a secret passion project. I will have more in common with them than not. And the idea of me being special prevents me from seeing our likeness, our affinity. Conversely, discarding that thought creates an even ‘playing field’ of sorts from which I can bond with the other person. Unless of course, they think they’re special.

What I discovered is that not only am I not that special, neither is anyone else. We are all just doing the best we can with the cards we’ve been dealt. We are all waking up each day and making choices and failing in some areas and winning in others. No one person has the patent on being special. Because when we think this way— that someone else is special and I’m not — we will fall into the trap of thinking they possess something we don’t and are therefore capable of such and such and we. just. are. not.

No one starts a business or company because they’re special; it’s simply because they had an idea that turned into a plan and they executed it. No one climbs Mount Everest because they’re special; it’s because they put that thought in their mind and challenged themselves to do the hard work of accomplishing such a feat. Being special is not a requirement to do the extraordinary. And thank goodness for that.

You and I are not that special. “They” are not that special. This may be a concept you’re already familiar with or one you’re hearing for the very first time. It might jolt your sense of yourself or bring you relief, like it did for me, and release you of a weight we weren’t meant to carry.

The reason this thought was so liberating for me is because it freed me from having to act special, which in turn broke down the barriers to my authenticity, finally allowing me to be my true self, faults and all. And it can do the same for you.

I will say this is still a work-in-progress. It is something I have to constantly put into practice and repeat to myself often. Even as I write this now, to be honest, I am still having to fight off thoughts of “this post is not special enough.” Baby steps. Breathe and repeat. Who knew my mantra would be “you’re not that special”? Because as you may have guessed, I was searching for that extra special mantra that never appeared. But this one? It feels specially made for me (pun intended).

Having said all that, I do still believe that, yes, we each have unique talents and gifts and voices. We each have a calling that is particular to each of us, depending on our circumstances, environment, upbringing, and personal makeup. We are here to make our individual contributions. To shine our personal light. There is no denying that. The world needs your addition. It needs you to show up and say yes, I have something to offer. But these contributions aren’t necessarily ‘special,’ they are simply ours to make. What I offer is not more or less special than anyone else’s offering. It’s just mine to bestow.

How liberating… not to have to agonize over the significance of one’s work but to be free to simply share it with the world when you feel ready, even if it’s not “good enough.” How freeing to simply be yourself without wearing any masks or having to act. We may not be special, but we are powerful beyond measure, capable of so much if we just gave it a shot.

There is really nothing special about the end of this post, which hurts a little. Old habits die hard. But I just have to be ok with that.