You may not even want to be special in the first place.
By very definition, “special” says that there is some kind of “normal” that is a measuring stick of what’s acceptable or worthy in our culture or society. To be special in many references means that you are deviant to that norm:
- when someone has particular challenges, we label them as “special needs”, often embracing stereotypes of capacity and potential
- we default to defining people first by what race or gender they are, thus categorizing them as special or not special in some way
- in an effort to bolster self esteem, we tell kids that they are teased, excluded or treated unjustly because they are “special”.
Ultimately, the one being singled out as special is still the problem, rather than addressing the fact that cruelty, variety and individuality exist in the world.
That’s definitely not helpful. Now the very thing that is your thing is a sign to the world that you somehow don’t fully belong in this experience called “life”.
Thinking that you are special may seem like a really great believe-in-yourself booster speech, but it’s simply not true.
You may be unique. Heck, you may even be one in a million. However, that still makes you one of 7000+ other people on the planet.
In fact, astrophysicist’s assure us that there is no centre of the universe, therefore neither you or I can be it
If everyone is special, than no one is special.
The longer we hold on to the labels or false realities that we are special, the more difficult it is for us to see ourselves or our situations clearly.
This is especially important when we experience life’s harsh realities. The belief that your situation, pain, loss, or challenge is special is not freeing. In fact, it’s isolating:
- If you think that you are the exception to hard work, doing the time and preparation, than you will be fooled into believing a lie about easy success.
- If you decide that your situation is special, you won’t seek the wisdom of those who have gone before you.
- If you feel like your loss is special then you won’t seek beyond the pain and isolation.
- When you are convinced that you are special and insist on having others see you that way, your sense of entitlement will blind you to assimilating true feedback and adjusting your course.
You are not special – but sometimes admitting this takes more courage than you would have thought…
A parable is told of a young woman, named Kisagotami. Her husband was wealthy and she had everything she could have wanted. On top of it all, she found out she was pregnant and soon gave birth to a son.
One day, shortly after he could walk and run, the boy suddenly died.
The mother was devastated. She felt completely alone in this loss.
In her shock, she ran to the local medicine man and asked for his help. The medicine man thought that perhaps she didn’t understand the gravity of the situation. In an attempt to help her, he told her she needed the help of someone else: the Buddha.
So the young woman made the trek to find the Buddha, carrying her dead son with her.
When she reached him she asked if he could help her. He told her yes, he could. However, she would first need to bring him mustard seed from the home of someone who’s life had not been touched by loss or death.
She left her dead child there and began the search for the mustard seed. She still didn’t get it. She searched and searched.
It didn’t take long for her to realize that there was no one in the world around her whose life hadn’t been touched by death and loss.
She had found her answer. It wasn’t her son who needed to be brought back to life.
It was she who needed to understand that although her loss was unique, she was not isolated in it.
She was not feeling alone because she was special. She was refusing to admit that this was the reality and that there was a way for her to walk through it. Her attachment to this idea held her back from receiving healing and experiencing the gift of relationships and humanity around her.
Upon realizing this, she buried her son and accepted the grief and loss.
There was no judgment waiting for her when she was seeking what she thought she needed. Nor was their isolation. Instead, there was the profound reality that although her love for her son was unique to their relationship, pain is universal.
Her healing began when she was a part of a world around her who understood loss in its unique way.
When we experience the shock of loss or disappointment, we can isolate ourselves:
- insisting that no one has it as bad as us
- growing resentful when we see others happy or content
- refusing to let go of the way things were because the present seems too painful or unfair.
In short, when we hang on to thinking that we are special, we choose loneliness over life.
According to the influential therapist, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, choosing loneliness and isolation is deadly. Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer, as tumours can metastasize faster in lonely people.
Choose to believe and live like you are not special.
Although it actually takes courage to embrace this simple, freeing truth, you are not alone.
And if you are not alone, it means that there is something worth seeing and believing in you – wherever you find yourself right now.
Relationships, career, significance and otherwise are the fabric of our lives. They are where we think we will find the assurance that we are special. That we matter. That we are noticed.
But what happens when the things that we thought were ours to own and possess are gone? When everything that can be burned in our lives falls off of us in the ashes? Surely this is when we can’t help but feel alone?
It’s tempting (trust me) but it’s not the only way to frame who you are. When we find out that we aren’t so special after all, it’s at this point where we have a choice.
That choice is to refuse to believe that we are not alone; of acknowledging the reality of your situation without telling yourself you are isolated in it.
Beyond the unmet expectations and the questions, there is an immovable truth that we might not have been able to see before…
That there is something better than special and far more beautiful…
There is finding the courage and bravery to live this life that is yours alone to choose.