Overcoming “Special Snowflake Syndrome” as a Millennial

I thought I was off the hook, but it turned out I was the worst offender of all. Here are 5 things I’ve learned since that realization.

Generation Y are not bad people. For the most part, we’re educated, open-minded, accepting of others, and confident. But unfortunately, many of us are affected by a condition known as “Special Snowflake Syndrome”.

Special Snowflake Syndrome: The belief that one is a proverbial “unique and special snowflake”. Symptoms include inflated self-importance and an unfailing sense of entitlement. Those with exposure to excessive coddling in childhood are at especially high risk.

Gen Y is one of the first generations who grew up in a world where “everyone wins”, and as such, we often feel we are heroes who “deserve” everything in the world. We deserve a car when we turn 16, we deserve the new iPhone the day it comes out, we deserve to be “internet famous”, and we deserve near-perfect people to establish friendships and relationships with us.

Through my college years, I managed to convince myself that I wasn’t like that. I wanted to believe that I’d actually escaped from a 90s childhood full of soccer trophies and fifth-grade “honor roll” with my humility and pragmatism largely intact. “I don’t have that ridiculous sense of entitlement like the other kids my age. I work hard and pay for my own college tuition and living expenses. I’m not spoiled like everyone else.”

But that very sense of superiority, the lofty self-esteem, the self-proclaimed uniqueness — they were all unmistakable symptoms of the very disease I was refuting.

And, as it turns out, I was the worst offender of all. No matter how much I wanted to believe it wasn’t affecting my mentality, my pursuits, my relationships — it was.

As I’ve grown and worked harder, as I’ve begun to shed the special snowflake from my identity once and for all, I’ve learned some valuable lessons. These lessons have not come without their fair share of growing pains, nor am I even close to being done learning them.

Nonetheless, I wanted to share five things I believe are most key — lessons I’m processing today that I wish I could go back and teach myself years ago.

  1. Human relationships are not about finding people who are willing to coddle you. You do not “deserve” to be treated like a prince(ss) 24/7 by any friend or romantic partner. Yes, it’s important to be treated well by those you associate with, but there’s a difference between standing up against abuse and believing that you “deserve better” when your boyfriend fails to buy you a Tiffany necklace for your two-month anniversary. Taking a lazy and selfish approach towards other people ends up only hurting yourself by stunting your growth, and in turn, your happiness.
  2. You are wrong a lot of the time. You do not know everything. Accept those facts. Always approach your thoughts and words with the assumption there may be a piece of information you’re failing to consider. Being wrong or not knowing something is actually a really cool opportunity to learn something you didn’t know before. But you can’t let stubbornness and pride get in the way of that. If you keep insisting that your proverbial “sh*t doesn’t stink”, you’ll never have the chance to improve its smell. (And it’s something that everyone could stand to improve. Get it?)
  3. Doing a favor for someone does not necessarily merit anything in return. This one is pretty simple. I know you really went out of your way to give your friend a ride that one time, but stop passive-aggressively counting down the days until they offer to do your laundry for a year.
  4. You are not the center of the universe. I know you’ve probably been hearing this from day one, but it can be hard to fathom when literally every single interaction and experience you’ve had with the universe have been centered around you. But the truth is that your time is no more important than anyone else’s, that people are generally not “out to get you”. We’re all just trudging along trying to make it in our own ways. This fantastic (and slightly cheesy) graduation-speech-turned-short-film fleshes out this point better than I ever could.
  5. Nor are you the most interesting person in the world. Stop talking about yourself so much. Maybe this is pessimistic, but nine times out of ten when someone at a party asks you how you’re doing, they don’t really care about the details of your new job. On the other hand, they’ll be stoked if you’re interested in hearing about their life. So — why not be a listener sometimes? You’ll make a friend, and maybe you could learn a thing or two.

As painful as it is to admit, I believe all of us are struggling with a little bit of special snowflake inside us. And I don’t blame us, either. After all, the most primitive human instinct is to survive, and now that humans are no longer getting chased by sabertooth tigers or starving to death for lack of brawn, maybe that instinct manifests itself in the form of a blown-up ego and mindless greed. I don’t know for sure.

What I do know is that honestly evaluating the place of narcissism and selfishness in our lives can help us start to weed it out. And I think that’s a very worthy cause.