You’re Not Special
Stoicism and Learning More About Yourself
By Valkyrie Holmes
A couple of years ago, I recorded myself having a breakdown. I was crying and telling myself that it was so hard and that I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt completely lost and in such a dark place. I recently found that video and it prompted me to dig deeper into what’s happened since then and how my mentality changed from two years ago.
There’s never a good way to start articles like these. I chose to start on a more sentimental note but keep in mind, I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m describing this to you right out the gate to give a real example of what it’s like to be stuck in your head, feel like you can’t control any aspect of your life, and essentially, what feels like pure failure. This wasn’t my lowest point, it was just the last hump over the rollercoaster before life came swinging at me and I had to fend for myself.
But of course, you already knew that. Because my experience is not unique. Because I am not special. And neither are you. Let’s get into it.
I wanted to start off this article by telling you a tall tale, an origin story if you will. I was probably around 11–12 years old when my dad said goodnight, kneeled down next to my bed, and gave me the puberty talk, but not just any puberty talk. I didn’t get anything like “you’re body is going to change” or “you’re going to get hair in weird places”. I got a talk about belonging.
He sat down and started off by saying,
“Valkyrie, soon, you’re going to feel like no one understands you. You’re going to feel like no one gets it and the whole world is against you and nobody gets it. I want you to remember that you’re not special and that everyone around you is going through the same hormonal imbalances and has the same feelings as you. And I want you to remember this conversation whenever you feel that way.”
He ended it with an “I love you little bird” and left the room. I honestly didn’t think about the conversation that much that night or in the nights that followed, but something about the conversation stuck with me. In the next few years, I would start to find myself and grow older, enter high school, and try to figure out where I belong. There was everything a regular teenager had; drama, clubs, school, family issues, relationships, the works. And almost every time I got into a bit of trouble or closed myself off to help or other feelings, I always gravitated towards this idea of “you’re not special”.
Something bad happened? Something bad happens to everyone, I’m not unique in that. You did well in something? That’s not that big of a deal, plenty of people do things. It definitely consumed my way of looking at things close to two years ago, to the point where I didn’t feel like I could impress anyone, let alone myself. But in the last few years, I find that there is a clever balance you can strike when you think of the phrase “you’re not special” and it all goes back to stoicism.
Stoicism is this idea that you should only worry about the things you can control in your life. It’s provided people with this framework for living life more positively and aims to increase satisfaction by paying more attention to the good and letting negativity roll over you. Think of it like embodying the phrase “don’t focus on what you lack, focus on what you have”.
I first heard about this way of thinking through Mark Manson’s book, “The Subtle Art Of Not Giving a Fuck”, a novel that outlines essentially the same idea: only care about the things that align with your personal values or the things you actually find helpful. This was during a time when I was going on walks and started listening to audiobooks and again, this way of thinking stuck out to me. Life is full of problems and even when it feels like life is perfectly peachy and nothing could go wrong, your mind will still find things to stress about. You have the ability to choose what problems you fill your life with and visualizing success isn’t about envisioning everything you could have; it’s about envisioning the problems you’d rather have.
He also talked a lot about acceptance. The acceptance of a negative experience is more often a positive experience in the long run whereas searching for more positivity and trying to ignore the negative only breeds pessimistic thinking. Now don’t think that not giving a fuck means being indifferent, he makes a big distinction. Not giving a fuck means caring about select things in your life and not being afraid to say no or cease thinking about things that don’t benefit you. We all know that life sucks sometimes, in fact a lot of the time, but if you live your whole life thinking about how much things suck, you’ll fail to realize how much shit you could be doing with that same amount of time.
Let’s circle back to the first video I talked about. I was sixteen at the time, almost seventeen. I was just beginning to understand what I stood for. I was just beginning to find what made me happy and yet, I still felt so scared for the future and lost in the moment. I hadn’t yet learned what it meant to be stoic or how to let the little things roll over me. I had no concept of letting shit happen, it was always, “why is this happening to me?”
And that’s how most of us feel. Most of us feel like we’re entitled to love, entitled to happiness, and people’s kindness and we have this overwhelming urge to demand things when they aren’t given to us. We feel like we deserve all of these things when in reality, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
No one owes you anything.
You don’t exist simply for other people to do things for you or for good things to happen to you. That’s never been the case and it will continue to not be the case, no matter how much you wish for it.
But there are always two sides to the coin. You’re not entitled to anything and life doesn’t specifically choose you to harm. Bad things happen to everyone, hence this idea of “you’re not special”. It’s a freeing idea, in my opinion. People aren’t out to get you, life doesn’t suck only for you, and that gives you the chance to connect with other human beings on a fundamental level. It’s this idea that everyone understands what you’re going through because, again, everyone is going through it together. This is the idea that I like to operate under.
In the original video, I took the pessimistic approach to this whole idea. I felt insignificant because in recognizing how I felt, I realized how little all of it meant in the grand scheme of things. I didn’t think about it in terms of figuring out my personality, I just knew it made sense to record myself in times of stress and that it felt good to let things out. Still didn’t change my opinion of myself because I wasn’t at the stage where I could look at it from an outside perspective and really gauge the understanding I got from these conversations with myself.
There’s a healthy dose of optimistic nihilism in there too. Sure, maybe in the grand scheme of things, nothing matters. Maybe at the end of it all, nothing I say or do will have any impact and I’ll just be another blip in the cosmic realm. But even if that is true, does that mean anything in my life will change?
Why would I focus on the things that don’t bring me any joy if none of it matters anyway? If I can choose what to care about, I’d rather view everything in a positive light regardless of how much it matters. That way, no matter what happens, I can always say I lived life in a way that made me fulfilled and happy.
I want this article to be a lesson to everyone, especially young adults and teenagers. Use this phrase to guide you in the right direction, not stifle your ability to think clearly as I used it in the beginning. The idea of not being special is meant to be something to remind you when you’re being irrational or lacking emotional clarity. I think about something along these lines every time I enter a new situation and struggle.
In moments of weakness, your mind gravitates towards comforting thoughts of being in your warm bed, not doing work, watching Netflix instead of focusing on the task at hand. It helps push you towards things that are easy. You start to think you deserve more or can’t do things because you’re special. But you’re not, which is why you can do it. You can do it just like everyone else.
Now don’t get me wrong, this kind of mindset is a slippery slope for some people so it helps to think about it from an objective point of view and format it in any way that suits you best. So take this idea and run with it in whatever direction you choose. Let me know how you’d phrase it, what you’d think about, and if this helps.
I’d like to end off with a quote from the 2012 “You’re Not Special” Wellesley Commencement speech given by David McCullough, an English teacher from Massachusetts. It’s one of the most powerful speeches I’ve ever watched and I urge you to listen to it in its entirety.
“Whether male and female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic Xbox assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma… but for your name, exactly the same.
All this is as it should be, because none of you is special.
You are not special.”
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