Photo Credit: Pierre Rougier

No One Is Special — And Why That’s Awesome.


Life is not about being special. It’s about doing special things.

I always wanted to think I was special. That by virtue of having a knack for drawing, and writing and communicating with people, I was a cut above the rest of the world.

Nothing would matter, if I could just be better than other people. If I could stand out. If I could have somehow been chosen.

Maybe everything would have been easier. I could have been smart enough to start just the right company at just the right time.

I could have been famous. I could have been rich. If I’d only been special.

One of the hardest things I have ever had to do is come to terms with the fact that I am not and never will be special, and that for all intents and purposes, I am what we would call astoundingly normal and average.

Almost everyone can be divided into two groups of people. Those who think they’re special — because they’re prettier, smarter or sadder than other people — and those who wish they were.

I've met a lot of people. I've met rich people and poor people. I've met maths wizards and high school drop outs and entrepreneurs and tired company grinders.

Do you know what they all had in common?

They were born, and they lived, and someday they’re going to die.

But none of them were special. None of them are more or less special than me, or you, or any other human being on this planet.

Some of them were happy with their lives, and some of them weren't, and there’s no correlation between that and the things that we call special.

Some of them were inspiring, and some of them were sad to be around, but it had nothing to do with the way they looked or how smart they sounded.

Because there is no such thing as special. People aren't born special. They aren't born to be billionaires or tech geniuses, they aren't born to found Netscape or Microsoft, or create world shattering art, or save lives.

People aren't born special. They just do special things.

People take whatever they were given by chance and they use it to do incredible things. They work hard, and they struggle, and every now and then they win.

They do special things like write software. Help abuse victims. Go into space. Feed the poor. Build startups. Question the order of things. Challenge authority. Make iPhone apps. Write books. Raise children.

They do those things not because they were born special, but because they tried, and worked, and didn't quit.

So why is that awesome? Why am I pleased about the fact that everyone is more or less just an average human being? I have my reasons. In fact, I have three of them:

Nobody is entitled to more success than you.

For some people, there will be extreme difficulties. Poverty, mental health, race, gender — these are all things that are going to get in the way of some truly incredible people.

But not having those difficulties doesn't make you a better person.

There is nothing special about being born a middle class white male. If you think there is, the 21st century is calling and it wants to tell you that you’re a fucking idiot.

Nobody is entitled to success or achievement or victory. It will be harder for some people. It will be easier for others. Some people are lucky. But nobody is special.

Accomplishing something special is always possible.

If nobody was born special, then nothing is actually impossible. If you really want to do something, there’s no natural and predetermined cause for your failure.

Like I said, it could be hard. It could be almost impossible. You could be facing a cliff face that you’ll take years to climb. But you have a shot, a chance, even it’s only a sliver.

There’s nothing about you that means you aren’t allowed to try, or you aren’t allowed to succeed.

You can be completely shit at so many things.

If you aren't trying to prove that you’re special, it really takes the weight off. It means you can fail, fall and fuck up spectacularly. You can be so, so very bad at almost everything.

It doesn't matter. There’s no score card to say that you have to be at a certain level because of some innate factor, some part of you beyond your own control. So if your projects are a disaster, all it means is you have to try again.

Nobody is allowed to be disappointed in your because of their perception of you as “special.” Nobody is allowed to judge you for failure.

Let me leave you with this. Commencement speeches can often be full of crap. All about how the Class of Whatever from Butthole High could be the ones who change the world. But this speech has always stood out to me:

Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.

David McCullough

PS. I know that there is a difference between being born special and having opportunities. I know for some a lack of opportunity is going to make this article seem almost tone deaf.

But I want you think about something. The word special, it’s very loaded. It really means better. And I don’t think that being born with opportunity makes anyone better.

Please take 10–15 seconds of your time to recommend this article and share it with just *one* other person. That would be incredible.

You can also read this — it’s my framework for accomplishing good things in your life:

Thanks for reading — I’m Jon Westenberg. I’m an creative, critic, writer and avid learner. You can read more about me on my website…

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