Your kid isn’t special…and neither is mine.

“You are not special. You are not exceptional.” These are the words that rung out over a crowd of graduating high school seniors near Boston earlier this year. English teacher, David McCullough Jr. delivered this commencement speech to the children he has taught for the past four years. His words were spoken with truth and clarity and they were the exact words his students needed to hear. The only problem with his speech was that this message came into the lives of these children too late. It would have been an amazing lesson for these children to learn from the start.

Guess what? Your child isn’t special either, nor is mine. They’re just super average people who are extra special to us. That is an important distinction to make. Your child is special to you, but this does not mean that he is special to the world. Although this may not feel good to hear, it is the absolute truth.

McCullough went on to clarify exactly why nobody is special when he said, “Even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of seven billion, there are still nearly 7,000 people just like you… You see if everyone is special, no one is special. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless.” The point of this speech was to call into question our achievement based society.

We have become so obsessed with being special that we’ve robbed ourselves of delighting in what is truly special about life. There are tiny miracles and beautiful moments happening around us all the time, yet we are so concerned with ourselves and with our children as extensions of ourselves, that we have stunted our connection with the world around us. Our greatest moments do not come in the form of straight A’s and participation trophies. The magic in life comes through witnessing the beauty of a flower becoming a fruit, through forming deep bonds with other humans in a way that is truly grounded in mutual trust and respect, or through giving for the sake of kindness and expecting absolutely nothing in return.

When a person starts out in life believing that she is special, she also believes that the world owes her accolades for this inherent specialness. She will walk into her grown up life expecting that those around her should feel blessed and excited to know her, regardless of any genuine offering she may bring to the relationship. She will believe that good things should come to her by way of her being fantastic. And finally, she will believe that she should not have to give in order to receive.

This is becoming very apparent in the new generation of the American workforce: Millenials (I feel comfortable speaking about this lazy and spoiled generation as I am one of them). There is a surprising sense of entitlement and expectation. It is a shock to many young workers I know that their bosses expect them to refrain from personal cell phone use during the work day. They are not just surprised, but angry about it. When their time off requests are denied they loudly proclaim, “Well I’ll just quit. My parents will help me out with rent.” Recently an acquaintance on social media publicly tore into her boss for writing her up for being late to work. Her solid defense being, “It was only ten minutes.” I guarantee that when she was late for her curfew in high school she used this argument with her parents and got away with it.

Being special isn’t really all that it’s cracked up to be. Truly special people are often somewhat tortured souls. When you are special, that means that you are not normal, which means that you will struggle to relate to the 99% of the population that is normal. Then there are the people that are special because they have learned to plow their way into it. This Lance Armstrong/Mark McGwire type of specialness is unfortunately becoming the norm. Parents are frantic to give their kids and “edge” in anything they do, regardless of the lessons their child learns about being pushy, inconsiderate and downright dishonest. If getting straight A’s is the expectation, cheating is a totally acceptable avenue to get there. If working hard at something about which you care is the expectation, then working hard itself becomes the avenue.

The truth in all of this is clear: you’re not special, I’m not special and our children are not special. However, we do all matter and we do all have a right to be able to meet our basic human needs. Therefore, we must recognize that not only do we matter but the other people in our community matter as well. When we begin to see ourselves as “special” we create a barrier that prevents us from having genuinely reciprocal human interaction. Average people beset on declaring their own uniqueness become fixated on collecting proof of their specialness such as ribbons, trophies, public recognition and anything else they can find. It seems as though they almost don’t feel real unless someone is validating them externally. On the other hand, people who accept that they are simply a part of a much bigger whole can let go of the need to prove themselves and move to a plane of existence that is validated by love, pain and effort.

A life well lived is one in which we are motivated by experience and curiosity. It is one in which our hearts and bones get broken and our own resiliency is what heals them. You and your child both deserve the opportunity to live an authentic existence without preoccupation over one’s self. It is terrifying to let go and a marvelous relief when you finally do. Are you ready to stop being special and start living? I am.




~ by vegucationmama on July 21, 2012.

One Response to “Your kid isn’t special…and neither is mine.”

  1. To me, all my kids are Rock Stars – but I don’t expect others to buy in – in fact I was annoyed as a younger mom when people tried to convince me to allow or forgive “uppity” behavior in my children. Most children arrive with a big sense of entitlement and desire for stardom. They must be taught how to step back sometimes and let others shine and many parents aren’t up to the task of helping them recognize when that is appropriate. I will say that most small kids come with a good sense of compassion for those who are hurting, But otherwise the “look at me – I’m special” urge is almost overpowering. Self-esteem was the buzz topic of parenting during the 80’s and overemphasizing it has created some pretty self-centered individuals.

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