Hey, girl. Do you feel special? You should, right? God knows, you’ve been told that believing you’re special is central to a healthy identity. Doubting it feels like failure. But here’s the thing: you’ll never truly be peaceful inside as long as you buy into the mythology of “specialness”.
“Special”, in our society, is not neutral. “Special” conveys specific attributes. It’s corporate, like Coke.Here’s a partial list of what’s implied by “special”:
- Indomitable (most important)
In other words, a kind of Beyonce-Goddess. And OK, you’re not 12, and you get that there’s some hyperbole in it all. But this doesn’t make you immune. And you’re pretty sure that list is not you (being human, and all).
Still, you get on that. You draw. You take photos. You instagram and Pinterest and Etsy and work 30 hours a week unpaid as an intern for a startup.
The anxiety starts early - certainly, by freshman year in college. Young women dragged into my creativity classes, smiles barely covering a bundle of nerves. They were trapped between these outsized expectations and the terror of being ordinary. Today, there’s nothing worse. Young women hot to the touch, ready to fall apart with any criticism of their work. I didn’t get that while I was teaching. They came in the room with 3 threads holding them together.
But isn’t the message to be enlightened and just know that you’re special? Unfortunately, that’s not how human psychology works. We are, literally, wired to compare. Which is why so many people use the most glamorous picture possible online.
Katy Perry says she feels you, girl:
Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
blowing in the wind?
“Yeah, actually. I mean, that’s a crap metaphor (plastic bags don’t have feelings), but I feel that way sometimes. What should I do?”
Ignite the light! Let it shine!
“Um, that actually makes it worse …”
Own the night! Like the 4th of July!
"I’m not sure my work is really all that …”
Baby, you’re a firework!
Come on, let your colors burst!
“I don’t know what I could possibly do that that would … ”
Make ‘em go, “Aah, aah, aah!
Leave ‘em all in awe, awe, awe!
Hey, Katy Perry! That is terrible advice, especially for someone already stressed about her self worth. Can you imagine a therapist saying this?
You walk into the therapist’s office and say:
“Hi. I’m … I’m just riddled with doubt about myself. I mean, I know this is a crap metaphor, but sometimes I just feel like a plastic sack drifting along the street. What should I do?’
“What does that even mean?”
Let your colors burst! Make people go Ahhhhh!
“You mean let other people determine my worth?”
And don’t you stop until you leave them in awe!
"But isn’t that the whole problem? Trying to make other people like me, instead of finding peace inside myself?"
Seriously, Katy Perry. You are a monster.
This isn’t theory for me. I made myself somewhat miserable for years trying to be special. I got defined as “the smart kid” very early - I only went to 1st grade for 2 weeks, for example - and musically, I seemed to start on 2nd base. I got praised. But by high school, being “special” had become my identity. So, by high school I was dancing away from myself and into the arms of the expectations of others. It wasn’t enough to be good. I needed to be a firework. To leave people in awe. Unsurprisingly, this expectation made me unhappy. Not miserable. But nowhere near as happy and liberated and peaceful as I could have been. Talent doesn’t protect you from this misery, by the way. I’ve never met Kanye West, but is there a more obviously unhappy human being? There’s no other explanation for his petulant outbursts. I actually feel sorry for him - to have so much affirmation, and yet still need more.
This expectation is why so many people go on reality TV. Having given up being “special” in any healthy way, they have said, “OK. I’ll be special this way. Because by God, I’m not going to be ordinary.”
Somewhere inside you, there’s a you. You can’t possibly love her while trying to be so damn fabulous. Holding yourself even slightly hostage to the expectation of fireworks and specialness is a recipe for unhappiness. It will poison your relationships and your work. It’s a recipe for losing yourself. Let it go. Just be you and don’t worry about how special it is or isn’t. Find some peace.
Sorry for getting harsh on Katy Perry. “Hey, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Lady Gaga? See all those girls in your audience dressed like you? Stop exploiting them with your bullshit.”