When people ask me what I do, I tell them I help ordinary people live extraordinary lives.
It flows off my tongue with grace and ease. That hasn’t always been the case.
When I first thought of this wording, I struggled with the idea of labelling people as ordinary. Isn’t that like saying you’re just average? Who wants to be ordinary when you could be special?
I’ve spent my life being addicted to specialness. I was sick with chronic bronchitis until I was seven, so my mom spent many nights sitting in an armchair, holding me upright so I could breathe.
It bonded us closely. I knew I held a special place in her heart. I’m sure by siblings did too, but I never thought about that. I knew my mom loved me, maybe even more than she loved my brother and sister.
This led to two problems.
- I began to look to other people to tell me I was special and felt left out and lonely when no one did.
- I compared myself to others to evaluate how I was doing. This started with my siblings. Was I doing as well in school as they did? Did I have more friends? Did people love me more.
My self-esteem has always been pretty good, but it was fragile. Without external validation to agree with how I felt about myself, I worried that I was wrong.
I loved being around people who openly told me how wonderful I was. This fed my specialness addiction. It’s not surprising that it had a huge influence on my choice of activities, friends, and romantic partners.
When you understand this about me, it makes more sense that I saw the word ordinary as possibly being offensive.
How do you feel about being called ordinary?
I decided to spend some time with the word to see if I could make peace with it.
Ordinary (noun): what is commonplace or standard. — Oxford Dictionaries
Being ordinary doesn’t involve being boring or insignificant. How had I got that so wrong?
What if being special was ordinary?
Believing you’re special may begin with your family’s belief that you are. Often parents think if they tell their children this often enough, they’ll believe it’s true. It doesn’t work that way.
It’s important for every individual to see themselves as special. It’s part of your self-esteem. If you need other people to remind you it’s true rather than holding the belief yourself, you’re in for a world of trouble. I know this from experience.
Being special involves comparison. This is always dangerous and has been proven to impede happiness in most situations.
Comparing yourself to people who appear to be less than you in some way is only useful if you use it as a gratitude exercise. It’s not helpful if you’re seeking validation.
When you use it for this purpose, you search for proof that you’re not as unworthy or badly off as someone else. It’s like doing poorly on a test but being soothed by the knowledge that you didn’t get the lowest mark.
Rather than defining yourself based on what other people think, or assuming that their opinion of you is more accurate than yours, develop internal validation.
Take time to examine what you believe about yourself and then trust that it’s true. No one knows you as well as you do.
- Be honest with yourself.
- Acknowledge all the things you are good at and that you enjoy.
- Don’t compare yourself to anyone but yourself.
- Look for growth and celebrate it.
- Trust that you know yourself better than anyone else.
- List everything that makes you the person you are. Include things you don’t like, are afraid of, or you view as weaknesses.
- Understand that you are the sum of ALL your parts, not just the good things. They work together to make you the unique individual you are.
- Don’t criticize yourself or think anything about you is shameful. It’s good to want to grow, but where you are today is perfect.
- You are not your past, nor are you defined by any of the things you’ve done.
- Love and value who you are at this moment.
- Make self-care part of your regular routine.
By checking with yourself to see if you believe you are a good person and doing okay, regardless of what anyone else thinks, you’ll make yourself happier, and more resilient.
If you have children, introduce them to each of the items in the list above whenever the opportunity presents itself. Look for the teachable moment. It’s never too early to learn the art of internal validation.
It’s okay to be addicted to specialness as long as the person who thinks you’re special is you. When you believe this without needing comparison or external validation, you’ll have taken a big step toward being an ordinary person, living an extraordinary life.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.