By Paul Blase
I recently helped write an essay for a friend. She had a bit of writer’s block but also wanted to make a strong statement about her educational journey. One statement stood out more than others: “I was always told that I was gifted and special.” To be fair, this is something that I’ve seen a lot on social media in the past year or two. People are talking about being considered gifted, special, supremely intelligent, etc. Then, suddenly, here we are in our late 20s and 30s, and all of that praise amounted to nothing.
The cold hard truth? You’re not special. You never were.
Okay, stop the presses. Let me get on my soapbox and explain this.
There are a very select few people in this world who are so acutely gifted from such an early age. These are the kids you see going to college at fourteen, speaking five languages by the time they’re six, writing differential equations by ten – you get my point. Even athletically, we see these cute videos of these young kids with insane abilities in sports at like four or five, and we never hear of them again.
Don’t get me wrong, human potential, especially a child’s, is limitless. It takes an ungodly amount of dedication, practice, patience, failures, discipline, self-awareness, support – all of it – to maximize that potential. Ironically, the ability to harness that potential and apply all those traits I just listed will make you special. Jim Lovell, an astronaut of Apollo 13 fame, had a wonderful quote about becoming successful: “There are people that make things happen, people who watch things happen, and people who wonder what happened.” I think it’s pretty obvious the people who complain about never having lived up to their potential are the latter two.
All the same, the folks who gassed up these kids to believe they were just “built different,” as the youngins say these days, are equally at fault. It created this false sense of achievement without ever having to work for the things they were capable of achieving. I’m not gonna sit here and pretend like I’m some omnipotent person. There are a lot of missed opportunities in my life that I wish I could have back, knowing what I know now. But it was always instilled in me from a young age, thanks to my father, that no matter what I want in life, I can achieve it. The catch? It won’t just happen. You have to put in your hard work, pay your dues. The old adage, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
We’re living in the participation trophy world. We’re setting up our youth to fail, and it is translating into everyday life. The incessant whining, kicking, and screaming takes hold when things aren’t “fair” or don’t go someone’s way. It’s why I’ll occasionally rock a “Fuck Your Feelings” T-Shirt. People sometimes say, “it’s not a competition,” but actually, it kinda is. That’s the whole premise of Darwinism – only the strong survive. This life comes with so much adversity at every single corner you turn. Very few are fortunate enough to evade that reality. There are only two choices: 1) Buckle and fold, or 2) tighten up that belt a notch and keep pushing.
It’s important to know that there’s a difference between hard work and working hard. I could have a pile of bricks and tell you to move them 50 feet away for 8 hours. You’d be working hard, but what are you actually accomplishing? If I told you to plan and construct something beautiful with those bricks, it could take you a few days, and it would certainly be hard work. The main difference is you have something meaningful to show for it at the end. When it comes to education, athletics, personal goals, relationships even, it takes hard work—waking up early, staying up late, studying longer, going to counseling, driving to the gym even when you’ve had a long day at work. It’s one step at a time, calculated for something bigger and better.
The people who take those steps, the small, seemingly insignificant steps, are the ones who are special and gifted. The ones who just apathetically accept what life gives them, complain about how life sucks or is unfair; those are the same people that cannot be happy for others because they are filled with envy and jealousy. “I was special; they were lucky.” “Life’s not fair; I can’t catch any breaks.”
Sometimes you have to make your own breaks. It won’t always be glorious and fun. Behind every large paycheck, every nice house, every dream come true, there is blood, sweat, and tears behind the scene that few, if anybody, ever see. It doesn’t just come from nowhere. We all control our own destiny and have the ability to become special. The work we put in, the willingness to be a better version of ourselves, to achieve our dreams and goals – that’s what will make us special.
You aren’t special. You never were. But you most certainly can be. The only thing in the way is yourself.