Personal Development

I’m Not Special

I have a friend who’s kind of a jerk. One of those guys who will just flat-out punch holes in all your biggest ideas.

This week he wrote me to say this:

You are not blessed or lucky and you don’t have a guardian angel.  You’re no different than the rest of us. If you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time you die.

He’s a fundamentalist atheist, and when he heard I’m walking across two continents to meet the gods he got worried for my safety. He assumed my plan was to rely on prayer and hope, not planning or connections, to survive the most dangerous regions along my route. So, he decided to write me and tell me I’m not special. And you know how I felt?

I felt damn good. I wanted to kiss him. I’m not special, and someone finally gets it.

Distinct Lack of Snowflakes

See, I get told I’m special about five times a week. Not usually in quite those words—let me give a few examples.

“You’re quitting your job? Are you a trust fund baby?” (No.)

“You can travel because you’re single. If you had a family like me you’d have to stay put.” (Nope.)

“It’s easy to go through those places if you’re a man, but it’s not safe for a woman.” (False.)

“Mosquitoes don’t like you. They always go for me.” (They love me just fine.)

All these statements have come up in conversations about the Great Adventure, but they’re nothing new. Anytime you’re doing something interesting, people will find excuses why they can’t do it too. They make you out to be “special.”

The reason is simple: if you aren’t special, then they could be doing something just as awesome as you are. But they aren’t doing this awesome thing, so you must be special. It all makes perfect sense.

I find this thinking atrocious, because it says we’re all born a certain way and we can never change it. You’re thin because you have a fast metabolism, and you get computers because you were born after 1980. Other people are big-boned or “technology doesn’t like me.” This is called aristocracy, and we killed a whole lot of people a few years back because it’s a shit poor system.

When someone’s doing something interesting, an alternate approach is to say, well heck, they’re no different than me—maybe I could do that too.

Please tweet or share this if you’re not special.


35 thoughts on “I’m Not Special

  1. Great observation. When I met Chris Guillebeau, he drove it home for me. He was doing special things, but he wasn’t any different to all the people in the room who’d come to see him speak. He was just an average guy who had decided to be unaverage. Same as you.

    • Wow, that is high praise Matt. Thank you. I got the same feeling from Chris by the way. Not only is he an ordinary guy, he has no pretensions about it. Wonderful human being.

  2. Mockingbird says:

    On the other hand, I hate those people who always grumble “Oh I could have done that too” while watching some achievement on the TV. Yet their asses stay firmly planted on the sofa.

  3. My husband is trapped in this thinking, which makes me really, really sad for him. There’s all kinds of things he wishes he was doing, but just can’t make the leap. He’ll be left with a basket full of regrets at the end of his life and he knows it. Yet he still can’t just make the decision to DO IT and find a way.

    Heh – if I wasn’t his wife, he’s have done even fewer things. Yay for insane, pushy wives! Of course, without him, I’d have died in some seriously ill-thought out adventure. (or no thought at all)

    • Yay for insane, pushy wives!

      Yes, three cheers! By the way, if any cute single girls are reading this, the way to my heart is adventure. Bold, proud women bring me great joy.

      Of course, without him, I’d have died in some seriously ill-thought out adventure

      *clears throat* Right, well…. that might be the outcome of this one :/

  4. Ka says:

    Mom’s worry, that is part of our role. Defending our children is in our genes. So, well, guess I’ll have to go with you.

    Seriously tho’ I thought about jogging for a long time. For me this was MAJOR! Would I hurt my old body? Would I look foolish? (who cares, I live in the middle of the WI woods).

    What would I wear? Well, the list goes on. But one day in the winter I just ran around our driveway a few times, felt OK. Then I increased my distance gradually and now I can run much further. I lost weight, my blood pressure went way down, I feel much better.

    So, I guess I learned that we shouldn’t let fear rule our lives. Just do things logically, gradually, and see what happens.

    Yes, Drew, I guess your Dad and I did a good job raising you and I am beginning to sense that this trip will be successful for you. Certainly MY fear shouldn’t rule YOUR life.


  5. This is a fantastic post, and echoes something I’ve thought about for a while. People in my life gush about how impressed they are that I’ve done this or accomplished that, and I want to just shake them and say “YOU CAN TOO, DAMN IT.” I’m *not* a special snowflake, and I’ve got the same 24 hours in my day as anyone else. It’s a matter of how you choose to use those hours that makes a difference.

    And I totally love that your mom chimed in on this.

    • Haha, my mom is a rockstar :)

      Thanks Patti. So, when people say this kind of thing to you – about how they could never do what you’re doing – how do you respond?

  6. Kristen Pantle says:

    I think there is a difference between “not special” and having family obligations. I had this same complaint against Chris Guillebeau’s dichotomous thinking.

    I have a family obligation: I have a chronically ill mother in need of care, and if I were to walk away from her, I would be condemning her to a sad and lonely end to her life.

    One must make a distinction between being special and being free of such a strong obligation. For my situation, being “not scared and doing something awesome like you” would be exactly the same thing as my saying “I am putting my need for excitement and the-awesome-kind-of-heroism-I-want ahead of my love and obligation to my mother.

    This is not a black and white situation, but you don’t seem to make this distinction in this entry. You lump all people who don’t do as you do as scared, and that is unfair and very judgmental.

    Owning up to one’s care of others, over and above one’s need for excitement and adventure, I have finally come to accept (after months of pouting) is the more heroic of the two choices. It requires a great sacrifice. And I think you do a great disservice in your blog by ignoring such heroism, or worse yet, brushing it aside as cowardice.

    I will postpone my year of living abroad until my mother has, painfully, passed away. This could be five years. It could be ten. This does not make you “special in a non-special but brave way” and it does not make me scared. It makes us honorable and heroic in two different ways.

    • Kristen, I don’t think Drew’s post is presented as black and white at all. He says, “people will find excuses why they can’t do it too”. My reading of this is that he’s using “excuse” as opposed to “reason”. You have a reason for not leaving.

      He even listed a few excuses. Add to them, “I would, but it would jeopardize my career” and “I’ll do it as soon as I’ve become fluent in Spanish.”

      Excuses are unmeasurable. Reasons are very measurable.

    • Kristen, thanks for saying this because it needs to be said and was indeed absent from my post. I fully agree that some people have obligations that they simply must not abandon.

      However, I think the number of people with such obligations is very small compared to the number of people who make excuses.

      I don’t know anything about your situation but from what you tell me, it sounds like there is no reasonable way for you to go travel and you are doing a wonderful, loving thing by staying with your mother. When I meet someone like you who is giving up so much out of love, I try to be supportive. It’s a hard decision you’ve made, but a noble one.

      For each person I meet who is in your situation, I meet about 100 people who would love to go for a hike except “it’s too hot out.” This post is for them, not you. :)

      • monomythproject says:

        Yes, I figured you felt this way, but simply did not mention it in the post. I was not my intention to say that you ignore such concerns. However, the statement about the “family obligations” is what peaked my concern.

        Thank you for the compassion and understanding. And it is true what you say. A lot of people would rather stick with what is safe, even if it is not fulfilling.

        It reminds me of when I went to the doctor for my own problems. She asked me about past experiences with physical therapy. I told her, “I did it for awhile, but then I just got impatient so I quit.” She looked at me and said something to the effect of, “I am impressed with your honesty. Most people make up excuses as to why they quit.”

        And I have done this in the past: choosing safety over facing the hard fear of the unknown. But I am actively working to conquer this handicap. It is just hard to do when you are caring for someone who spends the majority of her life in bed. :/

        I plan on doing mini-challenges for now. For example, I plan on getting my wisdom teeth pulled. Big deal, right? I have had a phobia of it since I was little. So, photos to come, bloody mouth, tears and all.

        And I am glad I did not offend you.

  7. Great post! I have acheived amazing things as well, and often get the “well, your special” bullshit. Foolhardy, maybe, but not special.

    Good for you for not being afraid!

    I am, however, wondering what makes one a “fundamentalist” atheist…….

    • Hey, who said I’m not afraid? I’m riding on a bronco of fear and nervousness as I get close to Day Zero, but doing my best to manage it….

      I’m using “fundamentalist atheist” the same way one would use “fundamentalist Christian.” It means he holds extreme views that go far beyond most atheists’ views, he has a very narrow world view and thinks anyone who doesn’t agree with him is both wrong and dangerous. It’s kind of a shame but it’s a pretty recent swing for him (only in the last two years has he adopted this thinking). He’s always been a good and loyal friend so I am doing my best to understand his views and accept him as he is.

  8. This is just wonderful! I still have it in my plans to do something similar. Actually two similar trips…the first one (footing it across the US) didn’t get much fuss, but you should have heard the noise when I suggested doing something similar in Europe. Anyway I think this is a fabulous idea and I can’t wait to eventually do my own such adventure (though I have had a couple mini-adventures so far lol).
    The great thing about adventures is that anyone can have them, the only thing that is stopping us is ourselves. No specialness involved ;)

  9. Kate says:

    To Kristen,

    Drew’s Mom again. I too had an obligation to help out my Mom for years. My Mom’s wasn’t seriously ill but was needy, didn’t drive, etc. I never lived far from her and took her every place she needed to go. I felt blessed that I was able to be there for her, she was a fine woman. The years we spent together we wonderful and I miss her everyday.-
    Funny, as she got to know her Grandson Drew, she said she
    wished she could live long enough to see what he became, she said she knew it would be “stunnung”!
    But as I said, I think we can do ‘heroic’ things in everyday life. Your Mom is lucky to have you and you are very lucky to still have her. Enjoy your time together, someday you will be able to do all the things you want to, but you will always be proud of yourself and your Mom!

    No regrets,

  10. Ann Luloff says:

    Of course we could say that…or say “Why would I want to do that when I have my own adventures that look totally different, but are just as amazing and enlightening, an happen to occur in my own back yard?”

    If life doesn’t give you the freedom to go on long trips, maybe you are having a meaningful experience right now, whether you see it as positive or negative. Living in the moment is a great way to meet the divine.

  11. Nicki says:

    Totally agree, mostly. I think many people live in fear and it’s an Adventure Stopper, for sure, and yes, they like to make it sound like we are so special, and that “normal” people can’t pull that off. I get that all the time on the kidney donation, or walking away from the job I had for 14 years, or shaving my head or whatever. It’s silly.
    However, I also don’t think that anyone’s journey is anymore special than anyone else’s. I have a dear friend who lives in fear all the time, but she is fighting her own demons and slaying her own dragons. I don’t want to live in her shoes EVER, but at the end of the day, she gets to look back and feel proud of the things that she accomplished. I don’t think that donating a kidney is any better than what she deals with daily, or that walking across the world and telling everyone about how you’re going to do it, or giving birth with no drugs warrants a “This adventure is better than yours!”. The path we are each walking is paved in gold, and we are all moving our own mountains in our own way.
    And as your mom and others mentioned, there’s also no way to predict what you (any of us) would or would not do in a different situation. Trust me, with 4 children, picking up and going isn’t easy. I have a husband and 4 other lives to look out for, and the decisions I make matter even MORE because of all of them- not to mention some of them get trumped altogether as “undoable”. This is my choice and I wouldn’t trade it- not for all the “freedom” in the world. There are plenty of things that I stay put for. MY adventures leak out differently than yours, hers, his, my moms…just as your does. Our own paths. That’s what’s awesome. If we are really smart, we can listen to someone else’s perspective regarding their own path and experience a little bit of it without having to compromise our own adventures.
    My favorite line from U2’s “One” : We’re one, but we’re not the same, we get to carry eachother, carry eachother….One. (but only if that’s what you believe, hahah!)

    • Thanks for the insight Nicki. I agree that one person’s dream is no better or worse than another person’s. If someone says “I know I could do what you’re doing but I’d rather do something else,” I have no beef with that.

      Despite the difficulty, as I recall your plan is indeed to pick up with your 4 children and hub-a-dub and travel, right? I’d love to hear how that is going, what planning is involved, what timetable you’ve set, etc. I believe you can do it and if I can help in any way you just need to ask :)

      • nickiofcourse says:

        It so totally is my plan to do just that. Step one: CJ is learning from home this year. Step 2: Josh, next year. Step 3: Buy the RV (which could happen at any time) Step 4, also to happen at any time: Secure the notion that the income will continue to be in-coming. Step 5: FLY, leaving behind us a whole slew of really sad people, but it’s only a year. ;) My own personal biggest challenge in this lifetime happens to be PATIENCE. I want to go N.O.W. :) Anyway, until then, I have to live through you, so if you don’t mind, HURRY UP AND TAKE A HIKE!

  12. Hey, I’ve got a video you should watch that I think you’ll appreciate. It’s an interview in Vietnam with David Simon, a guy Tony and I hosted (he found us through while he was walking across Turkey last year. Very nice guy. He’s walked all the way from Budapest to Singapore now. You might pick up some tips from the interview. for the video and if you want to follow him or ask for advice.

  13. Nice post, I totally get your meaning and I like the message your friend sent.

    In my life, I’m the adventurous one of the two in the relationship. My significant other is a worrier that I’ve managed to get a few adventures out of which led him to become more adventurous than how he was when we first met. he also lets me have a few adventures of my own.

    I honestly am not as spontaneous as I used to be after motherhood, but it is a new adventure with new lessons for me almost daily. I still go on trips with her too. Not as long mind you but you can still do things as a family, or just as mother-daughter time, etc. Heck, come to think of it, some of the things I do and have done other parents would call me ridiculously spontaneous when I don’t think of it as such. i.e. getting up one morning and picks up the local topo map and say to my daughter, “hey lets check out this lake today. It should only take a few hours of bush whacking there and back.” and I’ve never been through that bush or to that lake before. She’s such a trooper and has climbed a mountain with me twice before too, and she is only 3 yrs old.

    Let us know if you get any fellow walkers on board prior to the Big Day!

    *hopes your preps are going well*

    • Thanks Rua! I love how a partner can balance out your tendencies… I think the most stable couples have a lot of that going on. Also, TWO MOUNTAINS? Can you tell us more about that? Was your daughter on your back or did she climb somehow on her own…?

      • It was really the same mountain climbed on two separate occasions, and it was an Algoma Highland mountain, not like the big mountain ranges like those out on the west coast some people think of. She walked most of the way up, being scooped her every now and then over difficult spots. She is usually carried most of the way down as the slope is difficult for footing and is tired by then.

        The mountain is Thunder Mountain, which is sacred to the Anishnabek and I was with a group for the event that was hosted by the medicine man there. I am Metis with mixed heritage of Anishnabe and Irish descent with a yearning to learn about my background. So that is what started me going. Through this experience I’ve found many things I agree with in the teachings and still have much to learn. As it is an experiential practice the ceremonies at the mountain are, thus far, the only available venue for me learn about my heritage.

        There are many non-native people who go and are welcome. When I went for the fast (aka vision quest) as a helper this past spring, there was a Buddhist monk from Japan who recently came back from visiting a sacred mountain top near Machu Picchu in Peru, with the quest for world peace. I’ve been told of Muslims, Hindus and people of many other practices around the world who came to Thunder Mountain in their own personal searches. The people who’ve become my friends that live Manitoulin Island are of differing beliefs but find a common truth and fellowship on the Mountain as well. Everyone who goes feels welcomed with open arms and finds a feeling of an extended family.

        • That is truly powerful Rua. I’m glad you’ve found such a supporting & dynamic spiritual hub to be a part of. I bet your little girl is going to absorb a lot of valuable ideas by being part of it too!

  14. Yeah, the medicine man there is thrilled to see her and other children raised around the teachings, unlike how he was and many other people who were in the residential schools. Its a real struggle to for their people to relearn what was so close to being completely lost. Some I fear is as lost as the Celtic side of my ancestry. Which reminds me of that book you plan to someday publish. It brings hope.

  15. Fred Hinegardner says:

    I did my year of solitude in the wilderness. Planned it when I was 16. Set the date to go when I was 50. Worked like a charm. Am still transposing my journals.

    • That’s so great Fred! If you ever upload your journals to any digital format, please let me know – I would love to read them. Good for you for making your 16 year old self proud!

  16. Pingback: The Harsh Reality of Becoming a Warrior, Part II « Rogue Priest

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