How I’m learning to be okay with not standing out

WORDS By Lauren Payne

Why is being special so important?

I’ve been a writer for over 10 years. I started writing way before social media had a tight grip on the world. Back then, Facebook was reserved for cryptic music lyrics (shout out to Paramore for all helping us feel all the feels), Twitter was still cordial, and Instagram was for pictures of food with a sepia filter slapped on top. 

No one was promoting themselves online or posting about their achievements – everyone was just having a good time. I was living the life I pictured myself having when I was in high school. I’d always wanted to be a writer and here I was, doing the thing! I felt special, like I was doing stuff no one else was doing and as far as I knew, this was true.

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There was a time when I could honestly recite a long list of reasons why I thought I stood out from the crowd. If I was in the middle of a job interview and someone asked me, “What makes you special? What makes you better than the other candidates?”, I could tell that person exactly what made me better than everyone else they’d seen that day. Over time though, I started to believe in that list a lot less.

As social media became a highlight reel of achievements, I started to see what other writers were doing with themselves. While I was working hard to land the full-time writing role I craved, writers younger than me had already done it. They were already well connected within the industry, going to fancy events, and had bylines in some of the most well-respected publications in the country. They had everything I wanted and got it before me. 

I started to see their work more regularly as their stories weren’t just published in my favourite magazines, they were also plastered all over my social feeds. These stories became a constant reminder that although I’d been a writer for a long time, I wasn’t standing out and I wasn’t doing as well as these other talented people were. 

The more I saw them, the more I wondered what I needed to do to be as special as these other writers. I started to ask myself why I wasn’t on their level. I’d done the hard work and put my special stamp on every word I wrote, but now, here was a plethora of other writers showing me that what I thought made me special, really wasn’t making me special at all.

They liked the same music as me, wrote about the same fashion designers I did and shared a lot of my ambitions. We were doing the same thing, but they were better at it. This realisation broke me more than I thought it would. Over the years I thought I’d become more resilient, and that I had matured enough to stop trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses’.

I felt defeated. I thought there was nothing really remarkable about me, and there was nothing I could do to change it. Social media and the ever-expanding internet had shown me I wasn’t special enough. Then, ironically enough, it was a social media platform, and the internet, that helped me change my tune.  

After scrolling through LinkedIn and seeing how many of my connections had landed exciting new roles, while my emails were full of tumbleweeds, I decided to Google ‘the psychology behind not feeling special’. The first result was an article written by Mark Manson, the author of one of the best-titled self-help books in history, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck.

The article was called ‘Being Special Isn’t So Special’, and it blew my mind. The article explained how consumerism, capitalism and having unlimited access to any piece of information we could possibly want, just by typing it into Google, has led to us “unconsciously measuring ourselves up against one another constantly”. I felt so seen.

I continued reading through some of the other articles that appeared during my spontaneous Google search, and my jaw continued to drop. I read about how seemingly insignificant interactions with other people can chip away at your self-esteem, making you feel less special, and how sometimes, that feeling of not being special enough is simply your inner critic trying to protect you from rejection.

It instantly changed my perspective on being special, but the real clincher, the cherry on top of this very enlightening cake, was an article called ‘The Truth Is, You’re Not Special’. The article says no one is special, or extraordinary. Instead, we’re unique human beings who are all worthy of being respected and we shouldn’t be placing any extra pressure on ourselves to be special or stand out.

We are all just people trying to navigate a complex world, so why should we make it more complex by trying to be special!? For me, it was ground-breaking. The dictionary definition of the word ‘special’ is someone or something that is better, or more important than other people or things. The thing is though, no one is more important than someone else… not really.

We all have our own unique experiences in this life and sometimes, some people stand out more than others. Sure, I might not stand out among a sea of other writers, but at least I can talk to those other writers about my experiences in the industry and they can share theirs with me as well. We can learn from each other and grow into better writers in our own individual way. So why is being special so important? 

There are plenty of people out in the world who can do what I do. Some people are better at it than I am, others aren’t, and that’s totally fine. There are people who look like me, who sound like me and are interested in what I’m interested in. There are people who know more than I do and who earn more than I do.

Some have worked extremely hard to earn more than me and others haven’t, but that doesn’t make them more special than I am. It doesn’t make them any less special either. We’re all important and all worthy of respect, love and happiness. I’ve decided to give up on trying to be special, on trying to intentionally stand out.

Instead, I’m trying to learn how to do what I want to do, and not care about whether it makes me appear impressive to others. I’m accepting the fact that there are writers all over the world who can do what I do, and can do it well, but there are still things that make my own writing journey unique. 

Not many writers have interviewed the drummer of Vampire Weekend mid-way through a shift at Baker’s Delight. A lot of writers also haven’t been diagnosed with the same medical condition twice, and gotten so mad about it that they decided to do their own research and basically write a PSA about the complexity of the diagnosis. 

I may not be special or have a slew of qualities that make me remarkable enough to stand out from a massive crowd of other writers, but I am still me. I’m a unique person who has done a lot of fun things in her life that has led her to become a writer. I may not stand out, but I’m doing what I want to do, which is the most important thing, right?

For more on not being special, try this.

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