Why Being “Special” Is A Scam

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I’m going to be blunt. You aren’t special. You aren’t even a little bit better than everyone else around you.

You might have a 5.0 GPA and be valedictorian.

You might be captain of the varsity soccer team.

You might be class president or prom queen or the most popular girl in school.

You might have been employee of the month every month since you started working.

You might have been the essay every teacher used as an example for the rest of the class.

You might have gotten your driver’s license in one go.

Your parents might have bought you a car on your sixteenth birthday (when you can’t even drive yourself yet, I’ll never understand this).

But you aren’t special and you certainly aren’t superior to the rest of the world.


“Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.” – David McCullough, Jr. via


I struggled with this realization day one of college. I wasn’t one of the top students anymore. I wasn’t well-known among teachers, let alone the county educational system. I figured out real fast that I needed to actually study, but not even to get an A. I needed to work hard just to meet the C-wall for some classes.

Everyone around me had taken multiple AP classes, had above a 4.0 GPA, and held some leadership position in high school. Everyone worked and volunteered and was well-read.


“Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools.  That’s 37,000 valedictorians… 37,000 class presidents… 92,000 harmonizing altos… 340,000 swaggering jocks… even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you…And consider for a moment the bigger picture…astrophysicists assure us the universe has no center; therefore, you cannot be it.” – David McCullough, Jr. via


These things that used to make us “gifted” or “advanced” were lies. They made us sheltered and comfortable and lazy. I worked so incredibly hard in high school to get where I did, but I was so focused on class rank and college applications and how many scholarships I could get that I burned out in, wait for it, the least competitive part of life.

I got to college and I was done. I’m over it all. I don’t care about having the highest GPA. I’ll be drowning in due dates and still make social plans.

But I’m in such a progressive, motivational environment.

Everyone around me is dedicated and goal-oriented. They study so hard. I can definitely say there is a difference between “getting” an A and “earning” one. I don’t freak out over an average grade, I’m proud because I worked hard and I earned it. Just this past week I found out I scored an 80% on my physics test and I was so excited. In high school, I never would’ve been thrilled over anything less than a 95%, but this was the best I had ever done on a physics test after 2.5 semesters in the subject. I don’t care that I’m not in the top percentile of the class, I earned that 80% on my own and that’s more than enough for me.

There’s such a sense of entitlement in the world today.

Everyone calls millennials a group of entitled, soft, cry-babies, but it’s not limited to one generation. The entire world is losing their drive. No one wants to work for anything because they feel that their sole existence entitles them to it. They think “I got straight A’s on my report card, therefore I should receive a full ride to college” (I’ve been there, what a rude awakening that was) or “I’ve been with this company for a year now, they wouldn’t last a day without me anymore, therefore I should be promoted to manager.”

News flash. There’s always going to be someone smarter, faster, prettier, stronger, or what-have-you around.

We are so ridiculously full of ourselves that we can’t appreciate what we have. We don’t appreciate what we are. We always want more, but we don’t want to take the time to work for it and see what we can learn along the way.

I’m not exempt from this either. Sometimes, if I spend hours on a paper, I feel like I should get an A. But it’s not based on the quantity of time spent on it. After all, I’m probably on my phone for a few of those hours anyway. It’s not even always about the quality of focus and hard work you put into the assignment. Your grade is mostly based on correctness, whether that be the correct layout of an argumentative essay or the correct final answer in a 2 page long statics problem.

Everyone can’t be special, and so, as it turns out, no one is.


“If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless.  In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another–which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance…we have of late… to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.” – David McCullough, Jr. via


and that’s a big problem. My brother always makes fun of me because I have two cheerleading trophies in my room at home. No, I wasn’t on a competition team. They are from elementary school and I got them because I participated. I have countless metals and ribbons from participating in the school geography bee or math team or some other event.

This isn’t the way to build up the next generation.

I’m not a genius.

I’m not talented. I’m not special and you aren’t either. I don’t mean to shatter your entire world view, but something needs to be done. When I came to college and realized, hey, maybe I wasn’t as smart as everyone always said I was, my academic confidence plummeted and I still haven’t completely recovered.

But maybe that’s a good thing. I don’t ever want to be a know-it-all. By understanding that I don’t know everything (far from it), I have a greater appreciation for what I learn.

We put so much pressure on kids to ace standardized tests and get straight A’s to get into a top college that they lose sight of what the entire purpose of public education is- to get an education. I passed calc 2, but if you put a problem in front of me right now, there’s no way I could do it. On the flip side, I had to retake physics 1, but I definitely have a better understanding of the material.

Life isn’t about what kind of grades you get or the number of *participation* trophies you have.


“The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer.” – David McCullough, Jr. via


If you forget a notebook at home, your mom shouldn’t have to drop everything and bring it to you. If you didn’t get the grade you think you deserved (note the word deserved), your mom shouldn’t call and complain until the teacher gives in to frustration.

Fight for yourself.


“None of this day-seizing, though, this YOLOing, should be interpreted as license for self-indulgence.  Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct…Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view.  Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.  Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly…And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience…” -David McCullough, Jr. via


Fight for your human experience.


“The sweetest joys of life…come only with the recognition that you’re not special.

Because everyone is.” – David McCullough, Jr. via


~What are your thoughts?

To watch the commencement speech from which I pulled the quotes included in this post, click here.


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