When you’re too unique to learn

The problem of over-emphasising “being special”

In both my mental health work and my volunteer mentoring of teenagers, there’s a way of thinking I’ve come to recognise as deadly when someone latches on to it. It is said in many way, with different words, and varying body language, but it’s hard to miss, and it all comes down to this idea:

But I’m different.

And you know the most deadly thing about it?

The fact that it’s true.

Or perhaps to be more precise, it’s at least half true. That makes it an even bigger problem because, while it’s easy to see how half a loaf is better than none, it’s harder to see how a half truth ends up being a lie.

The minute I realise the person I’m talking to believes that, I can tell that they’re going to take much longer, if at all, to grasp what they need to learn and do to move from where they are to where they want to be.

After all, if I’m “different,” whatever worked for others can’t possibly work for me, right?

But where does that leave me?

The truth is, yes, each of us is unique, and that needs to be always be taken into account. No one has your DNA, your fingerprints, your eyes, your exact personality. But each of us is also like everyone else. Everyone has DNA, fingerprints, eyes, and personalities.

Not simply one or the other, but both, together.

To hold on to only one side of this issue is to undermine even the value of the part we hold on to.

If each of us were considered just like everyone else, differences be damned, we would end up losing the massive potential value in our differences. But if each of us were entirely different from everyone else, we would all have to start from scratch every time, instead of being able to learn from others.

There’s a tension here that needs to be delicately balanced, but better to keep trying to balance it and fail sometimes, than to give up on the effort altogether.

Not one or the other, but both.

See, there’s a ton of things we all need to learn.

And life’s too short to insist on learning it all by yourself.

You are unique. No one else is exactly like you.

But if that was all you were, you’d be terribly lonely.

Luckily (for you and everyone else) you are also like everyone else. And that means you can relate to them, learn from them, and live more richly.

Don’t buy the lie that it’s one or the other.

It’s both.


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