How To Believe You're Special

1. Be indoctrinated by your parents, teachers and the general sentiment of what to you seems to be “The United States of America” that you’re “special.” Have no objective concepts of idealism or reality. The belief in your capacity to be the best at anything is qualitatively identical to your belief that 2+2 =4, that the grass is green, that your parents are ‘better’ than everyone else’s parents, etc.

2. Be forced by your parents to play sports. Excel. You’re one of the best players on the team. You don’t feel animosity or negativity toward those on your team who seem unable to perform as you do, just confusion and a lack of comprehension regarding why they can’t get their shit together. You have no concept of empathy for others that seem physically disadvantaged. Your superiority aligns perfectly with your belief that you’re special. There is no reason to question it.

3. Maintain a near perfect grade record throughout elementary school. Feel unable to comprehend people who perform poorly at academics the same way you feel unable to comprehend those that are uncoordinated and clumsy in sports. Notice the people that maintain perfect grade records. There is a certain amount of discomfort in your knowledge and experience of them. Some element of distance. You are not conscious of this.

“…this is the first time you’ve actually dedicated resources to the upkeep of others’ perceptions…”

4. Notice the first instances of puberty and adult-like situations happening around you. At this juncture, your life becomes confusing. The confusion is almost completely in regards to puberty, changes in your body and interactions with the opposite sex that have suddenly become a lot more high-stakes. Detect the first hints of self-consciousness. Continue achieve near-perfect grades. Continue to be one of the best players on your sports team. Continue to allow these facts to reinforce the belief that you’re special. That nothing stands between you and any possibility.

5. Enter middle school. You still don’t seem (feel) close to puberty. On top of this being an increasingly significant point of contention between you and reality, you’re also forced to accept and mitigate higher and higher amounts of self-consciousness and subsequent discomfort and low self-confidence. But you aren’t really conscious of any of this – just sort of baffled and negative.

6. You’re in eighth grade. Have a minor and disquieting catharsis about your ability in sports. You’re not one of the best anymore. There are actually a good number of people on the team that are better than you. You can’t discern when this happened. You begin to feel averse to competition. You start to seriously resent your parents for forcing you to play sports.

7. Begin high school. There is a distance between you and certain types of people because of the way they dress, the way they compose themselves and how big they are. Your mind habituates to feelings only lightly touched upon in your past, but now arriving in full force: estrangement, alienation, etc. The self-consciousness and subsequent ‘issues’ with self-esteem and low self-confidence you picked up in late middle school are further exacerbated.

8. Continue performing well in school. Come to the unfortunate realization that all the other people that do good in school are total fucking losers. Sense that the real prize waits for those that have the coolest parents, that have friends with cars, that have done drugs, that have started drinking, that have lots of girls around them, that know how to fight. You’re in the middle of puberty and it’s extreme. While you don’t feel very special, your core belief still tells you that your time will come. That you are incredibly talented.

“Everyone in our family is average. No one has done anything. I feel really average. None of you have done anything.”

9. You’re a junior now. Realize that you’re actually not comprehending certain things your teachers are trying to teach you. Realize that people are taking things called AP courses and that you have no idea what those are. Realize that your grades aren’t awesome anymore. But don’t let any of this affect your idea that you’re special. That you could be an astronaut or a doctor or a nuclear physicist. That one day you’ll probably save the world in a breathtaking and action-movie display of heroism. That you’re uniquely talented. Instead, have a creeping feeling of shame and develop habitual behaviors such as lying about trivial details of your life in an effort to build a persona that’s ‘mysterious’ and ‘special’ (note: this is the first time you’ve actually dedicated resources to the upkeep of others’ perceptions).

10. Begin to do drugs and fail classes. Be able, for the first time, to articulate that you sometimes feel what others call is ‘depression.’ Take this to mean that you’re special and deep in a way others could never comprehend. That your excruciating, unable-to-articulate despair is evidence of a deep well of mystery and authentic capability.

11. Go through a phase of doing a lot of acid. Have another minor epiphany, this time about your family. Realize that none of them have done any of the things they said you could and would do. Bring this up to your father. “Everyone in our family is average. No one has done anything. I feel really average. None of you have done anything,” you tell him. You feel bleak and worried. His response is weak and unconvincing. You realize now that your parents were humans before you existed. You feel fucked. Hold on to the idea that you’re special. That every single person has a unique talent that will enable them to be the best at what that talent will eventually be perfect to serve. Become conscious that you “just haven’t discovered it yet.” Graduate high school.

12. Pass through college maintaining an above-3.5 GPA. In your inner monologue point out that you’ve begun to remind yourself that you’re special and superior to all people in one specific, as-yet-undiscovered-(but-that’s-ok-because-you’re-still-young)-talent, using your GPA as evidence, and the fact that a lot of the people you knew in high school that were cool then are sort of wrecks now.

“You perceive this as reality taking a huge shit on your worldview.”

13. Notice that your idea of ‘special’ has shifted a little. You’ve defined limits. Ruled/given up on some areas. The area in which you feel it’s still possible to succeed continues to remain vague, only now within narrower boundaries. This fact in itself is excruciating to realize, so you don’t. Instead you feel a strange sense of dread. Find something you seem pretty good at (since you can’t find the thing that you’re totally fucking awesome at) and decide that that’s how you’ll make money. This is, tentatively, your ‘life skill’ and thus ‘the rest of your life’ (note: you have no idea what ‘the rest of your life’ means).

14. Work your first office job employing said skill. Notice and be disturbed by all the skills that these coworkers who you’ve never met before, some of which are 20 years your senior, have cultivated over vast periods of time that you had no idea existed. Be completely in over your head. Have no idea how to solve some of the problems your colleagues bring to you. Get fired. You weren’t as good as you said you were. You perceive this as reality taking a huge shit on your worldview.

15. Begin to have serious existential crises. Be unsure about your idea of being special. How could you be the best at something when there are/have been so many people? More than a trillion people have come and gone before you. So many died inhumane, horrific, unfair (and etc.) deaths. So many died as babies. So many died at 10, at 20, at 30, at 40. The universe is terribly vast. How could it matter? How could you be anything??

16. After two years of relative depression, a widespread pattern of poor decision making, and being a barista at a coffee shop, gain some semblance of existential footing. Either believe you’re special or yearn for the possibility that you’re special (you can’t tell). Get a more comprehensive grip on traditional worldview and cultural dogma. Dedicate a lot of time and energy toward identifying your own biases, inhibitions, narratives and motifs. Form the view that life for the vast majority of animal species is terrible, day-to-day suffering. Cite as evidence the fact that animals kill and are killed every day. That animals eat each other alive. That they eat each others’ babies. That suffering in the non-human world is real and intense. That civilization inhabits the same world as the animal. From this point in logic, come closer to accepting your own suffering, however meager and inconsequential it is in comparison. Take comfort in the fact that you’re a human living in a Western country with no real threat of starving to death. Begin to experience feelings of privilege. Begin to feel that being “special” might not be the “answer.” Begin to entertain alternative priorities. TC mark


More From Thought Catalog

  • tao



  • Chillwave gonzales

    Going to listen to chillwave, and reflect on limits/eternity.

  • richardchiem

    this is sweet. i was moved then felt more comfortable.

    how you close in 16 with animals is perfect.

    'That civilization inhabits the same world as the animal. '

    also, i like that you bring up hunger with self consciousness.

  • Michael Koh

    sinister loneliness, bleak solitude

  • wackomet

    this is so real

  • Chillwave gonzales

    This proto-chillwave track helps me deal with raw animal suffering —

    • Bobbie

      yeah think about all those pooches in the dark plains…

  • john dorian marshall

    is there any way to 'avoid' existential despair??
    some1 help plzzzz…

    • tao

      i'll attempt to write 'how to avoid existential despair'

  • Brian McElmurry

    I liked this. It is special, no joke. There is a Buddhist belief of the inescapable sufferings of life: death, sickness, things you like being taken away, or not getting, et cetera. I liked how you ended on that. “From this point in logic, come closer to accepting your own suffering, however meager and inconsequential it is in comparison.”

  • natalie

    feel like i was at 13 a few months ago; feel more like i'm at 16 now. feel like this has a lot to do with reading your articles which i used to dislike because they made me feel uncomfortable until i realized that i liked them because they make me feel uncomfortable. think you could be 'inspirational' as a motivational speaker.

  • Eric


  • curt

    nice one

  • Not special

    this is my life

  • Joseph Ernest Harper


  • Byron

    This is…

  • PINA

    I AM special.

  • i dont know.

    Children who have been told they are perfect from the get go ( not even necessarily directly) and therefore as a result have come to believe this brain wash/ constructed version of themselves, are what i believe 'fucked for life'…..well not necessarily, but the sooner people believe that they are not perfect nor ever will be the better.

    Middle/ upper class syndrome is the worst. Yet i should be so thankful and lucky.

    Im sorry don't take me seriously. I don't want to make anyone depressed just had to get this shit out of my system.

  • megan boyle

    sweet…related to it a lot

  • d.

    starting to believe I'm special now.

  • Ok

    This is really really good.

  • Bee Goode

    good article bro. i feel like i 'relate'. feel i've lived this article.
    life is really strange and probably pointless.
    when i try to imagine what my life was before i was born all i can think about is that before i was born i didn't exist. i was nothing. it wasn't the blackness we remember after a dreamless sleep but absolute nothingness. and when i die i'll return to that state of nothing.
    so what is this in between period of time called life where i am in a self-aware state?
    what is this period of time bookended by nothingness?

    I Don't Know.

    so yeah i've given up on being 'special'. no real desire to contribute to society. but i feel ok about it. i feel ok that i do just enough to get by. do just enough to be able to obtain drugs, alcohol, pussy, music, movies, internet access, food. no real goals. no real desire to reproduce. i just wanna get effed up, have sex as much as possible, and be entertained. no real desire to grow old. our cavemen ancestors didn't die rotting away in retirement homes. i think it's more 'natural' and more dignified to die before you reach the age where you can't take care of yourself. hoping the drugs/booze will make sure that i'll die before i'm too old.


  • JP

    Nice. This is something different. I bet anyone can actually relate to this.

    • ra

      I really feel like you want me to take comfort in my privilege:

      “Listen, you're not special, you just lived in an illusion for a long time.
      It's ok though! All along, that illusion was provided by your privilege!
      So you still have that.”

      Thanks for your writing, it's helped me substantively reflect.

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