By Megan Taylor Stephens
Jan. 26, 2023
Unique But Not Special
My 19-year-old son said recently that he was pretty rattled when he realized that he wasn’t special. All his life, he had been told he was special and he really took it to heart. At some point in his early teen years, it dawned on him that he might be unique, but he’s not special. Sure, he has great skills and talents in some areas. But nothing gives him a guarantee of success, no one is handing him a staff and crown, and his yellow-brick road isn’t lined with gold.
I apologized on behalf of his irresponsible parents for pumping him up and puffing him up too much, but said that’s what parents do. We want to instill confidence in our kids and pad their self-esteem when they’re little. But we also want them to not be insufferably snooty as they get older, so it’s a delicate balancing act.
Worker Ant Mentality
It might sound strange, but when I am disillusioned about the state of the world or I feel existential angst about my place in the universe, I feel better remembering that I am not special. In fact, I picture myself as an ant. That’s me. Small, insignificant, going about my business. Sniffing out food. Stopping to carry something ridiculously heavy. Jumping to attention when beckoned. Greeting my comrades. Milling about in a roiling mass of other ant bodies. Working toward the common good for the antdom. All with a pep in my step and a sense of purpose.
I’m cool with being an ordinary ant amidst more or less replaceable workers. I enjoy doing little favors for my buddies and being part of a small but mighty team. I don’t want to laze around like the ant queen does. And, besides, she’s under enormous pressure. She has to boss others around, worry about productivity quotients, reprimand the ne’er do well workers, and stress about her fertility. Talk about golden handcuffs! No thanks. At least from time to time I can wander my little lower caste ant self over to a clod of dirt and wave my arms around like I just don’t care.
If my ant metaphor isn’t working for you, all I’m saying is that it’s okay to just be without being special. It’s okay to have a 9-5 job that gets us out of bed in the morning. It’s nice to say hello to the same neighbors and friends we have known for some time. I mean, it’s also lovely to not get stepped on, go on vacation, have decent housing, wear cute shoes, and live past two years. So my ant analogy only goes so far.
What I’m trying to convey is that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying our simple day where we do simple things and find simple satisfaction where we can. Life is a wondrous, often bewildering, sometimes disastrous mystery—and we get to be part of it! That’s exciting enough for me.
P.S. This ant lady was made by the author’s positively unique but happily ordinary son.