All my life, I’ve put crushing pressure on myself to be the best – at everything. Not that I ever was, but that pressure was always there, hanging heavy over everything I did and every moment I experienced. And guess what? It didn’t make things very fun.
In fact, it destroyed me in many ways through eating disorders, social anxiety, performance anxiety, low self-esteem; basically manifesting as a fear to leave my house and engage in the world without putting on a fake mask and thick armor.
All that changed when I adopted this one phrase:
You are not special.
Now, before you get all huffy and offended at these seemingly belittling words...allow me to explain how this simple concept changed my life.
When my coach (aka fiancé) first introduced this to me, my initial reaction was rage. Not at him, mind you. He wasn’t pointing a finger at me saying, “You, Tanya, are not special.” Rather, we were discussing strategies for coping with those demons that tell you, in so many different ways, that you are not good enough. He was telling me his secret for how he can be such an open, charismatic guy while I struggle with being shy and awkward. Knowing how much this holds me back in life, I listened but not without this seething protest going on in my head:
Wait? WTF? Come again? Not special?! How dare he even suggest such an idea…after I’ve spent my whole life killing myself to be special…
BAM. And that right there is the whole problem – “…I’ve spent my whole life KILLING myself to be special.”
As a Type A perfectionist, I remember every single day, childhood and adulthood alike, being filled with the need to be "special"…at everything. It fueled my hardcore, workaholic efforts to excel in dance, school, sports, social situations, even as a daughter. This is not to say that I always did excel (some things I was just plain miserable at!), but that need to be special kept me constantly striving to be better...to be more.
Great. Not necessarily a bad thing in concept to want to be better, right? The problem is needing other people to see you as better; needing to be seen as special. Because here’s the thing – the need to stand apart from everyone else separates you from everyone else. And what’s the one thing you are actually looking for in your drive to be special? Love. Love, acceptance, to be part of something bigger than yourself, to make an impact in this world, to leave a piece of you behind, to be fulfilled by your life…all that requires connecting with others, not separating from them.
(Think about it: Why do you feel the need to become a principal with ABT or whichever dream company you’ve been hunting down a job with since were a little girl? Because you think that if you’re special enough to get that prestigious title, you’ll be loved & adored by everyone and finally feel “good enough” as a dancer and all will be right in the world.)
The need to be "special" comes with a lot of pressure. While you hold yourself to harsh standards to stand out in the crowd, you also segregate yourself from the rest of the world. You build walls to set yourself apart from others. This doesn’t necessarily happen because you think you’re better than them, but because you fear being judged by them:
- You’re not ready to let them in yet...
- You’re not ready to let them see you…
- You’re not in your final form...
- You’re not good enough.
So you put on an air of being special and push them away so they don’t see the real you. (aka you armor up and hide.)
In fact, you push everything away. The need to be special supersedes everything, including the very goals you are working towards. You see, this kind of driven mindset comes with extremely high costs – sleep, health, friends, love, happiness, fun (it’s not like those things are important or anything *eye roll*). Sacrificing these fundamental needs usually doesn’t bode well for a person, especially an artist who needs to tap into sensuality and experience in order to communicate. Your very efforts end up impeding your actual goals:
- How can you be a good dancer if you’re squeezing all the life out of your art trying to have perfect technique?
- How can you make friends if you’re afraid to make yourself vulnerable & show your flaws?
- How can you relate to the world around you and be present if you’re wearing a suffocating mask that keeps you confined and reserved?
- How can you be healthy if you’re cheating your recovery, sleep, nutrition, and sanity in order to look "fit"?
The obsession with being special overtakes what you actually desire. Which brings us back to our simple phrase and how you can use it to help you:
You are not special.
Let’s really consider this mindset. The fear is that without the incessant need to be special, you’ll lose your drive. You’ll start slacking off and not push to be your best self. You’ll lose your spark and not be…well…“special.”
When you let go of your need to be special you also can let go of your fear of failure. Far from losing your edge, this allows you to push further. Failure is no longer a devastating mark on your worth that prevents you from being special…it just becomes a part of your learning process. Your self-made pressure and high standards can melt away as you realize you no longer have to hold yourself above the crowd but can blend in with everyone else. No one will be laughing at your failures as you stand up on your pedestal; they'll all be failing right along side you. There's something comforting and freeing about that.
But here’s the kicker, taking that pressure off of yourself to be special is exactly what allows you to be special. When you don’t fear your peers judging you, you open up and take risks. You connect with others. You're present in the moment. You’re fulfilled by your work. This is what allows you to be vulnerable and daring in your dancing. This is what allows you to be a true artist. This is what allows you to be YOU. And this is what opens you to the love you are really seeking.
You are just one tiny speck of sand on the beach. Nothing special about you. And that’s okay. That means you can make mistakes and it won’t matter! That means you can find success in your dancing even if you don’t make it to the spotlight in the biggest company in the world. That means you can show the real you without the worry of living up to some made-up expectations you think society has for you!
Don't let your concern with being seen as special limit your life. When you feel burdened by the need to be “special” in whatever way in your life – be it dancing, in a relationship, at home, in school – just remind yourself this simple concept. You are not special. You are here to learn, experience, experiment, and be...just like everybody else.