What’s the Difference Between You and Everybody Else?

“To be oneself, simply oneself, is so amazing and utterly unique an experience that it’s hard to convince oneself so singular a thing happens to everybody.” –Simone de Beauvoir, Prime of Life

Hello friend,

I remember when I was in my twenties. I was out in the world doing my thing. I was meeting tons of different people, figuring out how we all fit together. In all of those countless interactions, the thing that always seemed to bother me the most was when someone claimed to understand me, to know what I am all about. I was so sure that they weren’t even close to comprehending my essence and what made me tick. I just knew that I was completely different from everyone else and that no one could imagine my depths.

There are passages in my very first journal that allude to this feeling of being different and how that feeling isolated me.

“I am destined to be a loner, for no one can understand the things that drive me. I feel I am becoming more and more ‘abnormal’ as the days go by.” –July 7, 1994

“And even if I let some pretty close, I’ll always be alone, because no one can see what’s there. Some will claim to, but they won’t know the half of it.” –February 22, 1995

Ironically, at the same time that I was being regularly offended by people claiming to get me, I was arrogantly assuming that I could read everyone else like a book, as this passage reveals:

“I think the main reason for my silence and solitude goes back to the original issue: I feel I have these gifts or abilities in my mind that make me feel unlike the rest of society or members of my species. I truly believe, when I am honest with myself, that I am “different” from the rest, somehow cut from a different cloth than the rest of mankind. Although I am a believer in the thought that we are all truly different, I believe there are things inside of me that are beyond what lies inside the minds and souls of others. I feel I can truly understand every man and his thoughts and feelings, and then go beyond that to a very large place that no one else can know.” –July 25, 1997

Oh, the self-centered thoughts of a young adult! Those entries fascinate me—and embarrass me a little–all these years later. You may not be surprised to learn that my perspective has changed somewhat in the two decades that have passed since then.

These days, I am simply less sure. I don’t assume I know as much as I used to assume. I think I read people well, empathize with their experiences, and take them into my heart so I can feel their joy and pain. But I am quite sure there are hidden depths and dark corners inside them that I haven’t the tools to navigate. That certainty about my uncertainty has humbled me over the years.

I am not sure I have changed as much on the other side of the coin, though. I still tend to think that people don’t understand me very well. Maybe it is because exercises like last week’s 50 Words Challenge reveal that I have a number of complexities to my personality, a lot of conflicting traits that take time to expose.

Understanding the labyrinthine nature of my heart and mind has helped me in my humility, as I figure that most other people are more complex than I ever imagined. At least they might be, and that grain of doubt should keep me as free from certainty and judgment as possible. That uncertainty should keep me always in the moment, receiving them anew as our interactions evolve. It is a good lesson for me.

But how about it: AM I different??? Am I something extraordinary? Is there something totally unique about me? Obviously, the broad range of things that make up our personality and history makes each of us unique. But you know what I mean: Is there something that makes me so unlike most people?

I think that claiming characteristics outright seems a bit presumptuous—arrogant, even—so maybe it is wiser just to list a few potential candidates, ways that I usually feel isolated or unique (again, fully aware that each trait has an infinite number of variations and ways it intersects with our other traits).

One that comes to my mind is my hypersensitivity to oppression and unfairness. I have always been extremely averse to examples of historical, systematic oppression and mistreatment, such as that which our country and its citizens acted out on the American Indians and the African people ripped from their homelands and brought here as slaves (and, of course, everything that followed both of those things). I get the dual reaction of my blood boiling in outrage and my heart being torn to shreds when I think about such injustice. Even with modern examples, when I see a politician or pundit spew hatred or see a friend or family member support that hate-spewer, I become deeply offended by that. My sensitive heart gets broken often by such things.

I have always been that way about perceived unfairness. I think back on all the times I played with cheaters on the tennis court. I would get so appalled by the unfairness that I could hardly function. It is also why I get so worked up about the issue of privilege, such as when I see a highly privileged friend—born into wealth and whiteness and more—look down upon people who were born with fewer advantages and cannot fathom why the privileged should share either money or opportunities with the unprivileged. That ignorance enrages me. The people around me seem to be much less affected by such things. Or maybe they just hide it better.

Besides my sensitivity, the other characteristic that might separate me is my intense attachment to the concept of identifying and following one’s Bliss, dream-chasingk. I was bitten by this obsession before I ever wrote my first journal entry, when I decided to leave school and become an actor. I have sometimes remembered and sometimes forgotten to keep chasing my biggest dreams, but it is so obvious to me how that concept is such an enormous and identifying part of Who I Really Am. It is why you are reading these words in front of you: they are part of my dream.

I seem to be obsessed both with chasing my own dreams and helping others do the same. I see it as so important, even essential, to true happiness and fulfillment in this lifetime. I want it as much for you as I do for me.

The other day I was tooling around on Facebook and happened upon a meme that a friend had shared. It said, “It’s messing people up, this social pressure to ‘find your passion’ and ‘know what it is you want to do’. It’s perfectly fine to just live your moments fully, and marvel as many small and large passions, many small and large purposes enter and leave your life. For many people there is no realization, no bliss to follow, no discovery of your life’s purpose. This isn’t sad, it’s just the way things are. Stop trying to find the forest and just enjoy the trees.”

My first reaction was, “No! That meme was written and shared by people who just haven’t found their passion yet. They will change their tune when they find it.”

But the argument has stuck with me, even haunted me a bit. It made me think about the people in my life and how I am the only one who seems so obsessed by this concept of following my Bliss and living my purpose. I am the only one who thinks it is a great idea to set practical realities aside and just chase my dreams single-mindedly. I am the only one who keeps cheering others to do the same. I guess I think it should be common, should be normal to do that. It just isn’t.

There are probably a handful of other ways I feel myself sticking out from—or retreating from—the crowd. And like I said, I know we are all complex. We are the products of ever-changing intersections of different shades of countless distinct and indistinct qualities that blend with circumstances. But we are all humans. We share the same Earth and the same company. How different can we be?

Still, even though there are 7 billion of us inhabiting this third rock from the sun, I can’t help feeling that I am one of a kind.

How about you? What makes you different from all the rest? Open up your journal and think about the times you have felt unique, special, or misunderstood. Which of your characteristics seem to bring about these moments of feeling extraordinary? Are they qualities that you deem positive, negative, or somewhere in between? Do they seem to reveal themselves more now than in previous eras of your life, or were they more prominent before? What makes your version of that quality so unique? Have you had different characteristics that took turns setting you apart along your journey, or has it been just one or two core traits that have sustained? Do you appreciate your unique traits, or do you wish for others? Would you rather blend in more? Generally speaking, do you feel pretty well understood by the people in your life? Do you wish to be more understood? How much work would that take on your end? More than you want to do? Is it nice to have a little something just for yourself? How clearly and deeply do you think you understand the people in your life? Better than they understand you? What makes you think so? Would you guess that most people feel ordinary or extraordinary? If it is the latter, how many are willing to claim it out loud and celebrate their uniqueness? Should we do better at encouraging that? Do you celebrate your unique traits? Leave me a reply and let me know: What’s the difference between you and everybody else?  

Shine on,

William

P.S. If today’s letter made you look differently at yourself, please pass it on. Tell your loved ones that you appreciate their unique magic. Blessed be.

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