“What makes you unique?”

This has been the aggravating question that has plagued my life. “What sets you apart?” “Why are you different?” “What makes you special?” I’ve always struggled to find an answer to this ostensibly simple sentiment. It’s not that I am unable to find anything valuable in myself; it’s that I’m unable to find anything valuable in myself that is singular to me.

The seed of striving for uniqueness was planted in my head from a very young age.

Its roots quickly took hold and I found myself reaching for unrealistic expectations. And, not unrealistic in the new-agey, hippy-dippy negative connotation of the word that people use as a scapegoat reason for not chasing their dreams, but for things that I literally, in reality, will be unable to achieve. I remember being in my first play and imagining myself being the youngest person ever to win an Oscar, when, in reality, I’d already surpassed that age. You know, impossibilities like that.

This put unwarranted stress on me because my energy was focused on being special. Although I always felt (and was treated) like an outcast among my peers, I felt that there was nothing about me that was particularly one-of-a-kind. I tortured myself with the notion that I was this little weirdo with nothing particularly valuable to offer. A waste of space. I was never enough.

So, I learned to work really hard.

My nose is red and raw from being rubbed to the grindstone. I live a perpetual internal tug-of-war in striving to achieve greatness, yet I am never satisfied with my work. While this used to be a rather unhealthy mindset, I have learned to turn it into a great motivator. I don’t condemn or look down on my work anymore; instead, I find what I did well and what I can improve upon, then I work to better myself. As soon as I hit a goal, I raise the bar higher and strive for superior success.

My insufferable work ethic has helped me earn high praise from my mentors. They rain accolades on me due to my so-called ‘God-given talent’. While I’d like to believe that I was blessed with some natural talent, I do feel my feathers bristle when a mentor dismisses my hard work by calling it simply ‘talent’. Do they not see my red and blistered nose?

Social media, always high in popularity, has had a recent explosion of nuclear proportions.

This constant bombardment of videos online of people doing seemingly impossible tasks, from extreme sports to prodigious artistic endeavors, has made something very clear to me: everyone’s got talent. This elusive thing that I’d always thought of as rare and prized is something that countless people possess.

Talented people are a dime a dozen.

But, not just talent – extraordinary talent. You think you’re good at something? Just go on social media. You’ll find someone who’s got you beat. It is both humbling and infuriating. Prodigious skill is commonplace and genius intelligence abounds. People who consider themselves to be good at something realize that they are mediocre at best, dwarfed by giants of greater skill. However, it is good to keep in mind that very talented people are spoiled by the inherence of their natural talent.

Many people who are naturally very gifted with a specific skillset tend to forgo hard work, preferring to live on the edge and rely on talent, a fickle friend. This creates inconsistency and unreliability with their results because they haven’t put in the time and energy to develop strong technique, preferring to trust in what they know they’re good at. While they are obviously very talented, they lack precision and skill. This is a shame; imagine how extraordinary they’d be if they put in some hard work.

What I have finally figured out is that talent will never make me unique, but my hard work will.

How strong my natural talent is, I’ll never know. But I have technique, skill, and a strong foundation upon which to back up whatever natural gifts I possess. When I succeed, it isn’t by accident, nor am I spotty with results. I am consistent, reliable, and constantly working towards improvement.

Maybe I sound old-fashioned or self-serving. But, part of my hard work has been to help me achieve an amount of confidence in my abilities. I am no longer wasting energy on trying to be special. Instead, I concentrate my energy on just being me.

What makes you unique?

 

Photo by Andre Furtado on Unsplash

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