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Monica Bielanko
A chronicle since 2005 of my marriage & move to Brooklyn in my twenties; becoming a mother in my thirties; moving to Pennsylvania and learning to amicably coparent after divorce in my forties while living 3 doors down from my ex-husband in a small country town.
That's What She Said
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Saturday
Sep092006

Special Is As Special Does

From the time we're very young, most of us are told we're special. By a parent, Mister Rogers, religious instruction, teachers... We then twist that into what our personal version of special means. Of course our young, impressionable minds glean what special means from pop culture and we spend most of our formative years admiring silly, famous people.

It's a tragic day when you begin to comprehend you aren't destined for America's version of greatness, that you're just a regular Joe, one of the tired, old idiots you pitied when you were younger and overflowing with idealism. Unfortunately some of us never realize. We labor under the delusion that we are special. Banging our head against the brick wall of life because, goddammit, don't they know how special I am? I'm supposed to be famous or amazing or something. My Mom says so. For fuck sake, Mister Rogers said so and he wouldn't lie!

Britney Spears is famous. Everyone always knew she would be, right? Because she was special. Old friends and neighbors talk about how talented Britney was at age three. How she was always performing, singing, dancing, that they knew she was destined for greatness. Please. I know a dozen three year olds that behave the same way. It's only in retrospect that you can make bold statements like that. Doesn't make Britney special. Doesn't mean she worked any harder to get where she is than Mr. Rogerson, my beloved fourth grade teacher. Just means Britney gets media attention and Mr. Rogerson quietly labors in anonymity and all the young kids think Britney is special and Mr. Rogerson is boring.

I am coming to terms with my non-specialness. Or maybe I'm redefining what I thought special meant. It's tough reconciling that secret feeling in your heart that you were destined for something big. Important. I was certain I'd be a famous news anchor. Then I was certain I was going to be a world renowned reporter. Of course now I want to be a writer, whatever that means. But really, what does it all mean?

Although we are loathe to admit it, seems like we all want to be famous somehow. Reality television and even blogs are sorry evidence of that. I guess we all want to make our mark and I fell into the trap with everyone else. But I am realizing now that I'm not special simply because my mom or Sunday School teacher told me so or because I'd like to believe I'm special. We all want to believe we're special. We raise our children to believe there is something unique about them because that's the hallmark of self-esteem. But let's be honest - it's just another childhood myth like Santa Claus. Another well intentioned lie that we'll uncover as real life beats it into our heads.

There is no Santa Claus and I'm not special. There are millions of me out there. That doesn't mean I need to give up on my dreams. I need to learn to adjust my dreams with reality as I age. Recalibrate how it is I choose to measure success. What will make me special won't be whether I make money, score a book deal, write a book or what-the-fuck-ever. What will make me special lives in how honest I am in my dealings with myself and others, how I treat my husband, family and friends. So maybe it only makes me special to them and not the world at large. That's the trick... learning to be okay with that.

Reader Comments (22)

Famous does not equal special! Everyone say it with me: Famous does not equal special! Seriously! Famous is not that great! It isn't that we don't all need a little affirmation and validation. We love to hear that we are great and we want people to acknowledge us. However, 'famous' is not some wonderfully fulfilling state of being. Take for example, oh, nearly every single famous person you read about. Some are truly incredible. Most are just malleable. Famous is living your life for other people. Famous is allowing people to make an example of you and dissect you (no matter how ignorant they may be of your life, your psyche etc). Famous is giving everyone permission to intrude on your life. It means not being able to quietly people watch or walk your dog. It means opening yourself up to nuisance in every single context of your life. Some people can roll with this, most can't. They desperately lash out for some sense of control over their lives with lawsuits and candid interviews with Barbara Walters to "set the record straight". But the truth is, they have already sold themselves to the public and no one really cares what the true story is. The only people who really care about the famous are the same few that care about any normal human being: friends and family. The public pays for the diversion and the dream. They couldn't care less about the individual. They will love or loathe the famous as quickly as they can utter an anti-semetic taunt. I think achievement and growth and inner and outward validation is great. But I think fame is the worst kind of illusion we have been sold.
September 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLucia Dreamer
Exactly - but growing up in the kind of society we live in we can't help but equate famous as being special and rewiring your brain to properly measure success is difficult. Like Monica said - some people never manage it and they grow old and bitter.
September 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAimee
We're all told we're special. I believe that we are - but what so many people think is special is wrong. Why are so many grown adults obsessed with Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and all that? Because our society values the wrong ideals and makes people like Paris Hilton famous. It's downright fucked up. Special is as special does by being a mother, being a father, caring for loved ones.
September 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle
I agree with you. We're taught we're all special which is wrong. We're all the same, no one is better than the other. We're all UNIQUE, but unique is not the same is special.
September 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSloopy
I'm feeling very introspective today as well. So this was rather timely. I'm also in this whole 'learning to be ok with things' mode as well. You're pretty much reading my mind but put anything that I could have said so much more eloquently than I ever would dream.
September 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHeather B.
This post really struck home for me. I've been enjoying your blog for a few months now. I also live in New York City. I moved here from Maine three years ago. Typical story. I was in all of my high school plays then majored in theater arts. Everyone always told me I was "special". That I had "it" whatever that is. So of course I moved to the city to become an actress. Guess what? There are a million of me here. Girls who were stars of their high school play, girls told they were pretty and should be on television. It's a nasty business. One that is breaking my heart and making me think less of myself for not being successful. I desperately need to re-evaluate my definition of successful yet I feel if I do that I'm just slowly letting my dream die. But I don't want to be old and bitter and angry after this business sucks my soul out of me. So anyway, thank you for this. It's nice to know that I'm not alone. That I'm not special for feeling like I'm special.
September 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEJ
Monica-
I'm not here to boost your ego but I am here to say something. EVERYONE IS SPECIAL. EVERYONE IS UNIQUE.

I think everyone has special qualities about themselves. All of us were put on this earth to play a part. We all have a purpose for being here. Now some people have a bigger role than others, but that doesn't matter. It takes everyones special qualities to make the world go round.

This may sound stupid to you but sometimes I think that all I am here for is to smile at people. All my family members have such talents about them...but me. So...I thought I something that I do best...that is to smile at people. As I walk down the street and pass someone I smile at them and for that brief moment they smile. Just think...that might have been the only time they smiled all day long.

This is tough love- but stop having this pitty party. I can't take it anymore! You are worth something. You are special and people care about you. Believe it or not but it takes everyone in this world to make it go round so stick to the program.

I think you are the best. Keep you chin up and quit being hard on yourself. You are a great person with wonderful talents. What more could a girl ask for?
September 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSM
Hello there. If you think I'm having a pity party you've missed my point.. which I may not have relayed effectively. I think that many of us grow up thinking we're destined for something big just because we're told we're special and when the sour reality of life makes itself known, it's a bitter fucking pill to swallow.

That's such a lovely Mr Rogers-ish line "we all have our special qualities". I just don't think so. I think we'd like to believe that to make ourselves feel better about life. Truth is, whatever I may consider my "special quality" a million other folks share. Granted I'm unique, there is nobody else like me - but like someone else said, unique and "special" are not the same thing. My point was, I'm trying to redefine what I think special means. Foolishly, I used to think it meant I'd be famous for something. Now I think it means being a good wife, a good mother etc..
September 9, 2006 | Registered CommenterMonicaBielanko
I am glad you've figured it out - it'll make happiness so much easier to achieve. For me - achieving happiness is what I define as success. It took me a decade of misery and shredded self esteem to figure it out, but I'm glad I did. True happiness seems so difficult to achieve these days that it must be what is really 'special'.

And you're right, reality IS a bitter pill to swallow, but as I said yesterday, you can spend years lamenting the fact that you aren't the next Katie Couric (is that her name? I'm not in the US) or you can take what you have got, do the best you can and be happy with it. You don't want to be lying on your death bed regretting the wasted years of wishing you were someone or something that you weren't.

There's a book called 'A Fortunate Life' by AB Facey.
You should read it.
September 9, 2006 | Unregistered Commentersfh
Always open to reading a new book. Thanks for the suggestion and the lovely comments.
September 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMonica
Wait a sec-- I'm not s p e c i a l--? am killing self now; first will tell kids they are same as everyone in their class....just joking...liked your post, so true, thanks Monica.
September 9, 2006 | Unregistered Commentercb

Being special is part of our core that is instilled in us from birth, and watered throughout adolescence. Don’t you feel intrinsically good when your Mom tells you how special you are too her? And everyone else? Or how proud she is of you? I certainly do. And I’m 28 for christ sakes...

Am I where I thought I would be? Yes and No. Sometimes it’s not best to take an “all or nothing” approach. Special = rich. Special = famous. Not rich or famous? Or “where I thought I would be”? = A Loser. I’ve never really liked math, or especially accounting, But sometimes I will break everything down into mental bar chart about myself. In catagories. Then I average everything out to determine if I’m feeling “special” about myself.

Overall - I try to "achieve" becoming special without thinking or acknowledging it to myself or anyone else. But the absolute most important thing (at least to me) is purpose. Now I can feel myself wanting to talk about being “happy” and how THAT is the most important thing. Etc Etc. So I'm going to stop right here. Have a nice day.
September 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMichael
Not sure I totally agree on this one...I don't think everyone grows up feeling special in the way I think you're describing. Some people are perfectly content to have completely ordinary lives and be totally ordinary. I don't mean they aren't "special;" of course they are just as good and as important and unique as anyone else. What I mean is they are happy to have sort ofordinary"mainstream" lives.

Others grow up believing that they will be a famous artist, or that they will travel the world, or that they will live among a tribal society in a far off land. These people have dreams out of the ordinary, and I don't mean in the same way every high school boy I know (I was a teacher) dreams of being a basketball star. These people's dreams in my opinion stem from talent and passion and creativity.

I don't believe just because at age 30 you haven't become that famous whatever you dreamed of being, that your specialness is unfounded. I think for most people those kinds of dreams are based on creativity, passion, and on an inherent understanding that something in them can lead them to achieve those dreams. Some people dream of being a stay at home mom, or some dream of an office job. That doesn't make them any less special, but it does show that not everyone dreams of being special in that famous artist kind of way (by artist I just mean creative person or in this case famous person).

I don't know if I'm making myself clear at all. What I'm trying to say is look at all the people who are famous. You know how many of them say they knew as a child that they'd one day be where they are now? The reason is they knew this passion in them was so strong and that the required ambition and talent was there and they had to achieve thier dream. I don't think you are so different from them other than the fact that you haven't yet reached some of the goals you set earlier in life. They hadn't either at one point in their lives.

My husband has been the same way about art as you describe in your post. And he isn't rich and famous for it (yet-- and maybe he never will be, but maybe he will be, too), but like your husband, he is pursuing his dreams and his "specialness' and he is getting further and further every day and he is more and more succesful every day. It is amazing to watch, and I'm sure you see your husband doing somewhat the same. Not everyone grows up dreaming to be in a band, or dremaing of being a newscaster. All I know is sometimes accidents lead one to a new path, but usually you reach a goal because you tried for it. Most newscasters or writers don't just one day get discovered. If people don't pursue their dreams, they aren't very likely to come true. Maybe they won't come true even if you try but if you don't try...Anyway some of it isn't even the reaching the dream but all the work you do at something you love while you try to get there.

Being a good wife, mother, etc is great too, but I don't think that is mutually exclusive of meeting other dreams too, if indeed those other things are still your dreams. Maybe they're not.

I don't know if I've made myself very clear and I don't want my comment to come across as presumptous. I know I don't know your dream or anything about you really, this is more just about dreams in general not about your dreams because I don't claim to know a thing about them other than what I read here.

I only want to express that I belive that artistic calling isn't shared by all, it is the seed that sets many artists and "special" people on the path to their dreams. In my opinion ignoring that calling isn't necessarily a good thing. I think feeling special can lead to amazing things in life, isn't your own husband an example of that. How many people think they can go out an tour and make albums etc.? If one don't feel special enough to try, how will any of that ever happen?

I for one am happy to live in a world where so many special people do pursue their dreams and end up making the world that much more colorful for me to live in (through music, art, acting, fashion, etc etc)

(And by the way unfortuntately, not everyone's mom told/tells them they were special.I wish it were true that thye did, but sadly, it isn't. And, not everyone dreams of being famous, I know I don't, despite having a blog (which is merely an outlet for me and a way to comminicate not a means to becoming "known.")

As always sorry my commments are so long, I'm not very good at being succint. You are a good writer though, this is just about the only blog that interests me enough to lead me to comment.
September 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermm
I think you are kinda right although I do think we are all special in some way. You are special to your mom, your husband and your dog. They all couldn;t imagine a life without you. I think it kicks in more once you have kids cause they make you feel special..like you have created a miracle..like you are the absolute only important and yes special thing in their life. Not that kids will make you happy if you are not but they do go a long way in fulfulling your life and making you feel as special as you are! What are the Surge and your plans on that front?
kat
September 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkat
The truth is: We are all special...and unique.

There aren't a "million just like me."

That's false.

There may be a million aspiring artist's or a million aspiring whatever's, but not a million other "me's" or "you."

Remember that when you recalibrate your dreams.

I crossed the threshold of which you speak many years ago.

Things in my life are FAR BETTER because of it!

September 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJoe
Hey Girl
I was going to be a Captain of a ship, Own a chain of bars. Run for Congress. That was the game plan when I was 17. Now I am 44 still a Sailor but not a Captain, have not been in a bar in over 2 years and as for Congress, I still have to think about my Soul (smile)
I am a father of 3 have a Great Wife 1 dog and 2 cats.

Special is what we make it !!!!!

Sailor Mike
September 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSailor Mike
This is a really interesting post and the comments are, too. I wonder about the "special" thing myself. I can write, but so can a million other people. I'm a good friend, but it's not like world-class or anything. I have a kid, and I try to be a good mom, but I think you're just headed for heartbreak if you put too much into being a good mom...those are just a few places in my life I don't quite hit "special" on.

But, I'm greatly loved by the people in my life, and I love them deeply, too. Sometimes I think that's what it's about. Sometimes I think we got sold a load of shit. And then, there's the side of me that bought this sign for my daughter's room:

"In a world where you can be anything, be yourself."

And most of me thinks that's the right message to teach her, not that she's special, but that herself is okay to be, whatever that self turns out to be.

I used to think there was no point to a blog, having one or reading one. What was so special about one life to share it like that? (And of course I still think that about some blogs!) But my opinion changed. It's not that the life or blogger in question is special. Special's not even the right word to use. I think unique and universal are the right words - that's why we read almost anything, to know another's experience however close or removed from ours.

So maybe special was never the right word. Maybe they meant to tell us that we were okay, and that we mattered, and they just didn't have the right words.
September 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEDW
Damn. Well said. That is exactly how I feel and what I was trying to say. Thanks for that.
September 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMonica
"I need to learn to adjust my dreams with reality as I age" - that's a good point, Monica.
lately I've been thinking about the same feelings. and it's like come down and be back on the ground and everything is kind the same but in other way it's different because of my new point of view. i agree with you in 100%. you can great name the feelings.
September 11, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterana
I've been thinking very similar thoughts as I contemplate what I've done with my life so far. "Success" by Ralph Waldo Emmerson has alway been one of my favorite poems. I love the way he articulates the definition of a successful life.

Success
by Ralph Waldo Emmerson

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.
September 14, 2006 | Registered CommenterErinS
Just quietly - I loved reading your Girl Who - Morman in Manhatten book. I keep looking to see if you have added any new chapters. I really think it would be a shame to leave it unfinished.

I am sad that you are so unhappy at the moment. Being unemployed is never fun, specially when you tend to overthink things anyway. Here you are with all this extra time to over think things and analyse yourself.

You really are a great writer though - please don't get too down on yourself. Although its hard to believe now there is a corner in the path up ahead. Who knows what will happen around the corner. Happiness comes when you least expect it.

Keep your chin up.
October 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
Thanks, Sarah. That was sweet.
October 18, 2006 | Registered CommenterMonicaBielanko

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