At the entrance to a park near my home is a board which reads
Not even yours.
It’s a necessary sign because many of us live with a sense that we’re a unique kind of special. Or in other words, we’ve convinced ourselves that the ordinary rules of life do not apply to us.
Here are some of the ways I have noticed this phenomenon in my own life. Each of them is a form of narcissism, a sense that the world revolves mostly around me:
I secretly imagine that if I’m good enough I will be noticed by someone, or something, and be saved from all my troubles.
Or I secretly imagine I will not die (that death only really happens to other people).
I secretly imagine that I’m the one who is meant to save the world, and that I’ve failed unless I do.
Or I secretly imagine that I will be the one to win the lottery (even though the chance in the UK of 1 in 13,983,815 means I’m more likely to guess a stranger’s complete phone number on the first try, or get hit by a meteorite, than win the big prize).
I secretly imagine that I am uniquely suffering, and that nobody else can have it so bad.
Or I secretly imagine that I’m uniquely inadequate and broken, and that everyone else knows it.
I secretly imagine I can get away with treating others without care or concern, and that there will be no consequences.
Or I secretly imagine that I’m invisible and nobody will notice me.
Really growing up requires us to get over all of this. We have to find out, first, that we’re much more ordinary than we imagined. Second, that we’re really not at all different from anyone else in the world in our suffering and our hopes, our wishes and our confusion, our illusions and our longing. And third, that we really are not in the middle even if it always feels that way.
From there we discover that it’s precisely in giving up our claims to specialness and in welcoming our humdrum ordinariness that our wisest, most genuine, most compassionate and most creative contribution to life can come.