Special like everyone else

“You are unique and special, just like everyone else”…

is a semantic cop out.

If special is better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual, it means that most everything is usual – and once in a blue moon, we get to see something special.

So, no, everyone isn’t special. (The semantics are very simple: the fact that one is special in the eyes of another doesn’t mean that they are special full stop.)

Unique – is a different matter. Every piece of sh*t is unique, but they’re not quite so special. (Gastroenterology, look away).

Perhaps, it’s a semantic cop out that was trying to right some even worse wrong in the 1960s, when it was said by Margaret Mead, but today it can only do harm.

While building a brighter future during the Khrushchev era, my mother’s generation was convinced that to indicate that you wish to be something greater, yourself, was practically a crime. No wonder, the likes of Ayn Rand were screaming for a different view.

Reading blogs written in the US today, I feel much more aspiration for individual greatness, whereas in this part of the world, “delusions of grandeur” are strongly discouraged.

I think it is damaging for people to think of themselves as being special. It’s the sort of attitude that has people craving accomplishment and its short term substitute, other people’s attention.

If one comes to terms with the fact that they are an ordinary human being, like everyone else, perhaps they won’t feel the void left by… normalcy. Imagine that.

Maybe they won’t reach for their phone every morning for the dopamine hit of someone’s attention on social media that reminds them that they are special. Or look in the mirror to remind themselves of how their perfect skin/abs/ass makes them special. Or look at a wall full of degrees and ribbons to reassert their specialness.

A desire for specialness is mostly about an external locus of control. I think every person swings in and out of that unhelpful state at times, but I went through a transient, painful time when it really hit me hard. Was it my parents/teachers/friends’ fault? Or maybe that’s just social media? Whatever it is, it’s not an excuse to remain this way, so it doesn’t matter a huge amount to me.

In a previous post, some people said that they used to affirm their students’ specialness to them using this mantra, “You are unique and special, just like everyone else”. I think it’s kind and well intentioned, but perhaps not very helpful today as it feeds into the inescapable narrative rather than correcting for it.

I don’t think any teachers of mine ever told me I was special, it never occurred to me that they should. In fact, it would be weird. I looked for self-actualisation in other, what seemed like real, meaningful ways. I feel that this was a good thing. I think my phase of search for specialness was down to the fact that I got into comparing myself to others beyond all context.

This is by no means asking anyone to regress to the mean, encourage mediocrity or prevent people from doing something special. I just don’t think that special things should be done for the sake of making the doer special. They should be done for a real, less narcissistic reason, which usually involves someone else or something bigger than oneself.

And of course, we can define those special as relating to the general population, or better, to the relevant reference group. What is your cut off for special? 5%? 1%? Less than 5% of the population blog, so are we all special? Hmm. You get the point.

Is this as close to a long read as I am gonna get these days, jeez… For what I didn’t manage to say, here is some Radiohead rather beautifully wallowing in the pain of trying to be special, oscillating between idealising and devaluing. 1993. Sounds about right, doesn’t it?

Beautiful ordinariness

The word snowflake has filtered down to the teens (or did they invent it?) And they write about not wanting to be snowflakes. Us millennials inspired the term and obviously terrified the rest of the population. These Z people make me excited.

It was coined in Fight Club:

“You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.”

Would it be a thought crime to say that it’s a good thing to come to terms with the fact that you, and everyone else, is ordinary?

As I see it, people can do things that are special, but the concept of being special is the root of millennial narcissism.

“People are suffering and dying under the torture of the fantasy self they’re failing to become.”

Ten. Billion. Dollars. A year.

That’s how much the self-help industry makes. That is actually more than make up.

A lover of books, I stopped looking at the best-sellers sections of book shops because they inevitably contain self-help books, about how to optimise this and maximise that. I spoke about books I regretted reading and definitely anything like self-help is in that category.

A reflection of our time for sure, with their “aspirational narcissism” and “predatory optimism”:

Where success can be measured with increasing accuracy, so, too, can failure. On the other side of self-improvement, Cederström and Spicer have discovered, is a sense not simply of inadequacy but of fraudulence. In December, with the end of their project approaching, Spicer reflects that he has spent the year focussing on himself to the exclusion of everything, and everyone, else in his life. His wife is due to give birth to their second child in a few days; their relationship is not at its best. And yet, he writes, “I could not think of another year I spent more of my time doing things that were not me at all.” He doesn’t feel like a better version of himself. He doesn’t even feel like himself. He has been like a man possessed: “If it wasn’t me, who was it then?”

The New Yorker article itself is a bit self-helpy, ironically, but has a few gems and a review of the literature, if it may be called that.

I think that for many people, improving yourself is happiness: seeing progress, seeing results of your work and what you have become as a consequence. So in theory we shouldn’t deride self help.

I don’t know what bothers me the most about it: the feeling of constantly being sold to? The relentless inward focus when a lot of these problems are better solved with the help of those closest to you? The idea of a cheap shortcut to “radical change”? All of the above and many more. In my view, self-help is definitely not the best way to improve yourself.

I also think that the generation below us aren’t going to go for it anymore. They prefer “not giving a fk” to getting rich and thin or dying trying. Of course, this won’t reduce the amount of money spent on the genre as it is highly adaptive in telling people what they want to hear.

“In today’s innovative world…”

The teenagers whose essays I read think we live in a phenomenally innovative time. Smartphones. Computers. The internet.

Yes, this all happened in the last 50 years.

In the 50 years before that we landed on the moon, split the atom, came up with the bomb, made cars and film widely available and saved countless lives with penicillin.

The gender pay gap 💩

There is a hospital crisis in many places in Europe and it’s quite bad in Ireland. It’s a complicated situation. In the midst of this, one of Dublin’s major hospitals decided they won’t pay interns overtime.

Some background. Interns work anywhere between an average of 45 and 80 hours per week in my experience. I assume the hospital will pay for the on-call time (i.e. scheduled overtime), but not overtime done on regular days.

A lot of people who follow my education platform are interested in medicine. I decided to ask a question:

gender gap medicine ireland

First, it doesn’t help the doctors’ wages that people who want to do medicine are ok with working for free.

More interestingly, I found that there was a big divide between men and women. There is an all out war at the moment on whether this gap is at least in part explained by the choices that women make (e.g. 1 vs 2).

In the sample, there were 241 women and 57 men. The sex of 7 voters was unknown.

Of the men who voted, 82.4% said no. Of the women, 69.7% said no.

Surely this is contributing to the gender pay gap?

Of the yes voters, 12.0% were male. Of the no voters, 21.9% were male.

gender pay gap in irish hospitals
The chi-square statistic is 3.7272. The p-value is .053534. This result is not significant at p < .05.

Why? Some theories. The ones that are highlighted are the ones I feel are more plausible.

  1. Women are more likely to agree to work for free
  2. Women value altruism more than men do (conflicting evidence on this, e.g. 1 vs 2 vs 3)
  3. Women value prestige more than men do (rebuttal: I think men tend to engage in costly signalling more than women)
  4. Women don’t have the foresight to understand what it is like to not get paid for work (rebuttal: I think this is subsumed by reason 6)
  5. Men perceive that they are valued by society based on their ability to earn, not based on their job title (rebuttal: men chase after medals and value the concept of fighting for their country. There is no major monetary reward for that. Similar to number 3)
  6. Women are more optimistic about being able to enact change should they themselves be in an unfavourable situation
  7. Women don’t intend to stay in medicine for the rest of their lives (rebuttal: that’s not impossible, but it doesn’t explain why they would go into at all)
  8. Women don’t see their job as their only income (similar to the above point)

Problems:

  1. Self-selection: people who follow a service that helps to do especially well in school do not necessarily represent the general population
  2. This is a survey, hence the answers are more about one’s projections than actual behaviour
  3. Internalised gender roles: women are supposed to care more about helping others than money, therefore in a survey, they will answer “yes” (this is somewhat subsumed in reason 2)
  4. The sample in mostly women, so men’s answers have less statistical power
  5. The sample is small
  6. The voters lack context
  7. The way I phrased it may have put people off medicine, or indeed made them more righteous in voting yes.

 

Young Irish women in business, where art thou?

There are few things I love more than blogging, but sometimes I leave the den to socialise…

It would be awesome to go to a place where you could mingle with women in business.

Why women? Places that aren’t woman-only, tend to be >80% men, something I learnt from experience. It’s not always conducive to making good connectons.*

So I went for a google for local female entrepreneurial stuff. It spat out a whole list of places. The websites scream empowerment through networking, in bright pink. One even offered good vibes. In bright pink. A bit like Ann Summers.

I also came to learn that women in business more often than not means C-suite employees of large corporations. Fair enough. Even here, with 1-2 exceptions, it is similar.

What I notice is that the average age is ~40. Also fair enough.

What I had been expecting to find was 30 year old entrepreneurs. I think that’s quite different.

But what does it mean?

That it’s virtually impossible to have built something by 30, in this part of the world?

That virtually no women in their 30s take business seriously?

*because it’s downright odd to come to a group of lads and say hello. They look so excited that it doesn’t feel like they have any interest in talking about anything serious.

P.S. Preachin’

Young Irish Entrepreneur women