I read a post over at Life Without College that I identified with a lot. It was about epic adventures, and feeling like you need to have them all the time. I feel like that. I blame it on unschooling. And a mysterious genetic mutation that may eventually prove the existence of life on other planets.
As a kid, since I was already different (weird), I had to be weird for good reasons, rather than just for weird reasons. I wanted to be exceptional.
Being exceptional makes it OK to be different. You might be a little strange and not always know how to make small talk, but when you’re an international chess champion it sort of comes with the territory.
I was not an international chess champion. I couldn’t beat either one of my younger brothers (who went through a chess phase and played competitively on a homeschooled chess team). But I was in the paper for doing other stuff well. I was precocious.
Really, I was pretty normal for an unschooler. I was good at things because I had lots of time to get good at them. I competed at things because I liked to prove that I was good at them.
(Such a good game. But so very hard. source)
But when you grow up, it’s hard to stay exceptional. It’s easy to be better than other kids in your town at sketching portraits or playing scherzos. And then you meet the other kids who are auditioning at Juilliard. Later on, living in the city, you see them everywhere: exceptional people who are excellent at what they do, who are only here because they’re making it, because they’re different.
And if your identity has been constructed from stacks of paper-thin successes, it might just be blown to bits when you try to take a breath. Because hardly anyone who tries really hard to be exceptional is ever exceptional enough for themselves.
So after having been fantastically awesome as a child and teenager, I find it difficult to allow myself space to be a little– normal. I catch myself, cleaning the apartment, thinking, “Who cares about cleaning up? Go do something extraordinary!”
It’s like in the TV show Heroes, where yet another totally normal-seeming fast-food worker whispers to herself as she flips burgers, “I know I’m meant to be special…I just know I’m different.” And the evil psychotic killer mutant Sylar goes back to his mother and begs her to tell him it’s OK not to be special. After all, it’s her need for him to be special that’s motivated all of those gruesome murders.
Clearly, I’ve been watching too much TV (Netflix), and not going out enough to do exceptional things. I also promise that I’m not going to kill anyone.
But that need to be special, to be extraordinary, to be amazing, in order to justify, well, being alive– it gets old pretty fast. When you want that, you keep failing. You fail and fail and fail, because you can’t see your own success. So I sometimes find that I’m most jealous of two types of people:
Wildly famous self-made billionaires and totally ordinary, happy people.
And since becoming a wildly famous self-made billionaire seems, realistically, like kind of a long shot, I think I’d better start working on learning how to be the latter. I kind of think that if I get good at being a happy ordinary person, exceptional things will happen anyway.
(my little brother, when he was maybe 8, being better at chess than me.)
* * *
Check out my interview with Beatrice of Radio Free School. The picture is kind of awful. I have to start sending people a different one. The problem is, I never look good in photos where I’m smiling. And no one seems willing to put a sullen one of me on their site. Anyway, Beatrice is awesome, and she asked me this question about what the world would be like without school that really tripped me up. Listen to it, don’t read the transcription. I’m sure I sound smarter that way. But not positive, because I can’t listen to it, because I’m too embarrassed by the sound of my own voice.
Also, check out Idzie’s list of unschooling blogs by teenagers and grown unschoolers. That’s how I found the post that inspired this post.
P.S. If you could pick a super power, what would it be? This is still one of my favorite questions. I would pick shape-shifting. Because I want to be able to fly, but also, you know, do EVERYTHING else.