Hurray for the Unexceptional!

At a recent sales training event, the speaker had everyone announce with conviction, “I am exceptional.” These declarations were followed by titters of laughter, as you would expect. Most of us are just not comfortable making those kinds of declarations because, well, maybe we aren’t exceptional.

My question is this: what’s wrong with that?!  Why do I have to claim to be exceptional? I can be honest, admirable, hard-working, loving, kind, intelligent, funny, and a snappy dresser (at some point in my life I want someone to describe me as a snappy dresser).  Not one of those traits (or necessarily even the combination of them) makes me exceptional and THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

dodgeball-average-joe-sWe don’t all have to be exceptional.  In fact, if we all are, then by definition, none of us are. Elvis, Jane Goodall, Irena Sendler, Nelson Mandela, Genghis Khan, Chuck Yeager – those are exceptional people.  I don’t rank in their number; however, that doesn’t make me garbage. If you rank up there with them, then, fantastic!  Go you! But, if you’re like me and just a normal person doing their level best to have a positive effect on the world around you, then, fantastic!  GO US!

I was involved in a recent “conversation” with an internet troll over Mr. Rogers and whether or not it was a good thing that he told millions of children that they were special.  Somehow, this troll equated “everyone is special” to “everyone is a winner and gets a trophy just for showing up.”  I just don’t see the causal relationship there or even a logical connection. I guess it all depends on how you define “special.”  To me, special means unique and I would argue that, at least to a point, we are all unique. To the troll, special means exceptional. And, I suppose it could.  In the context of The Neighborhood, though, I don’t think that’s what Mr. Rogers was saying.  Still, I don’t think that the troll is the only one making that correlation. I think that many of us have been convinced that we are all – or should be – exceptional.

For instance, in that training event, the implication was the “special” isn’t good enough.  “Exceptional” is the requirement, but (lucky us) we are already in the E-Club.  That’s been bothering me ever since.

Is it my Presbyterian heritage? Catholic school? The obvious theological train wreck between those two? Is it my nature? My social experience? Or is it because I know my heart, my soul and my weaknesses?  I know where the loose stones are in the castle walls, my friends. I know the castle isn’t flawless (feel free to disagree). If I lay claim to Exceptional, I feel like I’m laying claim to Perfection which is so patently false that I can barely even type for fear of divine retribution. (Plus, I can hear my sister laughing 286 miles away.)

You know what, though? I don’t really care. I maintain that I’m special and that’s good enough for me.


5 thoughts on “Hurray for the Unexceptional!”

  1. From

    ex·cep·tion·al [ik-sep-shuh-nl] Show IPA
    forming an exception or rare instance; unusual; extraordinary: The warm weather was exceptional for January.

    I feel that this describes you (and me) to a T. In fact unusual appeared in every variation of definition of exceptional and that is definitely me!

    No matter which word you are more comfortable using, Daily Doty, to me you are both!

    1. As my son tells me all the time – my ideas regarding language are very static while the thing itself is very fluid. In other words, I need to lighten up! Thanks, Sue!

  2. “forming an exception or rare instance…” So serial killers are exceptional too. Or have I just watched too much Dexter?

    1. They are exceptional – just not in a positive way. We’re shooting for positive here, Trevor. Stay on the light side (even though the dark side claims to have cookies).

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