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The Trap of Thinking You’re Special and Entitled to Success

Man on a pedestal

“Life is not designed to give us what we need; life is designed to give us what we deserve.” ~Jim Rohn

Is there something wrong with being special?

Short answer: yes.

But why is that? Being special is… special!

That’s true, but there’s a downside most people aren’t aware of.

Before we go any further, let me clarify what I mean by “being special.”

In short, being special is about thinking that what applies to others doesn’t apply to you, thinking that you’re an exception to the rules of life that others have to follow.

It has nothing to do with having healthy self-esteem or thinking highly of oneself; in fact, it’s all about ego and self-deception.

And you could be thinking in such a destructive way without even realizing it.

The Trap of Being Put on a Pedestal

Let’s say when you were growing up, people put you on a pedestal for something you did well.

Maybe you used to get straight A’s, maybe you were a good boy/girl who never broke the rules, maybe you were more physically attractive than most of your peers, and so on.

In short, you had a privilege that set you apart from your peers, and you may have done nothing or very little to get that advantage.

Maybe you never had to study hard and didn’t know how you got those awesome grades every time—it just happened!

Maybe politeness was natural to you and it seemed odd that people gave you so much credit for it.

You just had an advantage and enjoyed it, but you didn’t know how you got it.

People around you likely assumed you’d have an awesome future based on your awesome past (which, once again, didn’t require much effort from you).

Now, this kind of child, with the right set of circumstances, may grow up thinking that he/she is special. And this child might believe that he or she can succeed in anything with little effort. Soon enough, this person will figure out that this isn’t true.

My Story

When I was a kid, I used to be the perfect student.

Not only were my grades good, but also I used to be very polite and I made almost no mistakes.

My peers would say “Mosab, how do you get such great grades every time? How do you study?”

The teachers would tell another student to be like me: “Why can’t you be like Mosab?!”

I even remember that one day, a teacher caught my friend and me playing during the lesson, and I vividly remember that he told my friend something like:

“He doesn’t need to pay attention because his grades are already good, but you are the one who needs to pay attention.”

Because of the conditioning everywhere around me, I continued being that little “perfect” kid.

I ended up going to one of the best high schools in my country, graduating, and then going to one of the best colleges inside my country.

And don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful for the opportunities of studying in such awesome places and meeting great people throughout my journey.

But all of my past conditioning made me think that I had some kind of special power, that I was too smart to fail, and that everything I’d do would be a success.

I never understood how success really works, how real life works, or how to move one step at a time toward your goals. And here’s the most interesting part: I never understood how I could earn something or qualify for it; it was all there for me and I was already qualified.

For example, when I started my own blog, I assumed that people would love my writing immediately and that I’d have more knowledge than many other self-development bloggers, because I thought things would work the same way they did when I was a kid.

I assumed people would give me recognition immediately; I wouldn’t have to work hard because I’m so awesome! Of course, that proved to be untrue.

What About You?

For you it could be a whole different story, but the outcome may be the same: You were deceived to believe you were an exception, especially if you had a bright past.

At some point, you may get lazy, assuming that one day you will have a better future just because of your astounding past.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way. The only way to create a great future is to work for it.

From my own story, and from many people I’ve seen who think that they’re “too epic to fail,” I can confidently say that “being special” is nothing but a way to escape the discomfort of taking responsibility and changing things. It’s a way to avoid hard work, a self-deception strategy.

After all, it’s easier to say you’re special, especially if you have the past to back it up, than to jump into the mud and get your hands dirty working on changing your situation.

The Valuable Lessons You Need To Learn Here

Ego, especially when you hide it from yourself, is your worst enemy.

In fact, ego is nothing but a symptom of feeling weak in one area and wanting to cover that up by acting too strong, which never works.

In order to get something, you need to qualify for it, to earn it, and that requires putting yourself on the line and working hard.

It also requires facing yourself and admitting that sometimes you’ll fail and struggle, but you still have room to grow.

I leaned this the hard way, and I’m still learning, but now I can see clearly that I must stop thinking that the world owes me something and start working hard to get what I want.

Now, I like to think that I’m unique, not special. We’re all unique somehow; we all have unique perspectives and abilities, and we can use our own uniqueness to design our future—if we’re willing to put in the effort.

About Mosab Alkhteb

Mosab Alkhteb is the founder of SelfChanging.com. Instead of trying to change things in the outside world, we better focus on changing what's within us first. You can't change what's within you unless you face discomfort and pain, and that's exactly what the site is about. Join the "Crush Comfort" newsletter to gain the #1 skill you need to improve yourself: personal strength.

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  • Thanks for sharing. I used to think that highly successful people were somehow just lucky, knew the right people, or just stole what they had. It was only when I really started studying their lives that I realized they had to fail a TON of times before they finally got to where they are. In short, “No one will give you sh!t in this world. You have to go get it yourself.”

  • Jessica Mae

    Mosab,
    I think your point here is quite interesting, however I don’t think it applies to every situation. Personally, I had to work up a lot of courage to apply to a highly selective graduate program and part of my doing so was imagining I could be “special enough” to get in. Ultimately, I decided it is okay to be special. Yes, in order to do something I must work hard and qualify for it, but to have the guts to put myself out there means I can imagine it’s possible and okay for me to be special.

    Jessica

  • Mosab Alkhteb

    Yes! When people talk about successful people they only mention the glory they have in the public, but we never talk about the struggle they had to go through “behind the scene”. As a result we think that there are few selected people and the rest of us are doomed to fail.

  • Mosab Alkhteb

    Jessica,
    Yes, that’s a very important point: this doesn’t apply to every situation.
    I do believe that we’re all special and unique, we have to believe in ourselves. After all, believing that you’re special is all about valuing yourself enough and as a result putting yourself out there and going after what you want.

    However, troubles happen when we start using “I’m special” as an excuse to avoid hard work, and from my own experience we do that unconsciously, we think that we’re entitled to success even when we don’t do our homework, it’s kind of an arrogant to be honest. Once we start to think that we’re entitled to success, or we’re too epic to fail, rest assure that there’s a problem.

    So, generally being special isn’t a sin, we must be grateful for that. And we must use it to move forward instead of using it as a self-deception strategy to not feel bad about our situation.

    Thanks for taking time to read the post and sharing your thoughts 🙂

  • I learned the opposite lesson as a child, so being “special” is definitely a knife that cuts both ways… I, too, excelled in school as a child (and later in college, too) — but I was always baffled by why other people thought being an excellent student made me special. After all, I didn’t have to study very hard or do anything special to get my good grades. Schoolwork just came easily to me and I loved learning.

    For me this evolved into full blown imposter syndrome. Because I didn’t feel I deserved the extra praise and attention people lauded on me I came to dread the inevitable day that these people discovered I wasn’t special after all. It took me years to unravel the web of fear and subterfuge I wove around myself in an attempt to keep other people from discovering how “unworthy” I really was and to claim my worth as a human being, separate from my academic performance or intelligence.

  • Mosab Alkhteb

    “but I was always baffled by why other people thought being an excellent student made me special”

    Couldn’t say it better, it’s like you’re talking about me.

    However, while it’s true that you don’t feel that you actually deserve the attention people are giving you because of your academic performance, that shouldn’t become an overall feeling with all the other things in your life, I believe that whatever we work hard to get, we should own that. Whatever we want (and work hard for), besides the things we were blessed with maybe (good grades), is what makes us really special.

  • Tania Potter

    Love this post! My own experience has not so much been from a sense of entitlement, the need to be special has come from a very insecure place, hence all the trouble it leads to. Healthy self esteem, like you said, is a very different ball game.

  • Mosab Alkhteb

    Healthy self-esteem is what we should go after. Glad you liked the post 🙂

  • Taosophy

    I too was like Mosab as a kid. I did what adults told me to do, I got good grades, I was polite. But unlike Mosab, it was to the point where my peers became over-protective of me–like some sort of Golden Child. In fact even now adults still sorta treat me this way. No one ever gets angry with me (even when they should) and they tend to treat me with the same kid gloves(so to speak) as my peers did as a kid. Most of them know I’m no angel, BUT….

    I never took this as being special, made to feel special or thinking I was in fact special (I probably sound like a tool right now) but I just only ever saw myself as different. Perhaps this has to do with me being an only child. Not having to crave attention, not having to share or compete for the affection of my parents. In fact my Mom was always very deferential to everyone in everything and this sorta got engrained in me. If anything I always thought I WASN’T particularly special–almost to a fault. I’ve since learned to get back up to par–that sometimes, only sometimes…the right of way is mine. Otherwise the world will run rough-shot over you.

    This feeling never manifested in my ego. I never expected special treatment. I always thought special treatment came as a result of being kind to others.

    That’s still my story, and I’m sticking to it. 🙂

  • bigdo

    This article is actually one big diatribe on how to hate yourself and find reasoning in unfairness..

    Mosab, it’s okay if you got a raw deal… say it.. accept it… don’t write long ass drainbow pieces about how others shouldn’t expect or feel entitled to things because you’re feeling guilty or robbed of something.

  • bigdo

    utter nonsense..

    plenty of people are given lots of “shit” for nothing more than who pushed them out of their vagina… and hard work is simply hard work, it guarantees nothing. If it did, then surely the hardest working people in our society wouldn’t also be the poorest…

    There are thousands of ways to talk around the problems of inequality and make it seem like everyone that isn’t rich or successful is an idiot or lazy.. that’s not reality, lol.. but people like yourself, who engender this faux, rugged individualism which is obviously just a mask for insecurity and guilt, insist on painting this picture of life and the world that isn’t real. And that’s why so many people end up unhappy.. they work, work, work, toil, toil to reach and attain goals and this idea of success,only to discover that it isn’t happiness. Work isn’t happiness, neither is money, nor is failure insofar as using it as some type of a stepping stone for learning.

  • Félix Morales

    This is more or less myself. I am from a Latin American country and had the chance to come to the US with my mom when she got a Fullbright scholarship to get a masters. So, going back to my country, I was the kid who spoke fluent English and lived in the US, which is a rarity. Sprinkle that with a certain ability to please adults, in them telling me a was a really mature kid (and me not knowing what they meant by that), and then just cruising through high school, and I guess you can get a “special kid”.
    And then, because I am a special kid, the only path for me seemed to go abroad again, and get a degree at a top-ranked university, which I did. But in the process, I’ve had this idea of being special crushed hard, and I am now wondering why I am doing what I chose to do in the first place.
    And it’s partly because of what this post explains. I feel as if I can no longer assume that because I am supposed to be the best, I can choose whatever. I never really had the audacity to sit down and think about what interested me the most, what would make me get out of my bed every day. I assumed that since I was special, I could bypass the “dream-setting” step when I finished high school, and just choose a career that sounded cool and would keep feeding my ego (e.g. biological engineering).
    The funny thing is that a look to my college record would get any person to believe I am good at this. And yet, something just doesn’t let me be satisfied with it. Probably because I am not being praised in the same way I was praised in high school.

    I am now trying to lay everything out, exposing my ego for the first time in my life (thanks to relationships), and trying to find another fire to continue. But I am thankful for the “perceived” failures and defeats. They came in a bit late, but better late than never!