Jan 182013

I was having a discussion with a friend and the question arose: “What makes someone special?”

You have to be very careful which pears you choose to compare yourself with.

You have to be very careful which pears you choose to compare yourself with.

There are some things I feel I’m quite good at. But it makes a big difference whom you compare me to. Compared to the general populace I’m good at mathematics and playing the saxophone. Compared to most of the people I studied with I’m only a very mediocre mathematician and compared to John Coltrane I am a truly lousy saxophonist.

This will hold true no matter what you do. No matter how good you are, I’ll bet you a dime that there is someone who is better than you. And even if you truly are the very best at something, it won’t last. Maybe this year you beat the all-time fastest time on the 100 meter sprint. But next year someone else is going to trump that record of yours.

Relative comparisons don’t work out. Or at least, they don’t if you compare yourself with the people who are better than you. Comparing yourself to “the rest” can be good for your feeling of being special. I’m sure that I’m better at playing the saxophone than the 99% of the people who never in their lives touched the instrument. But then, so would everybody who had a single hour of practice on it.

Yesterday I heard that I’m starting on a new assignment as of Monday! Yay!
I think it’s far more interesting not to look at how good you are, but what you do with your skills and abilities. Playing the saxophone is something that makes me very happy. And playing together with others (as I sometimes do) makes them happy as well (that, or they’re really good liars!). And I use my mathematics in risk management, helping in my own small way to uphold the stability of the world-wide financial system (my minute, tiny, miniscule part. But still, it’s there).

And in that way, ironically, everybody is special. You are the only person doing what you are doing. And I’m the only one doing what I am doing.

It’s not the size (of your skill), it’s what you do with it.

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