“Raise your hand if you’ve ever been told you’re special. If you’ve ever heard someone say, ‘This girl’s going places,’ or ‘This guy’s going to do something big.’”
A few hands go up, but they’re timid—there’s hubris in admitting to this, even in a room full of people who are nothing short of deserving such praise.
“Now keep your hand there if you’ve ever felt like that’s a burden.”
New hands spring up until there’s a forest of them: five hundred and twenty fingers waving before two hundred and eight eager eyes in one hundred and four brilliant heads. Brilliant heads that, in turn, share a body with one hundred and four vulnerable beating hearts, jointly striving for recognition, for the knowledge that they’re on the right path, for proof of their altruism.
It’s a clumsy pairing.
We’ve all been here for a few days. The words “So, what do you do?” have been spoken approximately 10,000 times, and everyone here can rattle off a staggeringly impressive resume in sixty seconds flat. But resumes aren’t people, and people are what matter when it comes to this changing-the-world business.
People are also surprisingly messy. Humanity is sort of like a massive improvised experiment, and the realization that everyone, even if they say otherwise, is making up their course as they go along hits like a kiloton of marshmallow fluff. It instigates this shift from viewing people as their credentials or occupations—a surefire way of giving yourself an inferiority complex if I ever saw one—to viewing them as potential friends, partners, even soul mates. You suddenly get that Charles from Connecticut who became CEO of an extremely successful social enterprise at age 18 is also just Charlie who likes to kick around a soccer ball at the park on Sundays. That Amy who is running for local office plays a mad trumpet solo. And, of course, that Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright Margot Tenenbaum sits in a bathtub smoking cigarettes all day.
People can be special. People can have trajectories that catapult them skyward. But that doesn’t mean they’re sure of each star they’ll pass on the way up, or even that they’ll be able to grab hold of the crescent moon.
And if your calculations were wrong and you miss, hey, you’ve still gone somewhere.