“Nothing is so common as the wish to be remarkable” — Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
On a cold, windy day, a five-year-old me marched up to his parents and declared in a boisterous voice, “When I grow up I am going to be a pro hockey player!”
At a young age, I desired to be remarkable—I wanted to be unique, to be better than others at what I did, just to be “more.” This wasn’t because of any family expectations; these were my own immature dreams. At the time, I didn’t have so much motivation to really act on them. I lived in my own little bubble where I was hyped up by myself and my parents—I thought I would always be the “coolest kid on the block.”
Of course, that bubble popped soon. My parents gave me kisses and wished me good luck as I stepped out of our light blue Toyota and tentatively trudged into an intimidating brick building, starting what my parents called “elementary school.” I started to believe that there is always someone cooler, or more talented, or “better” than me. That day, the first person I remember meeting was a fellow first-grader, a Filipino boy a little bit taller than me with curly, untidy brown hair. He excitedly asked me my name and grade and when I asked for his, he responded with a mile-wide grin on his face, “Anthony.” Later on, he told me that he also shared a love for playing hockey. One day, when I went to watch one of his games, I was shocked when I saw him on the ice. Although my first outward thought was, “Meh, he wasn’t that good,” I secretly knew he was better than me.
It hurt. It’s hard not to be jealous or disheartened when you have something that you genuinely think you’re good at, something that you take pride in — and then suddenly seeing someone doing that same thing with exponentially greater skill. It quickly felt like everyone had “more” than me, or like I was being left behind.
Time passed, and I was soon in middle school. At the time, I was a decent kid, had decent grades, a decent social life, and was decently content. I spent most of the time hunched over a 3DS playing Mario Kart or with my nose stuck in a Rick Riordan book from the local library. I convinced myself that I had forgotten my original hockey dreams, and I began developing and chasing new ones, hoping to still one day be “remarkable.”
One of my newer dreams was the desire to move up the social ladder. One could say I wanted to be at the top of the ladder of all the greasy middle-schoolers — the “final boss.” Unfortunately, I never did become popular — I was a bit of an introvert and still am now. It didn’t matter, though. I had good friends… except for when they weren’t good friends.
While I can still confidently say my friends are good people, there were times when jokes went too far. We were all immature middle-schoolers, just starting puberty. Every day, we all sat at the same oak lunch table, eating somewhat sketchy and smelly cafeteria food. We talked about all sorts of random stuff, trying our best to squeeze laughs out of each other. Unfortunately, those laughs were sometimes at the expense of other people, including me. I was not the best listener, not always paying attention in class and finding myself distracted by my friends or the books that I brought to school. Other kids saw this. and my distractedness soon earned me the label of “the dumb kid.” To them, “stupid” became a key word to describe me.
Obviously, this didn’t make me very happy. Plus, I got a tap on the shoulder from the past, a reminder of how unremarkable I had been and had become — the depths I had fallen to. This became the first time I genuinely wanted a change in my life. I wanted to fit in with my friends and had a deep desire to be, merely, different. So, I tried to change myself. I tried to be the cool kid, which was, looking back on it, really embarrassing. I put in the effort to swear when I could, and act like I didn’t care about anything to cover up my “stupidity,” and stand apart from my friends. I wanted my new remarkableness to shine through so that no one would mess with me.
After a while of acting like this, reality hit me. I realized acting tough doesn’t mean that other people will respect you more. Actually, in my case, the hardening of my heart hardened others’ as well. Because of this realization, I tried to change myself again. This time, I chose to act like my usual self. I tried to be authentically smart, unique and quirky so that people would think, “Oh, that’s just the awkward, occasionally funny kid in class. Why would I make fun of him? That’s just mean.”
Surprisingly, it worked. I didn’t get made fun of anymore, woohoo! But, even though I solved my problems, I still never put a lid on my dream to be truly remarkable. Even if being myself felt like enough, I still couldn’t say I accomplished anything significant — at the time, that still made me feel a little empty and inadequate.
Present-day, now that more time has passed, I feel like I have developed a lot. For the most part, I am proud of who I am; and at the end of the day, I simply try to be myself. Although I cannot say I have done anything “incredible,” I consider myself happy. As for my dream of being remarkable, I decided to drop it. While I was spending so much time longing to be more than who I am, I failed to notice the after-effects, expectations and pressure I was putting on myself.
Once I focused on being happy with everything that I am, I found myself improving. I made up with my friends — they’re good guys, even if I don’t talk with them as much now as I did when I was younger. My changed perspective allowed me to ditch the notion of being remarkable, and I have better, clearer dreams now! When I grow up a bit more, I’d like to become a psychologist and live a quiet, fulfilling life.
Having written all this, I would like to close with a message for whoever reads this… yes, you! I don’t know your situation or if you’ve had a similar experience to mine, but nevertheless, just know this. It might sound cheesy or whatever, but there are so few people who truly fit the definition of “remarkable”. Even if you are not amazing, not incredible — if you are no Wayne Gretzky, or no Tom Brady, you are enough. And, if you doubt that, just talk to the people closest to you. You are enough, and more — maybe even what they would call “remarkable” — to so many, whether you like it or not!