David McCullough: You’re Not Special
David McCullough Jr -Make Your Life Extraordinary
High school teacher David McCullough believes that humbleness and selflessness are key to living an extraordinary life.
You’re not special. You’re not exceptional. Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble wrapped. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled, and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person, or mommy ordered it from the caterer. You’ll note the Founding Fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Quite an active verb, pursuit. You’ve learned, too, I hope, as Sophocles assured us that wisdom is the chief element of happiness. Second is ice cream. Just an FYI.
I also hope you’ve learned enough to recognize how little you know, how little you know now, at the moment, for today is just the beginning. It’s where you go from here that matters. As you commence, then, before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Get busy. Have at it. Don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you. Get up. Get out. Explore. Find it yourself. Grab hold with both hands.
Now, before you dash off and get your YOLO tattoo, let me point out the illogic of that trendy little expression, because you can and should live not merely once, but every day of your life. Rather than, “You only live once,” it should be, “You live only once.” But because YLOO doesn’t have the same ring, we shrug and decide it doesn’t matter.
Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air, and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Be worthy of your advantages and read. Read all the time. Read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it.
Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock, subtracts from fewer and fewer. And as surely as there are commencements, there are cessations. And you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality, no matter how delightful the afternoon.
Exercise free will and creative independent thought, not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion and those who will follow them. And then, you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with a recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is. Congratulations. Good luck. Make for yourselves, please, for your sake and for ours extraordinary lives.