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Exceptionalism Is a Scam. I Was Saved by Self-Neutrality.

·580 words·3 mins
Self Improvement

There are some days when it seems like everywhere I look, someone is telling me that self-acceptance looks like this:

“I’m so beautiful. I’m amazing. The world is made so much better because I’m in it. I’m really the best, and I’m destined for special, important things.”

But honestly… that’s a tall order. I don’t feel that way. And in fact, the better I got at certain things, the more I saw how I could improve. The goalposts always moved, not out of malice but out of striving.

Research says similar. Confidence and skill are often inversely proportional. Being good at something and feeling like you’re good at something are different things. And according to research, they’re at odds with one another.

Well, crap.

It turns out that needing to feel like you’re exceptional is a scam. It’s literally a pyramid scheme, since it entails your position relative to others in a way that simply isn’t sustainable long term.

So what’s a girl to do? Well, for the longest time, I felt miserable and defective. But that’s a losing strategy, too.

Turns out that there’s a middle path: Self-neutrality.

Self-Neutrality Saved Me

It was a big gamechanger when I made peace with the fact that I could be just okay and still have worth. It’s true. I don’t have to be beautiful — and if I’m not beautiful, it doesn’t mean I’m ugly. In fact, it’s most likely that I’m average looking. I explained it in an earlier post:

Mathematically speaking, odds are quite good that I’m roughly average looking. Without getting stranded too far out in Stats Land, here’s why: I define average looking as any values that fall plus or minus one standard deviation from the mean.

This statistical grouping would include people who are precisely average (in this case, the mean vs mode or median because why get too complicated?).

It would also include everyone who could be considered a little above or a little below average.

By the statistical definition of what a standard deviation is, this “roughly average” group would include two-thirds of all people. So all else being equal, there’s about a 67% chance that I’m _roughly _average looking.

And what do I lose if I’m wrong? Nothing. I take basic measures to be presentable and take care of myself, but I don’t stress over it. I tend to my appearance, but I don’t obsess.

And I don’t spend much time and energy worrying that I’m hideous. Because after I’ve done a reasonable amount, there’s no benefit to fretting over it anyway.

Honestly, being aggressively neutral about my appearance saves me an awful lot of hassle and frees up my mind to worry about working on other things. It helped me break a never-ending cycle of self-loathing.

Self-Neutrality Is Not Just About Physical Appearance

And it’s not just about physical appearance either. I’ve been working to apply this same principle to many other areas of my life: I don’t have to be the funniest. Or the smartest. Or the best writer. I don’t have to be the best in bed. The best cook. I don’t have to be an amazing housekeeper.

Odds are very good that I’m average — or close enough that it doesn’t matter. And just like my appearance, after I’ve put in a reasonable amount of work, it doesn’t really benefit me to keep obsessing over it.

It’s been just about the most freeing cognitive reframe I’ve ever tried.


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