How to come with not being unique.
January 24, 2010 12:17 PM   Subscribe

How can I deal with not being unique?

Well, I look of Facebook and that, and I see almost all of the traits I thought defining me, characterised in a Facebook page. Everything I do seems to have been done a thousand times before, probably even my life story. It's really depressing me, what can I do to stop it?
posted by Jazzwick to Human Relations (42 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Welcome to the human condition. With 6 billion + people on the planet, of course there's going to be people who like the same things you do. That doesn't make them the same as you.

But, your uniqueness may come from the combination of things you do, in the place you do them, with the people you do them with. As a trite example, no-one with the name of "jazzwick" has ever posted this exact question to this exact website before. Therefore, it is unique.

If you spend your life trying to set yourself in opposition to everything around you in a (frankly, misguided and impossible) attempt to be a special snowflake, you will be miserable. Simply be who you are, in revel in that.
posted by modernnomad at 12:20 PM on January 24, 2010

Has this question been asked before? No? Well that kind of renders you unique, doesn't it?
posted by oxit at 12:23 PM on January 24, 2010

Truly unique people may very possibly (I don't know, I'm not one) be quite lonely. Revel in your similarities with others: it's how we make connections with people.
posted by gaspode at 12:26 PM on January 24, 2010 [14 favorites]

The older one gets, the more one realizes that: "no, you are not a unique and special snowflake".

How you deal with this is perfectly up to you.

Become "more unique" or take solace in the fact that you are not alone, were never alone and there were/are many people similar to you.

Frankly, I find that more comforting than if I was truly unique...
posted by jkaczor at 12:26 PM on January 24, 2010

Best answer: Helpful advice by modern nomad. Slightly unkind by dfriedman, I feel.

Another example: There are millions of people on YouTube who can juggle better than me, which gets me down, sometimes. But I am the only one who made my son laugh by dropping an egg in the middle of a routine and being hounded out of the kitchen by my wife. There are better ways to judge your self-worth than by your facebook page...
posted by mjg123 at 12:30 PM on January 24, 2010


Stop. Derail your train of thought. Most everything on Facebook is people trying to pull of some sprezzatura / zen valedictorian / scene queen nonsense. If you are comparing your own real activities to others' idealized activities, you are (a) unique and (b) oft-imitated but not duplicated. Now get off Facebook and go live life.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:33 PM on January 24, 2010 [20 favorites]

Are you kidding? You are absolutely unique.

Despite how much we all look like the same clod of dirt, we each of us stand alone on the continent. There is no one else who will react like you, do things in exactly the same way as you. No one else can sire/give birth to your child, raise your child in the same way. Despite all the superficial 'things' that people do, we are all special snowflakes.

We are in a really big snowstorm, and individual differences may not be appreciated by the undiscerning observer. But when you see the differences: How beautiful they are!
posted by SLC Mom at 12:35 PM on January 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

I don't know a good answer to this question, but I do think that trying to convince yourself that you actually are unique in some technical sense, as some suggest ("no-one with the name of "jazzwick" has ever posted this exact question") won't be helpful. Sure, you are at least slightly different in some way from every other human being who ever lived, but who cares? What you're really worried about is not uniqueness per se, but something else.

I'm not quite sure how to express what I think that is. A sense that your life is in "important" in some way? That's not quite it either...I'll keep thinking.
posted by k. at 12:44 PM on January 24, 2010

You are not defined by your story or the thought-forms that people use to describe you. 'You' are you, which can only be experienced by being with you.

You are intrinsically valuable as a human being regardless of what instrumental value you may have according to any particular criteria.
posted by Not Supplied at 12:47 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Stop thinking life is about doing things that no one has ever done before, or better than anyone has ever done before. Neither of us is as smart as Einstein, as creative as Shakespeare or as athletic as Michael Jordan. Both our names, and our lives will be almost certainly be forgotten within a hundred years of our death. These facts have no bearing on our ability to create a personal, satisfactory and unique life for ourselves.
posted by bluejayk at 12:55 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I used to worry that I would never be able to achieve a sufficient level of uniqueness to give my life meaning. I worked hard at choosing unusual ways of doing things, and unusual things to do; rejecting the popular at every turn, constantly fearing that I was not going far enough.

Eventually, three realizations changed this pattern and allowed me to become much happier:

- My value as a human being does not depend on the degree to which I can distinguish myself from every other person who has ever lived.

- My individuality does not come from conscious choice, but from the subconscious personality which drives my preferences and interests. I can't make myself more interesting by second-guessing the things I want to do; all I can do is get in the way of my own happiness.

- Nothing is unique in an absolute sense, but neither are any two things absolutely the same. Even if you try to do the same thing someone else has already done, you are doing it in your context, from your perspective and using your skills, and that is enough to make it different.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:55 PM on January 24, 2010 [15 favorites]

Stop comparing yourself to people on Facebook. Liking certain music, reading certain books, or having funny status updates doesn't mark a person as unique or special--and they don't define a person. Try thinking a little harder about the traits that really define you. They won't be easily summed into witty comments on a Facebook profile.

You may have a life path very similar to others' and that's ok. You don't need to be dramatically different from other people in order to be your own unique person, follow your own path, and have a good life. There's a big difference between "similar" and "copying"--the key is to find and be comfortable with your own path no matter how similar or different it may be from anyone else's.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:55 PM on January 24, 2010

You are not unique. Nor is anyone else. By that extension, we are all unique from each other in how we realize our lack of uniqueness.

In truth, nothing made me realize and come to terms with this faster than spending a few hours organizing drawers full of human bones. They all look the same at first, and then, you realize, each one is unique in a million little ways. But they are all that way.
posted by strixus at 12:56 PM on January 24, 2010

Maybe I am a bad or deranged person, because I think a realization that one isn't unique is the beginning of maturity. I have made choices in the past premised on my opinion that I was a special person with special privileges because of my special capabilities; looking back, I think this opinion and these choices raise serious moral questions about myself and my acts. Thinking that you are unique may be less of a help and more of a hindrance.

I think it is possible that most people lack uniqueness in any strong sense. But I know that many people are very interesting without being at all unique.

You have the privilege of possibly doing neat and amazing things because you are human and because you are a citizen. Go out and act on those privileges and do neat and amazing things. You don't need to be unique to do that.
posted by Mr. Justice at 12:59 PM on January 24, 2010 [7 favorites]

Why is being unique important to you? Being valuable/special/important is different from being unique. But, this frustrates me sometimes too, and inspires me to build my abilities.
posted by sninctown at 1:02 PM on January 24, 2010

getting a mid-life crisis on account of your fb profile is so 2010 :)

but seriously, read okCupid's "profile engineering" blog.
its contains interesting data about different ways of presenting yourself to the world, and their outcome.
it is a dating site so the profiles and interaction is a bit different. still a fascinating read.
reminds me of Manwatching, thier that good, with gems like "Rape Fantasies and Hygiene By State".

mybe a bit ot
posted by yosh at 1:03 PM on January 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

-If you're one in a million, there are 250 of you in the United States alone.

So cowboy up, get off Facebook, and get out and live a life. Go do things, meet people, experience things. Has it all been done before? Sure. So what? You were never issued a special-snowflake pass in the first place, so whining and being depressed about something you were never issued in the first place and have no reasonable expectation of having is... well, it's exactly that. Plus, it gets in the way of actually going out and living your life that's ticking away one second at a time.

This is the life you have, none other. This is the time you're given, no more. Live it or don't, but existential angst about the lack of special-snowflakery is undignified. No one wants to hang out with people like that, except other whiners.

And who the fuck wants to hang out with them?

As Franz Kafka once said, "The meaning of life is that it ends."

Do something with it or don't. But get your eyes out of your navel.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:05 PM on January 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

One thing to keep in mind is that the entire purpose of social networking profiles is to describe people in standardized ways - "I am involved in this hobby," "I am a fan of this band." The things that really make us different are hard to quantify and list - "I, like many other people, take photographs; mine, however, have a subtly different approach to the abstraction of the human body that is relatively unusual, and exemplified by this series of arms and legs photographed at angles such that they appear unnatural..." is sort of a lot harder. The point of social networking profiles isn't to describe how we're different - it's to describe which categories we fit into, so that other people can more quickly determine oh, okay, this guy's into similar music and movies as I am, so we'll probably get along at least a bit, and we can totally bond over our how we're both into a lot of lesbian-fronted pop-electronica bands despite both being straight dudes.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:08 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks guys :)
posted by Jazzwick at 1:10 PM on January 24, 2010

On the up side: Think of a the potential friends and mates you have stuff in common with!
posted by bunji at 1:36 PM on January 24, 2010

People who actively try to be unique are called posers.

Sure, you're unique, but so is everyone else. In infinite universes anything you have done or could do has been done an infinite number of times. We all face this. Deal with it.

Nothing you do matters. I find the idea incredibly liberating. Everyone needs a good dose of existential despair at some point in their lives.
posted by cmoj at 1:39 PM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

We are all individuals!
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:47 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

You ask me, “What is punk?”.
I kick over a trash can and say, “This is punk.”
So you kick over a trash can and ask, “This is punk?”
and I say, “No, that’s a trend”.
posted by yosh at 1:56 PM on January 24, 2010 [9 favorites]

Of course you are unique. You are also a human animal. And as such share a lot of traits with other human animals. The fact that you wonder why you are not unique is GREAT! You are probably a wonderful person. Get off of Facebook. Go out and do something that makes you happy and makes others happy (or at least does no harm). That would be unique.
posted by fifilaru at 2:03 PM on January 24, 2010

Stop. Derail your train of thought. Most everything on Facebook is people trying to pull of some sprezzatura / zen valedictorian / scene queen nonsense.
Nthing this. Facebook is not reality. It does not reflect who people actually are. Facebook is a marketing tool, a tool you use to grab people's attention and raise your social profile.

Repeating this for emphasis: Facebook is not reality. It's a marketing tool.

Getting depressed because you don't feel as if you measure up to people's manufactured images on Facebook is like getting depressed because you don't have the same immaculate house/sharp wit/beautiful companion/consumer goods as the characters on TV commercials have.
posted by jason's_planet at 2:06 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Two important things.

At one level of magnification pretty much all humans are the same, just like I can't tell two goldfish apart. Zoom in though (you don't have to go that far), and each human (and all goldfish) is unique. But everyone's unique, so that doesn't really make anyone special, which is really what I think you're after. But 'specialness' is not unique ether.

But really the real issue for me, when I've wrestled with this issue, has turned out to be: What are my criteria for self-worth? Novelty actually is a pretty lousy metric. In fact when I think of all the people I know, the one who is the most different also has the most problems ("When they made him, the mold was broken!"). Instead focus on the things that you value in others. For me those are primarily kindness, intelligence, creativity, and humor.
posted by aubilenon at 2:09 PM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Jazzwick is a cool name.
posted by Elmore at 2:21 PM on January 24, 2010

Yeah, being unique in the way people like isn't about being ostentatiously unique. It's the little things, and you really can't force it. (Can't help it, either.) You are who you are, and that's different from everyone else. It gets more pronounced as you age.

The older you get, the more your path through the maze diverges from everyone else's. Maybe you watched a video on YouTube about how to play harmonica and tried it out a few times. Maybe you saw something on TV or read something that was really interesting to you and then forgot about it, but it still makes you different from someone who didn't see or read that. You find different things funny, go about a task a different way, talk faster/slower/louder, whatever. When I worked on a submarine, most everyone I knew worked on a submarine. Now that I'm not anymore, people I know now find that unique and interesting.

So in an absolute sense, no, you're probably not unique in that something you do or say has never been done by anyone ever before. Who cares about that? You're automatically unique in your own sphere of people unless you're trying to "fit in" too much like a high school popular wanna-be. You keep getting more unique the more you pursue what you like to do and not what seems cool to everyone else.

So how do you cope with that? You thank god you're not such an insecure jackass that you need to wear a fedora around or act like a clown to be "different". That's unique in a bad way.
posted by ctmf at 2:23 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think it's hard to imagine the whole of humanity--just like it's hard to imagine deep geological time--so for all intents and purposes, the closest any of us gets to being unique is being unusual for our situation. And for what it's worth, every time I've been the unusual one (not because I was trying to be, just because) it's been really hard--interesting, but hard--because being unusual often means that you're something of an outsider, and it's exhausting to be an outsider day-in and day-out. Especially because if there's a really wide gap between you and the people around you, it's possible to go on being an outsider for years. There is a value to the common life.
posted by colfax at 3:22 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Imagine you were "unique." What would be so great about it?

If you can answer that, then try living up to what you're imagining.

If you can't answer it, maybe that's because it wouldn't be so great to be unique.

Also, realize that there are good reasons why people aren't unique. For any given activity/quality that would be desirable to do/have, there are probably a lot of people who have figured this out and put it into practice. That doesn't make people boring; that makes them smart.

And isn't it a little selfish to want to do things or have qualities that no one else does or has? If you're pretty happy with your life, why shouldn't you also be glad if others are able to partake in the same awesome interests or qualities that you have?
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:45 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Facebook is a list of attributes and likes. It's not who you are. I like dancing juggling, reading, wine, and travel. I have no doubt that many millions of people like those things as well, and many of them do some better than I, and quite a few are better at every single one of those things.

I have no doubt, however, that the people who love me could meet someone who is a better juggler, dancer, reader, wine lover and traveller, and still love me more. Because I am not those things, and they do not define me.

You're a unique person who shares certain likes, dislikes and characteristics with other unique people. That's a wonderful thing.
posted by twirlypen at 5:40 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Be comforted. If you were unique (or at least scarce), someone who doesn't know you from Adam would be cruelly ridiculing you as a freak. That's the Internets for you.
posted by bad grammar at 5:41 PM on January 24, 2010

Talk to real life people more, your interactions with other people will affect them in a way that only your interactions with them can. If you really have an impact on someone you'll feel like you have a place in the world that only you can fill.

More important than being the only person who likes movie or product or activity [x], isn't it?
posted by kathrineg at 6:54 PM on January 24, 2010

I kind of feel like your question is a Stuff White People Like type of problem. The blogger's main point is that white people tend to think they all have unique tastes, and are so individualistic in liking this and that, and think they are the first to come up with an idea or interest, but there are actually a lot of patterns and similarities in what white people like and they can actually be considered a group with predictable tastes, behaviour and thinking. Oh, the irony (another thing that white people like). But I don't know if you're white or not (I'm not). (If you've never seen this blog, don't get offended. It's satire. I think the blog is hilarious and spot-on about a lot of things, based on my experiences with white people.)

Anyway, I like biking (like most white people, according to the blog) and I know tons of people like biking. But I'm not bothered by this and feeling non-unique because biking for me matters in my own way. Maybe there's a whole bunch of people to whom biking matters to them in the exact same way, but so what. I'm the only person who's with me 24/7, so what do I care?

You are unique, just like everyone else.
posted by foxjacket at 7:46 PM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think when you try and weigh yourself against the world, certainly the results will be overwhelming. For me it is feeling that I have not made anything creative and lasting and unique, that I create the deepest sense of failure for myself.

My salve for this particular anxiety is to remind myself that while my hobbies, preferences and experiences may not be unique, it is the mix of them and my resulting perspective on life that is. No one else has your perspective on the world, and there are times where your unique viewpoint will be able to benefit those around you. I find great satisfaction in those moments, and during the rest of them I just try to enjoy taking in what the world has to offer in my own way. That way may not be the most creative, the most anything, but it is mine and I wouldn't trade it away for anything.
posted by dawnoftheread at 7:46 PM on January 24, 2010

Sounds like you want to be unique like everyone else. You are unique and you are just like everyone else. Big deal. Find your niche. Find your friends. Contribute to the world around you anyway you can whether it is through being a good friend, creating something that helps your fellow man or just going about your everyday life with integrity, honesty and determination. Lead by example.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:19 PM on January 24, 2010

Yes, there are plenty of people who are shockingly similar to you. Marry one of them, make friends with the rest, and be glad that you're not totally unique.
posted by Starmie at 10:32 PM on January 24, 2010

it is a dating site so the profiles and interaction is a bit different. still a fascinating read.
reminds me of Manwatching, thier that good, with gems like "Rape Fantasies and Hygiene By State".

Again, this is social networking and posing, no?
posted by mippy at 4:47 AM on January 25, 2010

You aren't defined by the things you enjoy.
posted by tumples at 7:47 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I get this too. When I was a kid, I was repeatedly told how smart I was, how creative and original, and how I'd go real far because of it. It wasn't until I grew up that I realized there were kids like me in every school in every town. On top of that, every clever idea I ever get seems to already have been put in practice and blogged about.

It helps me, though, to realize that the things I enjoy, and the interests and ways of thinking that make me just a bit different from the crowd, are all things I picked up from others and made my own. The other day an old friend of mine was raving about a few stuffed animals I crocheted a while back - but they're not completely my own design; I learned from a class. My first reaction is often to be down on myself for being derivative, but really, I'm grateful that there was enough demand for the class and that our teacher was willing to share her art with us. If you've ever joined a team, taken a class, gone on a specialized retreat, or shopped at a specialty store that had the exact supplies you needed, then you're experiencing the advantage of not being unique.

Can you imagine how hard it would be, both practically and emotionally, to have interests and thought processes and habits and hobbies that no one in the world shared? I mean, what if you wanted feedback on a project you were working on and no one else understood what you were talking about? What if you decided you needed therapy and couldn't find a therapist who got you?

If this is coming from the feeling that you have to put something special in the world, or make your mark somehow, it might help to realize that you don't really owe that to the world. Your mind is a gift, not part of a contract or a barter. If you create something marvelous, or even something just sorta nifty, that's just a bonus.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:22 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not being unique makes me feel better. Less lonely. Also, it's way relaxing. It's all been done before. It helps me laugh at myself and control myself.
posted by anniecat at 11:39 AM on January 25, 2010

You carry absolute proof of your own uniqueness everywhere you go: you are the only person in the world who can't look at the back of your head without technological assistance. You could, in principle, look at the back of anybody else's head; but not yours unless you employ mirrors or cameras or some other light-bending tool.

All the best. Get more sleep.
posted by flabdablet at 11:02 PM on March 17, 2010

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