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Jeff Skolnick, M.D., Ph.D.
Jeff Skolnick M.D., P.h.D.

Special vs. Extraordinary

Don't sacrifice the vital for the trivial!

There are 300 billion other stars in the Milky Way galaxy. And 500 billion galaxies in the universe. Earth is an incomprehensible speck. It’s less important than a single electron on planet Earth.

How do we handle that insignificance?

Before Copernicus in the 16th century, people believed the sun was the center of the universe. No rational person can argue that now.

Our belief in that reality went beyond simply not having enough information back then. I would argue that the problem resides in our human brain.

The human brain’s mind is software. It’s software used to organize the world and ensure its survival. To do that the mind is programmed to put itself at the center of everything. Everything is about it — us!

Assuming that you don’t really risk survival, what is the driving force of your software called your mind? When you’ve had all the food you can eat and no one is threatening to eat you, what is there to do with that powerful force called your mind?

The answer: Survival II. Your survival programming causes your mind to use your considerable intelligence to find ways to avoid the reality that we are not going to survive life. One way to do that: feel special.

We are driven to be “better than,” to feel significant because we are worthy of admiration. It almost seems as if we, as individuals, as part of a gender, class, religion, race, species “need” to feel special. And when we don’t feel special, we can get depressed and suffer with low self-esteem. Or we get more aggressively driven to be special. Look around the world and you’ll see just how aggressive that can get.

I admit, that is part of my motivation to establish myself as a speaker, author and creator of a LifeClub model that I hope will change the world.

Yet, it is oppressive to try to be special. It’s a relentless, losing battle. Because in this vast universe, as one of billions of other members of a species, we are not all that different. No talent or accomplishment can ever be enough for us to avoid the stark and poignant reality that we aren’t going to make it.

No one is really immune from the search for specialness — whether it is to find specialness in our role as parents, in our deeds, our accomplishments or in the characteristics we are born with. That is, until we transcend our mind programming!

How do you transcend your mind’s programming?

When you strengthen your higher brain, which is your ability to be self-aware, over your lower brain, which is your mind, you begin to transcend. That’s when amazing things happen. The self-centric, anthropocentric way of analyzing data, of seeing the world, changes.

That’s when extraordinary emerges.

“But hey, you just said we are only one in billions of members of a species, on a small planet in an incomprehensible vast, seemingly limitless universe. How do you find extraordinary there?”

By relooking at the facts. Realistically and objectively look at what had to happen for you to be here. Here are a few data points — none of which had to happen!:

  • The universe had to come into existence from a void of nothingness.
  • Matter congealed and exploded into trillions of stars.
  • On one remote galaxy, in its protective outer band, exists one planet at just the perfect distance from its star, with just the right nutrients and an abundance of a rare and unique molecule called water.
  • Those nutrients and water had to form into a replicable entity called life.
  • Life evolved via an astronomical number of accidents into such complexity that it woke up and came alive to know its own existence.
  • Your parents had to “meet.”
  • One sperm out of millions hit one egg out of hundreds.
  • And here you are. Born. Here. Now. Alive. Experiencing this miraculousness of this moment.

You won a cosmic lottery.

It doesn’t matter how many humans are alive or have been alive. It doesn’t matter how many other individuals of other species are alive — whether one-celled organisms or other primates. Any living thing faced astronomical odds to exist.

So, how insanely lucky are you to be a human who knows you are alive? Who is able to feel the extraordinariness of that knowing? It doesn’t matter how many other people win a million dollars, you’d still be lucky to win it too.

And, to be born into this progressive, more humane century, in a millennium ripe with possibilities…

Don’t bother working or stressing to be special. It’s a terminal distraction! You are already extra-ordinary. Truly extraordinary!

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About the Author
Jeff Skolnick, M.D., Ph.D.

Jeff Skolnick, M.D., Ph.D., is a psychiatrist. He is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Washington.

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