Dear Savvy Sister: Do I matter?

REMINDER: The questions posed in this occasional column are written by actual people.


Dear Savvy Sister,

I feel marginalized and I think everyone kind of does no matter what … or maybe not if you have a serious personality disorder. Discussion: perfectionism, defeatism, and possible solutions : )


Average Josephine



Dear Average,

I’m so glad you ended your question with a smiley face. I assume that’s your subtle method of asking me not to diagnose you with a personality disorder. Nice job! You’re all clear.

Listen, you’re right. I feel marginalized every time I have to pick up dog poop and carry it back home in a plastic bag. But you know who really feels marginalized? The people who actually are. The lady who cleans my house, for example, lost her own home as part of the foreclosure clusterfuck. And every week she leaves her rented condo, where she lives with her husband, mother, and the mother’s yappy dog, and comes here to clean up our crap.

She’s just a housecleaner. And yet she’s not. She’s the person who makes our home livable each week. Without her, I’d be looking out the window for social services most days, and telling people to put on waders before they venture in to check on the well-being of the children. I adore her. I revere her. She has a knack for improving our lives in a a very tangible way, and that, to me, is a sign of success and accomplishment.

Earlier this month, an English teacher named David McCullough gave an extraordinary commencement speech to the graduates of Wellesley High School, and he was widely skewered for it. The gist of his words?

None of you is special. You are not special. You are not exceptional.

Can you imagine? I wonder how many parents sat in that audience sending telepathic arrows into David McCullough’s head. While they mentally assassinated him, he went on:

In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another–which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality — we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.  We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole.  No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it…  Now it’s “So what does this get me?”  As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans. 

Dammit, he was right. He is right. We see so many people lauded for nothing more than running across a football field or hitting a high note that we cease to appreciate the people who taught those wunderkinds how to read and write. Assuming they know how. And we also fail to set reasonable standards for ourselves. I’m guilty of this myself. Is it not enough that I write a popular blog read by hundreds of people? Some days, it is not. I strive for the book deal, the vocal recognition, the paycheck – an obsession that occasionally keeps me from finding joy in the happiest of moments.

As I emphasized in my column The Greatness earlier this year, an ordinary person can lead an extraordinary life. Often, in fact, the most extraordinary lives are led by people whose names you will never even hear. This contrasts sharply with, say, Kim Kardashian, who works her manicured fingers to the bone (but not really) just trying to convince people that she should matter to the world. But you know what? She doesn’t.

By contrast, consider the teenaged son of my friend Valle, who has Down Syndrome. Aidan is in high school, and this year decided to run for vice-president of his class. Here’s a link to the article Valle wrote about his endeavor.

Guess what? He won. His campaign platform: MORE SINGING IN SCHOOL. I want you to think about this for a minute. A boy who knows he’s different, who understands that he could face ridicule and bullying, takes a deep breath and jumps into life with gusto, singing at the top of his lungs, making sure everyone around him knows that AIDAN O’DONOGHUE IS IN THE HOUSE and the house will be better for it. So who will be marginalized more in life? Kim Kardashian or Aidan? Duh. But who, pray tell, will leave the more positive imprint on every person he encounters?  Again, duh. So the ordinaries win.

You, my dear Josephine, should know that you’re not perfect, but that’s a blessing – because perfection leads to the most egregious fault of all: the failure to recognize that not everyone can be the cherry on the cupcake, the visible embodiment of the pastry’s delicious beauty. The rest of us make up the cupcake. YummityYummityYummity. Frankly? I think we get the better end of the deal.

How sweet you are, peeps! Bask in it.


the Savvy Sister

2 responses to Dear Savvy Sister: Do I matter?

    • tricia says:

      Thanks, man! For reading, and thinking I’m right. Love that quality in a man….

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