Exceptionalism is something everyone tries to attain. What this exceptional attribute is may differ from person to person,but that desire for mastery and becoming the top in one’s field is across the board. No child wants to be a bench warmer in the pros. No writer wants to simply publish one book and be done with it.
It is a predisposition to want to be the very best. Our hopes and dreams place us on the top tier of humanity, being adored for the rest of our lives and being etched into humanity’s records for all future generations to revere you. There is a desire to be something far larger than one is.
For almost 100% of the population that is simply not possible to attain. If everyone was exceptional then no one would be. For there to be Bill Gates, there were thousands of people who invested in coding,but could never get it right or just could not quite figure it out before him.
For every Tom Brady, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth there were countless athletes who spent the majority of their lives practicing and training to not even be drafted. Hours devoted to a goal never achieved.
You can probably point out the people from your high school class who everyone knew was going to be exceptional at what they did. They were exceptional among their peers at your school, but once you all were released to the general public how well did they fare? Almost every time the question arises, no one wants to know how far they fell short.
Now the obvious counterpoint is that there are more levels to anything than professional and failure. That is completely true. There are plenty of positions between never being an elected official and president. However, if one is not the groundbreaking leader in their field, they are often left to follow the cream of the crop that is, which leads to two questions.
First, was it set in stone from the very beginning? Was a combination of genetics, environment, and luck provide the only means of becoming exceptional? Are all star athletes and A-list actors born to be like that from the very beginning? Were all of the most exceptional people in the world God-given a trait that pushes and drives them upward? That would both be a relief and a curse to find out. There would be no pressure if you knew you weren’t going to be the one in a billion person to save the world. That’s crushing to have live up to unreal expectations.
The second would be for those who did not become the top in their fields, what are their purposes in the grander scheme? Every leader had their followers. Every celebrity had their fans. Without the less exceptional people, the exceptional people would have a lot less power in what they did. They would still be exceptional, but without constituents they would still be just one person. Would they not be able to have done what they did without the others to push them forward? How do you separate the person from the people? Surely us common folk are more than just building blocks to build up a leader.
Exceptionalism falls into that nature versus nurture question and the answer likely lies somewhere in the middle. Knowing that exact scale may not yield the results we want in the slightest.
You spend your childhood being told how smart you are, how fast, how talented, how handsome. Then as the world starts opening up to you, the occasional person smarter than you appears. Soon you’re not the straight A student, but B+ and a B student. Then you go to college or move to another town and you really start to see how average you really are. You’re not even top 10% in your class by this point, but you still consider yourself one of the smartest people you know. The farther out your scope pulls, the more you fade into the background. You once could coast with what you had, until you reached the point where those behind you worked their way past you.
Its a shock, but its a necessary one.
Even with those variations from birth, after a certain point you can’t just coast and attain the 1% status you want. Sure some roads are bumpier than others. It would not hurt if I had good eyesight, soft hair, and was at least 6′ 2″, but it would only get me so far with how atrocious my diet is.
Exceptionalism is not born, but perfected. Sure some people have the inside track, but to truly become what one aspires to be, they have to put as much time and effort as possible without wavering. If exceptionalism was easy to attain, everyone would be exceptional. Then nobody would be exceptional and a new cycle would start. By seeing how average we are, you can appreciate that at some level everyone is coming from the same beginnings. As a child, your world view is pretty much just you and a handful of people. You were maybe the funniest one or the fastest one, maybe even the cool one. Everyone was there at some point. It humanizes others.
Maybe people like us are just pawns to the handful of kings. Maybe we are just disposable to the larger picture. All we can really do is accomplish as much as we can and be content with what we did.