By Laura A. Roser
The Comfort of Predictable Experiences
Do you get this unicorn craze? At first it was kinda fun—college kids at business networking events calling themselves “unicorn entrepreneurs” or little girls licking rainbow candy shaped like poop. But I’m afraid it’s gotten out of hand. Last week, I attended the San Diego County Fair and, after seeing a full-grown woman wearing a unicorn horn and a turquoise fur onesie covered in glitter, I decided that a) unicorns are not as unique as mythology would indicate and b) everyone’s behavior of hopping on the unicorn trend to prove their “uniqueness” (by being like everyone else) is one of those odd things we humans do.
Just in case you haven’t been out much and still associate the term unicorn with a fantasy creature that is impossible to find, I assure you unicorns are everywhere. Just at the fair, they had unicorn ice cream, unicorn candy, unicorn cookies, a unicorn play area for kids, unicorn stickers, unicorn t-shirts, unicorn headbands, unicorn caramel apples … I could keep going, but I don’t want to bore you.
You Are Simultaneously Unique and Common
Life is strange because when you’re going through it, it’s easy to become isolated and feel alone, highly unique, or misunderstood.
Are you feeling complete despair over losing your job? What about struggling through your first pregnancy? How about the joy of acing your driver’s test? Or enjoying a piece of your mom’s apple pie?
The truth is your experiences are being had by millions—maybe even billions—of people around the world.
It Feels Like a Unicorn Event to You, But Life Has a Predictable Rhythm
When we’re able to take an aerial view of our lives and see our progression from a detached perspective, we realize that life is a series of events that don’t differ much from others’ experiences:
We’re born > learn to crawl, walk, talk > make friends happen > have bad stuff happen > see our bodies grow strong and then decline > and so on.
If we do not take the greater perspective, it’s easy to feel as if life is a series of unpredictable events that we must respond to. It’s easy to have resistance, which leads to fear of what’s coming next. When, really, what’s coming next is completely predictable.
Think of these common impossible desires:
- “I want to be young forever.” (Wrinkle cream companies and plastic surgeons make billions addressing this desire.)
- “I want to protect my children from pain.”
- “I shouldn’t have gotten __________.” (Fill in the blank … “cancer,” “divorced,” “my leg run over in a car accident.”)
It all feels so unfair, unreal, uncomfortable, and completely unique to you. But it’s not.
Don’t Discount Your Uniqueness, But Remember How You Fit in With the Larger Picture
Of course, there are some super rare problems (diseases that only a handful of people struggle with, for example), and there are some super rare attributes, successes, or talents (most people aren’t billionaires, most people aren’t basketball stars, etc.). But whether you’re feeling despair over a rare heart condition or a common cancer diagnosis, the emotions are quite similar. And whether you’re in love and romancing your partner with a picnic in the park or a five-star vacation at the Four Seasons in Paris, the feelings are similar. You want to impress, you want to please, you want to connect more deeply, and you want affection.
Why does any of this matter?
It matters because life is confusing, and knowing that you aren’t alone or unique provides comfort—a model to follow. Why spend your life trying to reinvent the wheel? Learning about how others have coped or thrived in similar situations gives you a foundation to leverage your experiences and create a higher quality life. Knowing that most entrepreneurs had extreme moments of doubt before they hit it big gives you strength to move forward despite a major setback in your own business. Knowing that life ends for everyone gives you motivation to plan for a peaceful decline and savor every drop of your existence or, at least, make it as palatable as possible. Knowing that a breakup makes you feel like your heart is being ripped out gives you the fortitude to stay strong and make it through the tough feelings.
Literal Family vs. Family of Humanity
Wisdom comes from many sources. Your literal family—your parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, siblings—all have stories and experiences you can learn from. Because they are connected to you by blood and your identity sprung from their existence, family stories are especially potent. This can be good and bad. Your family’s history of alcoholism could make you fear that you will become an alcoholic yourself. Your mother’s tenacity and work ethic could give you a respect for hard work and the courage to stick to difficult tasks until you’ve reached your goal.
Your literal family, however, isn’t your only source of wisdom. In fact, being too closely associated with your family can severely limit you. What if you actually are the only unicorn in your family? Maybe everyone in your family is an accountant, but you want to be an artist. Does that mean you should throw away your dreams and brace yourself for a career filled with spreadsheets? No! You can search for the best examples of what you want to model. All of humanity is available as a source of inspiration.
This means if you’re feeling stuck, misunderstood, ashamed, or depressed, there are others— many others—who have had the exact same feelings and overcame them. What did they do? How did they thrive? How did they make the most of their lives?
Developing Your Unique Legacy by Mimicking the Best
What do you want your legacy to be? Do you want to be wealthy? Read biographies of millionaires and billionaires. Do you want to be a star athlete? Learn how Michael Jordan did it. Do you want to have a close family? Learn how your neighbors ended up with such loving kids.
This isn’t about copying someone else’s path exactly; this is about using their experiences as a springboard to create a unicorn legacy for yourself that is paradoxically unique to you, yet similar to the people you admire.
We’re all destined for the same thing: to live for a short period of time and die. The quality of our lives and the legacy we leave behind is a direct result of how expertly we navigate our life path. Why leave that to chance when there are millions—maybe billions—who have the same issues, desires, and goals? What have they discovered that you haven’t? What mistakes have they made that you can avoid?
And, when you think about your life on a continuum, try to project yourself into the future—10, 20 or 30 years. What will matter to you then that’s not as important now? If you don’t know, try learning about the experiences of others. Ask your parents, older friends, and colleagues if their viewpoints changed as they aged. Read books like The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Your Meaning Legacy, or When Breath Becomes Air. Plan for a life of fulfillment rather than looking back and thinking, “Oops. I wish I had a little more perspective when I was younger.” The wisdom is there, if you look for it.
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by Laura A. Roser
CEO and Founder of Paragon Road
#1 Expert in Meaning Legacy Planning