There is a fun old saying — “You’re One in a Million” — that is meant to convey a specialness using data-driven facts. What I find most interesting in the million specialness is how absolutely non-special you are depending where you happen to live in the world.
For example, in my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska — with a population of 160,000 while I was growing up — I was super-extra-crispy special, because it would take 6.25 times my city’s population to make me unique one time in a million tries.
In New York City, the story is different. There are currently 8.3 million people in The Big City — and that means my specialness is drained in the larger lake from my small pond pool of the Midwest.
Instead of being “One in a Million” in NYC, I’m now, actually, eight in 8.3 million — and that’s a pretty sobering number.
Being one of 8.3 is fascinating if you extrapolate the old phrase into a modern mix. In New York City, there are more than eight people around me who are just as talented, just as educated and just as go-getting and unrelenting as I am.
In some ways, that sickens, me, but in another wondering, it explains a lot and keeps me active and on-edge against the ever-rising tide of myself in a multiplicity of mysterious doppelgängers.
I have been not-so-subtlety reminded of my non-precious status in NYC over the years with the plethora of “David Boles” folk — in name alone! — who happen to live here! It’s sort of stunning to call a doctor’s office and have to sift through multiple instances of, “that’s not me!”
That doesn’t happen in Nebraska.
Your perception of your self is intrinsically tied to your current community. Back in Lincoln, I was a supremely unique person. In NYC, not so much!
That’s the test of ego and the confounding definition of the self. Do you stay where you are — small, but protected, and stroked?
Or do you bound away into a possible drowning in possibilities, and a competition against a ganglion of your other, most competitive hive selves, who may have also bolted their small towns for the bigger challenge of vanquishing their impostor twins?
It is interesting how many people choose to stay where they were born. They appreciate the familiarity and the non-risk of venturing beyond into the unknown and the unprotected.
I don’t blame them for wanting to remain put and surrounded by like-minds, but for me, the grander challenge of living is putting yourself on the line — the front lines, against the 8.3 rest of yous — every single day in a test of stamina, virtue and humanhood, and to do that all in a land you do not recognize, but wish to want to know better, is the only way to stay alive and relevant in an always-changing universe where the only undeniable fact is that everything is expanding while compressing.