Catherine Anaya

Think you’re special? Get over it!

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In 8th grade, I went through a period of signing my name “Catherine the Great.” It would so anger my mom she’d shout, “You don’t get to call yourself  ‘great’  until you’ve done something great!” 

I considered it more a declaration of a desire to be great at something one day. But to her, it was more a declaration of conceit. 

I didn’t get it then. I do now. When my daughter tells me, “YOLO (you only live once), Mom,” it is her reason for why I should buy her this, that or the other. I want to scream (and sometimes do), “What have you actually DONE to deserve it?” 

Don’t get me wrong, she’s wonderful, and I’m very proud of her. But, I wonder sometimes whether in my efforts to give her a life I didn’t have, and to give her the things I only dreamed of, perhaps, I’ve given her too much. Perhaps I’ve convinced her that she is special before she has actually been given the chance to prove how special she is.

That’s the bold message that English teacher, David McCullough, Jr. (son of the famed historian), delivered in his commencement speech at a Massachusetts high school this past June. “You are not special. You are not exceptional,” he told them.

His speech was both criticized and praised for its blunt suggestion that teens today have been “pampered … bubble-wrapped … feted and fawned over” to the point that they have an idea they’re special, when, in reality, “if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless,” he says.

I read his speech, I watched the video of it and I understood his point. I grew up with adversity. Aside from her parents’ divorce, my daughter hasn’t faced any. As her mom, that’s been my goal. But the more I mature, the more I recognize that my own hunger and desire to accomplish something great with my life actually came from the adversity I faced. I now wonder if I’ve done my girl a disservice by shielding her from it.

I recently attended a convention for journalists and spent an evening huddled with some Latino college and high school students who were there to learn as much as they could about the business they so desperately want to one day make a career. They shared their many challenges, such as having to work on top of their studies to help their family make ends meet. 

They peppered me with questions about breaking into the broadcasting business, while I solicited their suggestions for igniting a fire in my daughter’s belly. Their best advice: continue to set the example and her passion will surface in time. 

I’ll do that with the hope that, along the way, she’ll also realize something else McCullough said in his speech, “The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”

Catherine Anaya anchors CBS 5 News weeknights at 5, 5:30, 6 and 10 p.m. She is a mother of two, marathon runner and motivational speaker. Reach her at catherine.anaya@cbs5az.com; connect with her on Facebook, twitter and at CatherineAnaya.com.

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