Are you afraid to be ordinary? Einstein wasn’t

Published: April 2, 2011

Nana jaan wants Azlaan to be a finance guru like himself.

My nephew Azlaan will turn one this year on May 3 and his entire life and career have already been sketched out for him by his parents, grandparents and even his aunt – me!

Every day, while preparing his bath, his grandma smiles at his tiny little hands and passes her verdict: he will be a surgeon when he’s older.

I disagree, he’ll be a writer. She frowns and tells me, “Of course not! Can’t you see, he has the fingers of a surgeon?”

Nana jaan, on the other hand, wants him to be a finance guru like himself. And his parents – well, that’s another story!

No matter what career little Azlaan chooses, he will be disappointing one loved one or another. God forbid, he chooses to be a cook; he will have to be the best cook in the country, if not the world. Why? Because his loved ones believe he is ‘extraordinary’.

And isn’t that exactly what parenting is all about? Telling our kids that they are special, building up their self-esteem as they grow along?  A good amount of this is actually needed for survival. If our parents didn’t make us believe in our own abilities, we wouldn’t be able to wake up in the morning and strive at school or work.

This perceived ‘special-ness’ helps us to become well-adjusted, functioning human beings. However, many times, we become obsessed with the idea of being extraordinary.

Now, with You Tube, American Idol, X-factor and Superman everyone is convinced that each one of us is has a talent that can change the world.

But what if we don’t?

When expectations unbelievably high, no amount of success is ever really enough. And each time we fail or fall, dissatisfaction comes in holding a placard reading:

“This can’t really be? We are extraordinary beings, meant for much bigger things. Maybe, this is just a hiccup along the way”.

The truth that we might simply be ordinary is so bitter and hard to swallow that we have to blind ourselves with thoughts of greatness. Most of us punish ourselves with extra work, self-pity, jealousy and self-denial. We spend hours comparing ourselves to others, measuring who is the closest to that line of extraordinariness.

If there was no fear, need for approval, desire to be liked, holding us back – we could be absolutely invincible! We would be able to work to our full potential without judgment or fear of failure.

Perhaps complete liberation from self-expectation is a catalyst for reaching greatness.

Think about it. Would Einstein be able to give us his theories and inventions if he knew what his legacy was going be 200 years later? Who can really live up to the expectation of being the Father of Modern Physics?

He did it all by honestly believing he was ordinary. And with this belief, he changed the world.

Saba Khalid

Saba Khalid

A blogger for Rolling Stone magazine, a contributor to Kulturaustauch and Musikexpres, Saba is an Institute for Foreign Affairs (IFA) Cross Culture scholar for the year 2012 who also teaches creative writing to young aspiring writers. She blogs at and can be found on instagram as @thecityalive

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • sana

    very nice article i like it and said so right Recommend

  • Asadullah

    And isn’t that exactly what parenting
    is all about? Telling our kids that
    they are special

    Well to me, this is sort of bad parenting. You should be wise enough to understand that saying that your kid is special, in all contexts and perspectives, is going to create problems for him and the people he will be interacting with. You should tell him his strengths, yes, but concentrate on his weaknesses and also make him understand that no on is perfect but the path to perfection starts with accepting your faults first. The quality of being modest and humble goes a long way, for the individual and for the society in general.

    And I fail to understand why Einstein gets dragged into such comparisons. He was uniquely equipped, neurologically speaking, to visually perceive and and conceptualize complex mathematical ideas. And on a side-note, he is not the father of modern Physics, as he opposed the newly formulated Quantum theories back then, which are the real basis of modern Physics per say. Recommend

  • Ghausia

    That anecdote about your nephew is so cute. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to tell kids that they’re smart and special, and that they can grow up to be whatever they want. I mean, at 7, who knows what they want to do for the rest of their lives? That’s no age to be ambitious. My 4 year old niece for example, has wanted to be a princess since she was two, and lets face it, its not like the Arab sheikh I promised her is actually real. Putting that much pressure on kids is just wrong.Recommend

  • Faria Syed

    @ Ghausia’s niece: aaaaw! I wanted to be a princess too :)


  • MANI

    This could have been a great article if not been defeated in time and space. Perhaps, director of Indian Movie Maker Three Idiots has already thrown sufficient light on it. Good effort by enlarge after taking lead from the movieRecommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    I so know how it feels, to be crushed under the weight of expectations from the family, speaking from experience, it is more damaging then it is productive, it gets harder when we reach adulthood when our mind and personality starts taking shape. Hence friction is inevitible unless one is the overly obedient type.Recommend

  • Anam Ashraf Ali

    Very nicely put! Loved it. Recommend

  • sabk..

    nice …………………………good work…cheersRecommend

  • Ali Haider

    Loved the article. We are a goal driven society where having a good track record is as important as having good clothes on you to be considered, well, important. We continuously bog down average scorers and what we do to those who fail makes sure they never get up again…our education system is to be blamed as well. If you get good marks in science subjects and bad in arts, you will still be allowed to study arts since your “total” score is less. Who ever designed this system has no idea what education means and our parents just follow.Recommend

  • Ali Haider

    By the way, I hope you have not written your profile description yourself. It look like it is written to make you look extraordinary. Recommend

  • tuba shah

    the article was very good.. i my self thought to become a judge when i was in primary,,, then engineer when i came into secondary… but finally i choose journalism to study,,children must be left free to select there careers and yes they should be taught that they are ordinary people like other kids this will help them to deal with every situation in life,,, if they will be brought up with this thought that they are special.. it would create difficulties for them…parents should not impose their wishes on their kids.. Recommend

  • Samar Ahsan

    i nice…….enjoyable pieceRecommend

  • parvez

    Liked the article especially the second part, the way you ended it.Recommend

  • Said Chaudhry

    The onus is on the parents at the end of the day, and they should be encouraging their children to be who ever they want to be, to live free and die free at the helm of their choices. Aunts, uncles, grandmothers will always give their opinions on what career they see fit for the child, there’s no harm in that because in a way it’s a form of guidance and should be taken as just that. Recommend

  • sophia ahmed

    Much value here Recommend

  • Belal

    I really really do not like when parents decide about their children’s careers and keep telling them what they should become. Our society purely depends on diverse talents and God has gifted every one with a unique talent.

    Problem with us is, we never do things because we enjoy or love doing them, we do because we have to win the race, we want to earn more and in the end it creates frustration.Recommend

  • Asad Shairani

    Nice oneRecommend

  • Confused

    Talking about Einstein is sort of a weak link here, he is one genius and not all geniuses thought they weren’t special.In fact, it seems self-contradictory. Einstein wasn’t afraid to be ordinary, so we should look up to the extra-ordinary man being ordinary and so be ordinary to be like Einstein? That hurts my head.

    I think there is a slight fear of being ordinary. How can one strive to be ordinary? People dream of being big achievers, and that ambition is what basically drives the world. What is ordinary anyways? I am pretty sure everyone thinks they are special personally, and they should. Maybe you meant being modest and not ordinary.

    If one doesn’t self-expect, what will he do? Did Einstein not self-expect? Even the ‘ordinary’ people are extra-ordinary in their own sense. But you are right in saying over-expectation leads to burdening the mind with jealousy and the like, specially from community’s pressure.

    I think one should definitely expect great things from himself/herself, but for the sake of his/her own self. Not what the dadi or dada or (no offence) aunty says, but what he/she thinks they are good at. However, there is no need for recklessness, and a caring family will make sure of that. Even if there are these hiccups along the way, they would serve to either strengthen his/her ambition or make him/her realize that its not meant to be. The problem comes when it is expected from one by others, and one should realize not everyone can be happy with his/her decisions.

    I hope your nephew continues to dream big. And reaches there.

    [Damn, i think I quoted the whole three idiots movie. I’m sorry]Recommend

  • Azeem Shafique Baig

    good work … Carry on ….
    ALLAH bless you always …………..Recommend

  • Shehram Khan

    People like you, love the story of a German kid (Einstein) who, despite his sincerest efforts, could never manage to do well in math. And if he can do it, then so can you!
    In reality, Einstein was a mathematical prodigy. Before he turned twelve, he was already better at arithmetic and calculus than you will ever be. Not only did he pass math with flying colors, he probably could have taught the class by the end of semester. According to Walter Isaacson’s book: “Einstein: His Life and Universe,” when Einstein was fifteen he “had mastered differential and integral calculus.”Recommend

  • Ahmad

    About the cricket teams players of Pakistan. Win or lost , is it the part of life. The enumerable always learn from the mistakes then they will reaches at the peak position. The person who fall at start definitely he achieved his goal.Recommend

  • Umair Saeed


    He was uniquely equipped, neurologically speaking, to visually perceive and and conceptualize complex mathematical ideas.

    Was poor Einstein born with a tag that said so? Or do you believe he was “Destined” to be that great… indifferent to the entire course of events that led him to where he reached?

    Parents nurture a sense of confidence in our ability… its like the salt in your food… too much of it will ruin everything, not enough of it will take away the taste… balance is the key my friend!Recommend

  • Umair Saeed

    @Shehram Khan:

    People like you, love the story of a German kid (Einstein) who, despite his sincerest efforts, could never manage to do well in math. And if he can do it, then so can you!
    In reality, Einstein was a mathematical prodigy.”

    And a failure at many things in life too :)

    Einstein was studying at Luitpold Gymnasium. His father intended for him to pursue electrical engineering, but Einstein clashed with authorities and resented the school’s regimen and teaching method. He later wrote that the spirit of learning and creative thought were lost in strict rote learning. He left and applied directly to the Eidgenössische Polytechnische Schule (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland. Lacking the requisite Matura certificate, he took an entrance examination, which he failed, although he got exceptional marks in mathematics and physics. [source:

    Had his father not had faith in his ability, Albert would have also died an unknown like the rest of the Einsteins family. Recommend

  • Dibs

    Shehram Khan <3 (:Recommend

  • Usman

    nice insight into what seemed to be a pretty complex topic to me. We live in a society where special-ness is inevitable and unless it’s put into our souls by our parents we can’t survive the menacing society around us.

    great read thanks for sharing!Recommend

  • Safyah

    Well written. These expectations of achieving goals set for you by others is good for oneself but it can be very frustrating sometimes. Especially when you’ve realized what you want in life but this is NOT what your ammi, abbu, baji, aapi, khala or maamu thought for you.Recommend