An Insight a Day

Better vs "The Only"

An interesting article by James Altucher on being better vs being "the only."

Here’s why I wanted [my daughter] to take race car lessons before she applied [to college]:

How many kids from the NY-PA-CT-NJ states apply to college? How many of those kids have sufficient grades, sufficient SATs, after-school activities, some sports, and decent essay writing schools?

All of them.

Nobody can tell the difference. All of their applications look the same. They are photocopies of each other. They are clones begging to be selected by the casino of college admissions.

“But,” one might say, “what if one has an A average and the other has a B+? What if one has 1400 on her SATs and the other has 1300?”

BIG DEAL. Nobody can tell the difference. Even if it’s right there in the numbers. Because when you throw in random after-school activities (this one played basketball, this one worked at a charity, this one wrote a decent essay about her trip to Iraq), NOBODY CARES.


Every time I tell people, “Oh, I’m taking my kid tomorrow to race car driving lessons,” they always respond, “Really? That’s the coolest thing! I wish I had done that as a kid.”

So she was “the only.” There were no other people in her class her age.

When admissions officers got her application, I know for a fact it went into a different pile. It went into “the only” pile instead of the pile that a committee would have to decide who is better than who.


Was the iPhone a better phone? Some say yes, some say no. But it was the only phone that had every song ever written on it.

Was McDonald’s the best restaurant? Almost definitely not. But it was the only restaurant chain in the 1950s where, no matter which one you went to and no matter where it was, the food tasted the same and the restaurant was clean. It was the only chain that had those features at that time.

Was Betamax better than VHS as a videotape? Yes it was. But VHS destroyed Betamax and became the dominant brand. Betamax was better, but nobody cared and that’s all it had going for it.

Is my daughter the best student? I have no clue. But she’s definitely in the category of “only.” Particularly if she keeps pursuing race car driving.

Don't compete in a crowded space trying to be better than the person next to you. Find a space somewhere where you're the only one who can do what you do. It's easier said than done, but that's only if you stay with the crowd and follow common sense. Would you have thought of becoming a race car driver to differentiate yourself when applying to college or university? What other stuff can you try if you really want to differentiate yourself?