I’m Unique… Just Like Everyone Else


I was born at the beginning of the special generation. We’re all so unique and gifted that we get participation ribbons and cake just for existing! Yay for us!

And we really are unique: in my family we have two sets of identical twins, but even they don’t look exactly the same and their personalities are worlds apart.

In other ways, though, we’re more alike than we’re comfortable admitting. There’s a reason iPhones, This Is Us, and pumpkin spice lattes cause mass hysteria: marketers conduct focus groups to learn what the majority of society finds appealing.

We might not enjoy feeling like part of the herd, but these similarities allow us to help each other make better choices. 

Would You Rather…

NPR’s The Hidden Brain Podcast You vs. Future You is chock-full of social psychology gold regarding how we all behave in predictable yet logically erroneous ways. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert states,

“The problem is something we call the illusion of diversity. We think we are utterly unique, that other people’s experiences might tell us a little bit about ours, but not very much, because, after all, we’re so different [from] everybody. Well, nonsense. You’re not different [from] everybody. We’re basically all the same. “

For example, before you choose a movie, would you rather see the trailer or read the reviews? Most of us would choose to see the trailer and decide for ourselves because of course we know our own preferences better than everyone else.

But how many times have you been disappointed by an awful movie that had an amazing trailer? Then you read the reviews and kick yourself because you won’t ever get those two hours of your life back and all these lovely people tried to warn you.

And how many times have you read a great book and found that other readers also gave it five stars on Goodreads?

It’s the same for podcasts, blogs, and other forms of media. Chances are, if you liked it, others did too and vice versa.

References On Match.com?

Our preferences are also likely to be similar in other areas, which is why we pay so much attention to our friends’ recommendations and referrals.

Matchmakers used to fill a key role in society giving the most important of recommendations, but now we think we can do it ourselves. However, while you might prefer to see a Match.com profile with pictures and a short autobiographical essay, you’d likely find more value in reviews left by previous dates or girlfriends.

It works for restaurants on Yelp, so why not for romance too?

We’re not as different as we’d like to think, so we should stop trying to reinvent the wheel! Someone has already made our mistakes and suffered from our bad decisions so we don’t have to.

It Doesn’t Stop There

The next time you find cheap flights to London in January and think they’re a great idea, remember that off-season is off for a reason. It’s cold, rainy, and dreary. Shoulder season might be great, but some places are so awful during off-seasons that entire towns shut down and there’s nothing to see or do. You are unlikely to be so unique that you’ll enjoy something everyone else knows enough to avoid, so read up on TripAdvisor before purchasing those tickets.

And when you find two amazing apartments for rent on Airbnb but can’t decide? Read the reviews. One might have a super-cool host with easy check-in and great neighborhood recommendations while the other might be a pain to get in touch with and have creepy-crawlies in the tub. I know which one I’d choose.

The same goes for eBay sellers (check reviews to see who’s reliable) and Amazon.com products (read reviews to see which ones are easy to assemble and built to last). You can even find reviews of college professors!

You Really Are Unique

Okay, okay. Each of us is a unique individual. Some of us are vertically challenged (cough), some wear sweaters in 80-degree weather (cough), and some of us hate the taste of coffee so much that we can’t even choke down a pumpkin spice latte (cough, cough, cough).

So yes, some reviewers are biased or even completely off their rockers. Take it all with a grain of salt.

However, Gilbert reminds us,

“First, if you share the biases of the reviewers, they will correctly predict how you will feel, even if it’s unfair…

The second point I’d make is this – I’m not saying that surrogation is a perfect way to make decisions. You know, Winston Churchill once said, Democracy is the worst form of government, except for the others. Well, surrogation is a terrible way to make predictions about your own future happiness, except for the other way to make predictions.”

What do you think? Do you trust the reviews or prefer to make your own decisions based on pictures and statistics? Let me know your decision-making process in the comments below.

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Comments 14

  1. I think at our core most people desire the same basic needs, comforts, etc. And honestly, it’s hard to go against the grain. Being different makes everyone slightly uncomfortable. So it’s just easier to go with the flow, even if it’s not in line with our goals. All the little pieces of my life that are slightly off norm have come from a huge amount of fight.

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      I think it’s interesting that a lot of PF and FIRE bloggers are way outside of mainstream culture, yet we find so much comfort and encouragement with each other!
      Good for you for being strong, and thank goodness for the internet that helps us find other ‘weirdos’ like us!

  2. I’m an avid review reader – almost to a fault sometimes (which can lead to analysis paralysis, in some cases). But, there are other times when I go against the grain (frugality and FI come to mind here). In those cases, it’s taken time to become comfortable, and it’s still uncomfortable when I’m in the company of those who believe and live differently.

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      With enough reviews, you’re bound to find a few people who loved it and a few who hated it, and a few who were paid for their opinion.
      I also have a tough time because if I buy something and it turns out to be a dud, I’ll kick myself for not listening to the three reviewers out of 5000 who ‘told me so’ instead of the 4997 who loved it. Argh. But most of the time everything turns out fine!

      As for the folks who believe and live differently, that’s there prerogative and it’s often based on different values (or they just haven’t realized we’re right yet ;)).

  3. Hmm. I don’t know how I feel about the idea of reviews for something like dating. On the other hand, I do rely a lot on the reviews of reliable and like-minded friends in deciding things like what books to read, what movies to watch and what restaurants to try. 🙂

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      It does seem strange, doesn’t it? But I also have a lot of respect for people who can break up and stay on good terms. Knowing what didn’t work out between a potential partner and his old girlfriends could help me figure out if we’d have the same problem. Was he always late, or did he want kids and she didn’t? Was he mean, or did he just prefer football and she preferred soccer? As much as I believe that people can change, I also believe that many never will.
      And for books, movies, and restaurants, absolutely–I’m right there with you!

  4. I *try* to think logically and long term about things before making a decision. Take alcohol for example. I don’t drink because I’ve got an addictive personality. What if I have a drink and like it? Best case is that I’ve got a new drink that I like more than water, soda, tea, coffee, whatever. Worst case is that I become addicted, lose my job, become a non-functioning person and end up losing everything. Worst case is probably extreme, but for me it’s not worth the risk knowing my personality. When I think like this, it’s a no-brainer.

    I try to take the same decision making approach to everything, but I’m amazed at how often emotions cloud my judgement.

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      That’s a great strategy. Sometimes I like reading reviews and forums because others will bring up points I hadn’t yet considered. Using your example, many might say how fun it is to ‘party’ with drinking games, yet at least a few will likely mention how alcoholism has touched their lives and their families. It’s another way we can learn from the mistakes of others and spare ourselves some pain.

  5. I love reading the bad reviews on Amazon. They’re usually pretty good at telling me whether something’s going to be a dealbreaker or not. With local businesses and restaurants, I’m a little more circumspect…I know how sometimes one person with a grudge can vent. You have to look at the balance of good and bad reviews. TV and Movie….well, I read them too.

    And every time I’ve asked for feedback on a decision, I’ve gotten good stuff to think about. Maybe not what I’ve followed, but worth considering. More info is always better, and if you know yourself, you can apply opinion to your decision thoughtfully.

    1. I’m right there with Emily. I read lots of reviews but always try to take kind of the middle view as “real”. We are not “hotel snobs” – but we want safe, clean – and preferably hot showers! We don’t need tons of amenities because we don’t tend to vacation in a hotel. We’re all about learning from the mistakes of others and sharing our mistakes too. Some people think you have to learn by experience or failures – I’d save that for times when there aren’t other options.

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        I’m with you and Emily, we’re not picky about hotels, though if someone comments about bedbugs I’m moving on.
        We’ve actually been super-grateful for reviews on kids’ toys that we wanted to buy as gifts. A lot of them look great online but end up being either much smaller than they seem or much more fragile. When we find a product that gets stellar reviews we can give it with much more confidence.

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      Reviews give great insight into the products…and the reviewers! Sometimes I think people would complain that Taco Bell didn’t serve hamburgers!
      Yes, though, more information is usually helpful and worth considering so you can make a fully informed decision.

  6. Yeah, I understand the coffee dislike. I got it from my mom and I bet you got it from yours! It turns out that about 3 percent of the population has a specific gene that doesn’t allow you to enjoy Starbucks or Dutch Brothers, so I guess that reading all of the reviews for these places wouldn’t help with the taste.

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