Normal Is Overrated

I think most people don’t do most things to feel excited, or safe, or happy.  I think most people do most things to feel normal.

We have this bizarre, powerful urge to behave similar to those around us.  If we live around farmers, farming is normal.  If we live among intellectuals, reading is normal.  If we live in a world where 16 year olds go to high school and 20 year olds go to college, those are the normal things to do.  The worst crime is to be abnormal.  It’s worse than being unhappy or depressed.  If you’re depressed in your normal station in life – age 35, married, one kid, a finance job at $70k a year, a two bedroom house, and a dog – no one will really care that much.  They will feel unthreatened by you.  Sure, they’ll want you to be happy, but not as much as they want you to be normal.  If you were to be ridiculously happy, but highly abnormal – age 35, married and 13 kids.  Or age 35, no permanent residence, vagabonding the world.  Or age 35, a new startup every six months and a love of dancing in public – people, probably including your parents, would be far more troubled than if your were normal and depressed.  Being abnormal forces others to confront their own normalcy, and few things are more frightening.

The urge to be normal is the driving force behind most people’s educational choices, career choices, consumer choices, and even relationship choices.  But normal is overrated, and sometimes arbitrary or even counter to your individual nature.

I don’t think deliberate attempts to be abnormal are any kind of solution.  Nor do I think there is no logic behind this drive towards normalcy.  If you want to make friends and communicate with people, some level of shared experience is necessary.  Conventions emerge for a reason.  The problem is, we often stop asking why a particular desire or convention is beneficial, and we just assume it is because it’s common.  What’s common is often exactly the wrong thing for you, because you are by definition not common.  You are you, and there is only one.

A good test to see whether or not you are doing what you do to be normal, rather than to achieve your own best living experience, is to listen to the words you use.  When asked why you do something you don’t enjoy if you find the words, “Because I have to” on your lips, that’s the normalcy urge talking.  You don’t have to do anything just because people would think it weird if you didn’t.

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