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.

Most People Go to College to Feel Normal

Most people don’t go to college to learn. That can be done much easier and less costly in myriad other ways.

Most people don’t go to college to become well-rounded. That can happen through any number of experiences.

Most people don’t go to pick a career. They could try working different jobs to learn quicker, and most don’t work in what they major in anyway.

Most don’t go for the practical value of the credential. I’ve never met a college student who actually inquired with employers what they view as the best credential.

Most people don’t even go to college for the social experience. How many examine all the ways to meet people, party, etc. and firmly conclude college is the best way for them to have fun?

Most people go to college to be normal.

It’s the normal thing. They want to meet normal people, make normal friends, learn normal facts, have normal experiences, and appear normal to family, friends, and future employers. They take it on faith that college is good, beneficial, educational, career-enhancing, a great social experience, worth the cost, etc., rather than really examine these oft repeated tropes. They want them to be true because they want to list these normal reasons for doing what’s normal.

College can be great. Besides, it’s too late for most of us to consider alternatives. But if you are pre-college, ask yourself what you really want out of it. Look long and hard at other ways to get what you want. Weigh the costs. Be prepared if you find college is not the best way…you may discover your best path is not normal. Are you ready and willing to bear the social costs of an abnormal choice? It might be worth it.

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