As we’re nearing the end of 2020, something I keep hearing a lot is that people can’t wait for life to get back to “normal.” Of course, there’s part of me that totally understands what they’re saying. COVID-19 has turned our world on its head in a lot of ways, from mask mandates to work-from-home policies, to the infamous toilet paper shortages. But there’s another part of me that struggles, just a bit, when people say they’re craving normalcy. And the struggle is based on one simple belief I have: that there is no normal.
What is “normal” anyway?
The definition of normal is “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.”
Here’s the problem with that: what’s “usual, typical, or expected” varies drastically based on time, place, person, and circumstance.
For example, let’s think about this: is wearing a swimsuit “normal?”
If you’re going to a pool party, it is. In fact, it would be odd if you didn’t wear a swimsuit to a pool party. But what if you’re going to a holiday party at a ski lodge? At that time, in that place, wearing a swimsuit wouldn’t be normal at all.
The idea of “conforming to a standard” makes sense…as long as you realize that “standards” can and do change because of any number of factors.
Because normalcy relies so heavily on certain circumstances, I would argue that, generally speaking, there is really no such thing as “normal,” both on an individual and a collective level.
The myth of the “normal” individual
The quest for normalcy is actually a common theme in stories (think Frodo in Lord of the Rings, Elsa in Frozen, Harry in the Harry Potter books, and just about every superhero to ever be a superhero). To these people, being special is a burden or a curse. They look at “normal” people with envy, wishing they could give up what makes them unique in favor of a normal life.
Of course, what does the theme of such stories usually turn out to be? Use your gifts. Embrace who you are. Learn to love yourself and turn your circumstances into something that benefits you and the world.
There’s a reason those stories resonate with us: because that lesson, the one about knowing and loving your unique self, is universal. Sometimes we wish we just “fit in,” or that we were just like everyone else. But in reality, that’s not possible. Each of us is unique. And while we may not be tasked with returning a ring to Mordor or able to shoot webs from our wrists, our uniqueness makes us just as “abnormal” as the heroes in stories.
When it comes to individual people, there is no normal. We all deal with different things. We all have different strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. What’s normal for you is probably not normal for me. Even your idea of what “normal” is is probably different from mine.
It’s normal for me to wear two watches. It’s normal for me to jam out to Taylor Swift in my car (yeah, I’m a grown man, thanks for asking). And it’s normal for me to drink an outrageous amount of sugarless, flavored soda water on a daily basis (thanks Swig).
Unless those things are normal for everyone, then there is no normal.
The myth of the “normal” society
Like I said, I understand what people are saying when they say they want life to go back to “normal.”
Normal in the 1800s was vastly different from normal in the 1900s, which is vastly different from the normal we have today. Can you imagine taking a smartphone—a very “normal” part of life in 2020—back to the 1950s? It would be anything but normal.
And not only does society’s “normal” change, but the rate at which it is changing is also accelerating. That means that not only are more things changing, but that they’re changing more quickly.
It may feel like our world is in a total uproar right now (and it may be true), but if you think about it, you’ll realize that the world has been in total uproar before, and very likely will be again. Pandemics strike, asteroids hit, the climate changes, the economy shifts, leaders rise and fall, etc.
Even relatively new things are unrecognizable today compared to when they first arrived on the scene. Social media has adapted to become more personal, trying to curate your feed in order to reflect your personal interests and preferences.
What is normal changes every day, sometimes drastically.
So if there really is no normal…what does that mean for us? How can that information benefit or guide us in our actual lives?
The idea that there is no normal actually does a few things for me, personally.
For one, I’m comforted to know that there isn’t a gold standard of “normal” that I have to live up to. I’ll never be normal, so why should I waste my time and energy trying to be normal?
Along with that, knowing that there is no normal inspires my creativity. Eliminating the concept of normal takes away restrictions on my creative thinking. I’m free to push limits and break boundaries; I can create something different with confidence.
And so can you.
This is me giving you permission to stop trying to be “normal.” Stop holding yourself to a nonexistent standard. Stop trying to squeeze yourself into a mythical box. And stop waiting for things to be “normal” before you allow yourself to be happy. You can be happy now.
Embrace what makes you, you. Embrace what makes life good, right now. Be open to change. Be open to weird.
How? Here are some quick tips:
- Appreciate differences. Think about the people closest to you. What makes them different? How do those differences bless your life?
- Appreciate YOUR differences. What makes YOU different? Do you give yourself credit for your unique strengths?
- Look for the good. Optimism is a rare and precious quality. Commit to being stubbornly optimistic, just for a day. See if it makes a difference in your attitude.
- Practice gratitude. What are you grateful for? Think of both the big things (family, home, religion, etc.) and the little things (pizza, your favorite pens, etc.). Practicing gratitude helps you embrace your own beautiful, “normal” life.
- Stop “should-ing” on yourself. If there is no normal, then there are very few things you “should” be doing. Stop feeling guilty for the things you think you should be doing, and start embracing and enjoying the things you want to do and love to do.
There’s no one “normal” way to live. There are multiple ways to live, and several paths that will get you where you want to go. Choose the “weird” path that works for you. Your life is beautiful, not in spite of what makes it unique, but because of what makes it unique.
Stop chasing normal. You’ll never catch it. And besides, as author Sue Fitzmaurice once said, “Being a little weird is just a natural side effect of being awesome.”
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