If only I were normal.
If only I were normal, everyone would like me. If only I were normal, people wouldn’t stare at me. If only I were normal, I wouldn’t have to be afraid of standing out. If only I were normal, I could have a great life.
These are some of the thoughts I’ve had at various times throughout my life. From a very young age, I understood that I didn’t fit in. My choices in clothes, my bookishness, and my offbeat sense of humor made me stand out from the other kids—sometimes not in the best of ways. I was deemed “weird” and harassed in school for being different. As a consequence, I spent a lot of energy changing myself outwardly so that I didn’t attract the dreaded teasing and bullying.
I spent close to fifty years trying really hard to be what I thought was considered normal. I frequently fell short of the mark. The more I tried to bend myself to what I thought was society’s standard, the more abnormal I felt. Then I had an epiphany:
Normal is a moving target. I will never hit it.
I suddenly realized that striving to be normal is this massive and unachievable goal. It’s like teaching koalas to drive cars, or keeping reality tv stars off of Instagram: rationally, we should stop for a moment and consider whether either of those goals are even worth trying. Attempting to achieve normalcy may not even be worth our time.
It’s not uncommon for us to want to feel or seem “normal.” It can mean acceptance—maybe belonging to a group—which can mean stability. In some cases, appearing normal can even mean personal safety. These are all valuable human needs that many of us seek to fulfill.
What is normal, anyway?
But what does it mean to be normal? Is there a true “normal,” like true North, which you can easily find by aid of a compass? Who sets the standard for normalcy? If you don’t meet that standard, does it mean you can’t be part of society or have a great life?
Humans vary in endless ways. Additionally, when you take into account things like culture, the part of the world you’re currently occupying, and proximity to other humans (or reality stars), how can we possibly establish a standard for being?
For example, in the U.S. (in the last century, anyway), circling your finger around your ear meant you were implying that someone was mentally unbalanced. If you did that same thing in Northern Europe, it signified that you had a telephone call. Now, imagine you’re Norwegian. Say you take your perfectly normal Norwegianness to someplace like, say, Albequerque, where you have found work as a receptionist. Now let’s imagine your boss has a phone call. You point to her, circle your ear, and within minutes find yourself packing your desk tchotchkes into a box.
Sometimes it can seem like there’s some sort of mysterious governing body who constantly reviews all human activities and states of being. Surely, they must be the ones making decisions about the most trivial things in our world, like should both our socks match all of the time? Can we wear them with sandals? They likely also decide about more important things, like owning a home or living in a van. These normality laws are magically expressed to all of us so that we carry them around always. Updates are free and automatic.
The truth is, of course, that the mysterious governing body is us. We are the ones making these judgments for each other and for ourselves. Even if we stand firmly and claim, “No way, I’m not normal!” We are viewing ourselves through a lens which sees everyone else around us as, in fact, normal. It’s a false dichotomy. Things like sense of humor, gender, home ownership, or the appropriate firmness level of a banana, will forever be subjective.
In the 2004 film Normal People Scare Me, director Taylor Cross interviews a group of high school students with Autism. These are kids who have been teased and ridiculed for behaving in ways that other students consider abnormal. At one point Cross poses the question, “What is normal, anyway?” In essence, that is the underlying theme of the film, and a question I think we should continually ask ourselves.
The notion of normal can be limiting
What would happen if we cast aside our desire to achieve an arbitrary status of normalcy? How far could we go if we weren’t hindered by societal norms, or even the definitions of normal we hold dear in our minds? What if we tried to let go of that attachment?
For many multipotentialites, living in a world where the cultural convention is to stick with one pursuit to the exclusion of all other interests can make us feel quite abnormal. Abnormal can feel wrong, and feeling wrong can keep us from exploring new ideas or experiences.
Broad social norms can keep us from our own personal sense of “normal.” That is, they can keep us from living in the way that feels best to us, from doing our best work, and from being happily uninhibited by arbitrary standards.
We are all, in our individuality, amazing beings with great potential. Our uniqueness is a gift that we can share with the world.
Weird for its own sake
However, being weird for the sake of being weird is not always the most useful. Of course, everyone loves a good flash mob. But, for example, if you show up to the Zoom call wearing underwear on your head, you may not be taken seriously as you present your new economic plan. Singing Metallica songs loudly while everyone on the plane is trying to sleep will not score you any points just for being unique.
As a parent, I want my children to follow social conventions enough so that they aren’t kicked off of airplanes. I want them to be accepted enough by society so they aren’t bullied, or worse. At the same time, I want them to be confident enough in their uniqueness and life choices so they are not swayed by someone else’s standard.
Be gentle with yourself and each other
Being hyperaware of societal standards (or whether they even exist) can be exhausting. Being mindful about why we are making a choice, regardless of any standard, is energizing.
Especially within the multipotentialite community, it’s helpful to be flexible about what’s considered conventional. For example, it’s okay for any of us to stick to just one thing for a while, any time we wish.
It doesn’t matter where we exist culturally, geographically, or contextually. Knowing that achieving pure normalcy is impossible can be comforting. Once we remove those mental constraints, we are free to explore all the wonderful things like varying degrees of banana firmness without attaching ourselves to the idea that normalcy exists.
The unattainability of normal can be freeing and wonderful.
How do you deal with it when social norms are in conflict with the way you want to live your life? Do you have strategies for “letting go of normal”?