So I’m contemplating life, walking down Second Avenue in New York City on my way to work. It’s a Monday morning and it’s raining– a lot. I have a tiny umbrella, and I’m blasting some mid 2000’s punk rock song into my ears, the way I do when I’m trying desperately to remember who I am.
I realize that sounds kind of freaking crazy. But years ago I stumbled upon this Slate article all about how “researchers have uncovered evidence that suggests our brains bind us to the music we heard as teenagers more tightly than anything we’ll hear as adults,” and god is that true. Listening to that music has always been like jumping into a pool of raw emotion and self-discovery, untouched by the cruel expectations of adulthood and societal conformity. So I like to retreat into my “Band Tees” Spotify playlists for mornings like this one.
I’m stressed. I slept poorly. I’m mentally berating myself for recent events personally and professionally that discouraged me. I’m blaming myself and analyzing what I could do better to impact what people do or don’t think about me. But then something amazing happens. The angsty chorus that’s booming through my headphones picks up, my umbrella slides back as I step over the curb, and the rain starts to hit my face. In that moment I remember how much I love the rain.
I used to tell people this. I used to proudly and intentionally go out in the pouring rain and become overwhelmed with indescribable joy, because it was just a part of me. It always made me feel happy and free. But then someone told me that was weird– super weird.
Normal people don’t do that.
Normal people dislike the rain because it disrupts their normal plans. Normal people don’t think the rain is some sort of symbolic cleansing for your soul like a whack-job. Normal people think normal things in normal ways, and never deviate from that..right?
Which got me thinking– How many times in my life have I stopped doing something, suppressed myself or hated myself because someone or something told me it wasn’t normal. Think about it. This is what every single flaw or crappy thing in your life has ever been about; normal.
We feel insecure about our bodies or appearances because we dissect everything from our weight to our hairlines trying to be normal. We’re self-conscious about our relationships, careers, homes, vacations, income and families because we have to be normal. We have to prove it to ourselves and to others. We have to prove that we’ve accomplished enough for our age, built the perfect circle of friends and family, gone on plenty of fun excursions and matured flawlessly through every stage of life. Because that’s normal.
But what if we don’t? What if things go wrong? What if our personalities and emotions don’t fit into the boxes society has created for us? What if we struggle and flounder and fail at some point in our lives like human beings do? THEN we have to figure out how to cope with those experiences in a normal way. Because if you don’t, and you instead sink into sadness and anxiety and self-deprivation in your times of struggle, then that’s not normal either. You just keep getting painted as more and more abnormal.
Here is the epiphany that has changed everything for me: Normal doesn’t exist.
There’s no such thing as normal. Normal is unattainable. Normal is 100% subjective. Normal is complete and utter bullshit.
Normal is used to bully you into feeling bad about yourself. Companies use normal to make you think you need a new car, longer eye-lashes and a better butt. High-school girls use normal to bully their peers into complacency. Social media uses normal to get you to view their ads while you spend hours online comparing yourself to unrealistic depictions of the lives of others. Publishers use normal to sell you garbage self-help books about what kind of spouse, parent or vegan you’re supposed to be. Pharmaceutical companies use normal to push you into reliance on harmful medications. The list goes on.
But let me again remind you– there is no normal. Normal is completely determined by the people you’re surrounded with. It varies by country, city, socioeconomic status, gender, ethnic group, religion, career field, and even personal social groups. Time and culture transform it by the second and all over the world.
So, how does realizing this change everything?
It’s simple. It makes you give the hell up on trying to be normal. You actually get to be yourself.
First, you choose to be unapologetically you.
You can be loud, expressive and eccentric. You can be quiet, private and selective. You can wear your hair up or let it down. You can make mistakes, get a little lost, and still be OK with that. You can smile or frown. You can dance wildly in the spotlight or watch comfortably from the sidelines. You can express emotions however you see fit without regarding suppression or ridicule. You can pursue work, family or both AND you get to change your mind. You can pick a new career for no reason at all. You can get married or you can live the single life. You can have children or live child-less. You can be frugal or spend your money like it’s going out of style. You can stay in your hometown or move away. You can run a marathon or do yoga on Wednesday nights. You can quit and walk away whenever you want from anything that’s making you unhappy. You can do what you want, and NOT feel guilty or ashamed for it. You have to. You owe yourself that much.
Second, you choose people who want you for you.
Like I’ve already said, normal is often determined by those you associate with. A lot of the time it’s just how people make you feel about yourself. I know I’m taking a complicated component of life and simplifying it, but if someone makes you feel bad about who you are then you need to drop them like a hot potato.
The problem is you may not have even really thought about it until now, or realized it in some of the people you spend time with. This kind of degradation is also a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s people (that you probably care about) telling you not to feel a certain way, act a certain way or look a certain way. It’s others pressuring you to adjust your expectations, make decisions you don’t want and care about things you don’t actually care about. It probably happens every day, and we let it affect us. We let is control our own perceptions of ourselves, and it’s not fair.
Once you realize that there is no normal, you also realize that no one has the right to make you feel like you have to be normal. So you stop striving for their acceptance and let go.
Then, your life changes. Without normal, all of the flaws and expectations that have been pounded into your soul for years don’t matter anymore. You’re free.
So screw normal.
No one is normal and no one is ever going to be normal.
Be weird instead. Be authentic. Be real. Move at your own pace, and make the decisions you actually want for yourself. Don’t spend the valuable moments you have on this planet obsessing over what you’re supposed to be doing in every situation– just do what you want. Do what makes you proud of yourself, excited to be alive and comfortable in your own skin. Be who you want.
If you love the rain, say you love the freaking rain, and let it wash over you in the middle of the city street while people look at you like you’ve lost your mind. Let it bring you joy. Let LIFE bring you joy.
Because you’re one person, with one chance to be anything but normal.