“The pursuit of normality is the ultimate sacrifice of potential.” — Faith Jegede Cole
In fact, the pursuit of normality has the potential to be the death of you.
Normality is defined as “the condition of being normal; the state of being usual, typical, or expected”. In other words, like everyone else.
The pursuit of normality keeps us tethered to being what we think others want us to be, rather than blossoming into who we truly are. When we pursue normality we become bland, superficial and one-dimensional.
There is, however, a battle raging inside us that makes it difficult to grow into ourselves. Escaping normality is no easy feat.
We are hard-wired to desire belonging. To be part of a community. To be valued by our families, friends, and loved ones. So we learn to behave in ways that will please those we love. Some of us learned very early to tamp down our own needs, wants, tendencies that didn’t meet the approval of our caregivers. The people who were responsible for our survival.
You know what I mean. When you lost something and cried, and they said: “Stop being a baby, there’s nothing wrong”, or they made a disgusted face. You got hurt and the coach said: “Don’t be a wuss — suck it up and get back out there.” When someone you loved passed away and you wanted to talk about them and you got “I’m busy now”, which clearly meant that subject was taboo.
As little children, our caregivers represent survival. If we behave in ways that don’t please them, our fears are enormous. Maybe they won’t love us, maybe they won’t keep us safe. Or most unthinkable of all, maybe we aren’t loveable. So with each betrayal of our true selves, we move more deeply into a prison that holds all our stuffed and repressed feelings, desires, dreams, and talents.
For some of us, we lost the war by succumbing, over and over, to our needs for approval from those we love. When we chose to put our own feelings, instincts, and desires aside and replace them with meeting the needs of our caregivers. Each time, we went a little farther away from our true selves.
Then we went to school, and it started all over again with our peers. We got even better at ignoring our uniqueness, replacing it with mirroring what the popular kids were doing. Even if it meant doing things that were against our own values. Or we found friends that represented the antithesis of the popular kids. In either case, we desperately wanted to be included and valued.
By the time we reached adulthood the need to follow the rules and norms of others was so ingrained we didn’t even challenge them. We used them with our partners and bosses and then passed them on to our own children, thinking we were teaching them how to be safe and happy.
At what price?
All is not lost! We are adults now. As adults we can see with greater clarity, and we can recognize the thoughts and habitual behaviors that have kept us from blossoming into who we were meant to be. We can make choices that weren’t available to us as children. We can break free of our prisons, and in turn, gift that to our children.
HOW TO BECOME NOT NORMAL
- Challenge every belief you have. The best professor I had was Dr. Froehling, a psychology teacher at Northeastern University in Chicago. He told us to challenge EVERYTHING we thought. He changed my life.
- Raise your children to listen to their own voices, thoughts, dreams, and feelings. Talk with them, not at them. Listen to them. Believe them.
- Read books or take classes on assertiveness, and critical thinking, and creativity.
- Think back to your childhood, draw it or paint it or write about it. Picture your most vibrant child-like self. What did you want more than anything? Allow yourself to want that again.
- Do Morning Pages, an idea from Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way. Each morning, soon after arising, do a brain dump of every thought in your head. Hand-write for three pages without worrying about grammar, or punctuation, or style. JUST GET THE STUFF OUT OF YOUR HEAD SO THAT THE STUFF BELOW THAT CAN SHINE THROUGH.
- Talk with trusted and objective friends and loved ones about your discoveries, wants, desires. Let them grow again. Encourage them to come to the surface where they’ll be safe this time. You might also be inspiring your friend to do the same.
- Remember, perfection doesn’t exist. Yes, we can improve. But we will never arrive. We will remain works in progress. Shunryu Suzuki is said to have remarked: “Yes, you are perfect as you are. And we can all use a little improvement.” I love that!
- Start noticing every label you have for yourself. Quiet, loud, impatient, lazy, smart, witty, shy, introverted, strong, extroverted, analytical … challenge every one of them. You are more than the labels you have come to believe. I read once that labels are for cans, not for people. Corny but absolutely true.
Here are three items creatively challenging normality and traditional wisdom.
The first is an article exploring how to do marriage in your own not normal, but hugely satisfying, way. Find it here.
The second is a short video that makes it clear that adults haven’t found all the ‘right’ answers to the biggest questions, leaving the door open to a challenging and exciting world of exploration where our uniqueness can blossom. Find it here.
And third is a short article on how to be a good guest. It’s actually not what you might have thought. Find it here.
I hope you’ll check out the articles and choose at least one of the 8 action ideas to play with. Whatever you choose to do, whatever step you choose to take, make it your own so that it fits you, and allows your unique to shine .