A long bus ride home
I don’t do normal well. I never have. As a kid I always had this sense that I was just different from other kids, not just because I was bigger or more vocal. There was something else. I thought differently. I saw things differently. I asked questions about life and the world that my peers were not asking and didn’t seem to care about.
I did not obsess about it too much. It was more a feeling that lingered inside me that I thought might just be a product of my own overactive imagination. Then one day, I realized… it was not.
That fateful moment happened on the school bus during the ride home. Some friends began chatting about what life would be like when we were all grown up; the freedom we would have and the parties we would throw. I hadn’t said much when my friend in the seat ahead turned to me and said, “Well, not you though”.
“What?!? What do you mean by that? Why not me?”, I asked, a bit irritated at having been singled out.
“Because you are the smart one. You’ll be doing university and other stuff.”, he said back in an almost protective or paternal way.
I didn’t reply. I couldn’t reply lest the frog in my throat be revealed. So, I turned my head, with no rebuttal and looked out the window grateful the bus was nearing my house.
He had just labelled what I had felt most of my young life. Seems strange now that what was probably given as a compliment triggered a pain and sadness I can still feel more than two decades later.
The search for normal
I’ve realized in my work as a coach and psychotherapist that the desire to fit in or be ‘normal’ exists far beyond my tiny Nova Scotian town. Each week, I work with dozens who share stories similar to my own and who recount a sad longing to be this thing called, ‘normal’. Interestingly, however, no two clients ever share the same definition of normal. The only view they hold in common is that normal means being ‘like everyone else’ – despite not being able to name a single person who would qualify as the exalted normal they seek.
The tide usually turns when I summarize and reflect what they’ve told me. “So, you do not know what normal is; You do not know anyone you would consider normal. But you’ve spent years of your life judging yourself harshly because you are not normal?”. This is typically when the laughing starts.
The death of normal
It is time to get rid of the word ‘normal’. There is no such thing. Normal has become a little more than a judgement we place on someone who has something we think everyone should have. Good looks. Confidence. A special talent. Whatever. Normal is just a way of telling ourselves we need to conform and be more like everyone else.
Instead of looking for ways to be more like others, let’s start to appreciate the ways in which we are our own unique selves. When we take time to look inward at the interests, skills, differences, and abilities that truly set us apart, we relieve ourselves of the weight and worry of not being ‘normal’. These benefits can compound quickly, and it often doesn’t take long before we start discover the ways our ‘abnormalities’ can be used to build success for ourselves, our families, and our communities.
Share your uniqueness
I still have the same dynamic and VERY active mind I did as an adolescent. After that incident on the bus, I tried my best to hide my curiosity and zest for learning because I feared it would just continue to set me apart. Thankfully, by then, my brain was already pretty set in its ways and refused to be hushed. So instead, I chose to surround myself with those who shared my interests and desire for growth.
Today, I use the million thoughts I have a day to help my clients find solutions to the troubles in their own lives and business. My favorite problem to help them solve is low self-confidence, which requires kicking all things ‘normal’ to the curb. I teach them that you simply cannot feel good about yourself while wanting to be more like somebody else. They then work to end the self-comparison and self-deprecation that held them back for so long. It is amazing and truly humbling to see the incredible transformations that happen once the weight of normality has been lifted!
So, this week, I challenge you to consider how the myth of ‘normal’ has held you back. In what ways do you think you should be like everyone else? What would you change for the better if you started to embrace you own unique characteristics? What gifts have you ignored because they do not fit or are not accepted by those around you?
Forget normal and look for more ways to be yourself. Besides, who can do a better job at it than you?
Here’s to a week free from normality!
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Bonnie J. Skinner, MEd, CCC, RP
B. Skinner Coaching & Psychotherapy