The normal thing to do isn’t always the right thing to do
Not many people are exceptional. The majority of people are normal. That’s what being normal means; to be the same as a majority. And it’s generally considered a good thing.
Ever since you were born, you’ve been evaluated against socially-accepted parameters. Before you even left the hospital, your weight, the length of your feet, your heart-rate; everything was checked to fit within a social standard. To fall outside the norm could indicate there was a problem.
And this fear of deviating from the norm is something that follows you throughout life.
There’s a ‘normal’ age to stop breast-feeding, a ‘normal’ age to walk, a ‘normal’ age to read, a ‘normal’ age to go to university, or to have children, or to buy a house.
And so you follow. Because you don’t want to be excluded from society. You don’t want to be left behind. This need for belonging is in our DNA. Before we lived in civilized societies, social exclusion could be deadly.
Naturally, you want to mirror what society considers standard. You don’t want to be ‘abnormal’. But here’s the catch. When you settle for normal, that’s all your life will be; normal — just ordinary.
Is this what you’re looking for? If so, great. But if not, there’s something you need to know: If an extraordinary life is what you’re looking for, you need to be extra-ordinary.
The normal thing to do isn’t always the right thing to do.
And when I say the right thing; I mean the right thing for you.
To have a great life will mean a different thing to you than it does for me. But whatever your definition; being great is to be above average.
To lead an extraordinary life is to excel above the norm on your own terms; in line with your meaning of greatness.
“We can always kind of be average and just do what’s normal. I’m not in this to do what’s normal” — Kobe Bryant.
Many of us carry a feeling inside that tells us we’re destined for greatness. You might not yet know exactly how you’ll be great, or how you’ll get there. But there’s a feeling inside you that tells you it’ll happen one day.
It’s the same feeling you get when you buy a lottery ticket. The prize could go to someone else. But you can already picture it being you. You can see them calling out your number. You can already feel the excitement, the joy.
But life isn’t a lottery. You can’t leave it up to chance. No one is going to call out your name and hand you everything you’ve ever wanted.
Being content with being normal is like waiting for your number to be called out. You bought your ticket because you want to live an extraordinary life. You set your intention. And now you’re just waiting. Hoping it’ll just happen.
I don’t mean to imply that you’re lazy. I’m sure you work hard. But hard work doesn’t always equate to greatness. You could work hard and become the best normal person ever.
But to live your version of a great life, you need to identify your limit with the norm.
Ayodeji Awosika explains how we all long for approval from others. It’s something we’ll probably never be able to get rid of completely. The decisions we make will always be conditioned by our social environment to some extent.
But it’s precisely this realization that can set us free. Once we identify the parameters that we’re constrained by, we can then define to what extent we subscribe to this status quo.
We can define our own parameters. Parameters that are extra-ordinary; so that we can each live up to our own version of greatness. Here’s how to start.
Step 1. Define your belief system
Before you begin, it’s important to realize that the norm isn’t necessarily bad. It’s not a stagnant realm in which nothing happens. It can be cozy, and familiar, and fun.
Living life on your own terms isn’t about becoming a social recluse. It’s not about cursing all things conventional. In fact, it’s not about looking outward at all.
The first step is about looking in. It requires self-reflection.
The first thing to do (and it helps to write this down), is to identify the things that are non-negotiable to you. What are the values you want to uphold? These can be words, or they can be phrases. For example:
- Being creative every day
- Being supportive of other people
- Doing my part for the environment
These are things that you would never want to compromise on. They’re the traits that you want people to remember you by. Imagine you’re 70 years old. These are the things you would regret not having stood for.
Write them down, print them, do whatever works for you.
Step 2. Intentionally Unsubscribe
Social stigmas are like sheepdogs. They exist to keep us from straying from the herd. To give up our individual thinking and subscribe to the collective way of doing things.
We have subconsciously adopted phrases that are designed to veer us towards the norm.
· What would [X] think?
· He’s so weird
· That’s not normal
Who cares? Weird just means different. And, that’s more than ok.
To live life on your own terms, you’re going to have to be disagreeable. Some people won’t understand, and some people won’t agree. But that’s fine. I’m not saying it’ll be easy to ignore the judgment. But it will be easier to ignore theirs than your own. You have your belief system; nobody can take that away.
Step 3. Actively Subscribe
One thing is not doing things that conflict with your belief system. Another is to actively uphold your belief system. And for this, you need intention and you need action.
If you haven’t already done so, write down your values. Then next to each of these, write down one way in which you could uphold it. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Let’s start with small steps. For example:
- Family — Call my sister every day during my lunch break.
- Tolerance — Smile at the painfully annoying receptionist at work.
- Generosity — Buy the newspaper for my elderly neighbor.
- Being creative every day — dedicate 30 minutes every morning to [insert creative passion here].
- Be supportive of other people — actively listen and be vulnerable enough to share my experiences.
- Doing my part for the environment — go vegan for one day a week.
You can set yourself different timelines for these. And it helps to hold yourself accountable. You can do this yourself by journaling every evening for example. Or you can share your goals with someone else. This is something I find particularly helpful. It’s as though by sharing them I’m putting them out into the universe. Like I’ve signed a contract with the future that I have to uphold.
It’s important to remember that your belief system isn’t set in stone. They’re unwavering values that you don’t want to compromise on, but they’re based on the information you know now. This will change and so can your beliefs.
I leave it up to you to choose what these will be.
They can be as normal or abnormal as you want.
They just have to be yours.