You’re not normal

I’ve written a lot recently about the topics of being crazy, doing something crazy, and perhaps using Crazy Straws. But then, yesterday, three things happened to make me think that I should write about it in a bit more detail:

  1. I talked to my friend Clay Collins, who is out of his fucking mind, and
  2. I saw the “Not Normal” episode of SpongeBob Squarepants, in which SpongeBob tries to be normal and just becomes lame, and
  3. I remembered that I only use my son as an excuse to watch SpongeBob, and that I’d be watching it even if he were gone.

And suddenly it dawned on me that:

  1. We have this idealized notion that says, “Normal is boring. Everyone should be unique,” but
  2. Society wants us to be normal and to conform. And it wants it — needs it — desperately.

Isn’t that fucked up? Isn’t it strange that people everywhere tout the importance of “being an individual” and “being unique,” but that all of our institutions are designed to homogenize us?

  • Schools teach kids to sit still and behave in an orderly fashion, while teaching them all a standard curriculum.
  • We’re guided to grow up, get a job with a company, and work until we retire at 65… despite the fact that that paradigm is decades dead.
  • We may not desire it with all of our hearts, but most people nonetheless think that a good and average job means sitting in an office, in front of a computer.
  • We’re told that it’s normal to work 9 to 5, Monday through Friday.
  • We’re taught to pay our bills and our taxes, to take out our garbage on a certain night, and to keep our grass from getting too tall.
  • We have a very specific set of rules that tell us what we can and cannot do, and then a bunch of less formal moral and institutional guidelines that tell us what’s right and wrong.

I’m not saying that the above stuff is bad. A lot of it is necessary. But it’s also all designed to get us to act in a predictable way, and to follow a certain pattern. Deviating from that pattern is frowned upon.

    And yet, there’s this romantic, commonly-held notion that it’s good to be unique. To be individuals. It’s supposedly good to think for ourselves, to be pioneers, to work outside of the box, to innovate.

    No wonder we’re so confused.

    Everyone is not like you, you weirdo

    If you’re reading this blog, that means you’re probably kind of like me. It means that if we met in real life, we’d probably hit it off well. If you found me through IttyBiz or Copyblogger or Problogger, that means that you probably have an entrepreneurial spark. Maybe you have your own business. Maybe you’re itching to start one. If you work a nine-to-five job, chances are you’re eager to leave it and do your own thing.

    In other words, if you’re here now, you’re already weird. You’re not just observing the romantic notion that “different is good,” but you’re already living it.

    Clay told me that he used to have a normal job, once upon a time. He worked in an office, attended meetings, probably filed TPS reports. He said that he was terrible at it. Didn’t pay attention, fucked things up. Got in trouble with the boss. Felt like working there was draining his soul.

    And so I told him about how I used to work in a lab when I was moving toward getting a PhD, back before I decided I didn’t want a PhD. I’d put a chemical reaction on that took an hour to complete, and instead of working on something else while it was running like my co-workers did, I’d go to the cafeteria and read. Or I’d figure out how far I could walk via the interconnected buildings without going outside. (It was like 2 miles or something. Madness.)

    I told Clay about how one day, my boss called me into her office and said that I didn’t seem engaged, and that I’d have to start caring more about my work if I wanted to stay.

    And I told her that I hated my work, and that I was leaving anyway.

    I mean, talk about a job draining your soul… I was literally having panic attacks.

    If you’re like me and you’re seeing the “normal world” programming everywhere, you feel guilty for something like being bad at a job and quitting. You sense that it’s wrong to be the type of person who would blow off work. But it’s cool, see? You’re not normal, and you were trying to do a normal job. That’s not a match. It’d be like hiring a fish to be an air traffic controller.

    I’m not normal. Clay isn’t normal. If you’re reading this, you’re not normal.

    So if you not only hate your job but are actively trying to find a way to leave it, don’t expect anyone to understand. They won’t. Most people are too normal.

    If you want to do something and everyone thinks it’s retarded, that makes sense, because most people are normal, and won’t get it.

    If you have an idea and people tell you, “That’s crazy,” that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad or wrong. It just means that it’s outside of their normal comprehension.

    They’re not right, and you’re not wrong. They’re not wrong, and you’re not right. You and the normal people are just different. It’s as if you know for a fact that red and green make yellow, but then you watch TV and hear radio and realize that everyone else is sure that red and green would make a kind of greenish purple. What you’ve missed is that you’re in a different world than they are. They’re using paint and you’re using light. Neither is incorrect. Both are right for that world.

    Normal people can’t see the way the pieces of your life are supposed to fit together, so don’t ask for their advice. That’d be like asking a fish to land a 727. The fish is going to fuck it up almost every time.

    I have to remind myself of all of this stuff constantly, because normal is everywhere. Commercials are aimed at the normal world. Institutions are geared toward normal people. Rules are written to govern a normal society. If you live among normal people and watch their TV and movies and walk their streets, you really shouldn’t violate their rights or be a dick, but you also have to always remember that what you’re observing is their society, not yours.

    So you have to go out, and you have to find a group of weirdoes. If you want support, ask them for it. If you need advice, ask their advice. If you insist on benchmarks, at least look to their benchmarks.

    This whole concept is very strange, and it’s not something that I have a nice, tidy conclusion for. It’s just something I run into when it starts to feel like I’m breaking a rule, or defying a convention, or pushing too hard against the grain, or dismissing the way things are normally done and instead going in the other direction, following my gut.

    I have to step back sometimes and say, “Oh, that’s a normal-person rule. It doesn’t apply to me.”

    It’s cool. You’re weird. You don’t need to follow every one of those rules.

    I mean, don’t go killing or stealing from people… but it’s no big deal if you don’t have a company-sponsored 401(k) and 2.3 kids by the age of 32, or if you work in the middle of the night and sleep all day long.

    Or, for that matter, if you wear your clothes backward like Kris Kross. I’m trying to bring that back, you know.


    Now that you've read this post, go here:
    WHAT DEFINES YOU?

    Comments

    1. Sara says:

      A friend once told me about the “Trousers” rule. If someone says they like your trousers, always look at theirs before you take it as a compliment.

      Works for me.

      Great post. Here’s to being abnormal.

    2. Jenny says:

      Love this. Especially the ongoing discussion of fish and airplanes. I like the overall message of this post and definitely pin myself in the weird category, but do you think you could skip the meaning part on the next post and just really, really dive into the fish + airplane aspect? Or could I suggest “guest post”?

    3. Johnny says:

      Who said anything about fish or airplanes? You weirdo.

    4. Bradley says:

      I read a post on Seth Godin’s blog a while back where he basically said many of the things you are saying here. The one quote I remember goes something like…

      Once you conform, you can be ignored.

      Not the exact wording, but pretty much the idea. Wish I could find the post.

    5. Marie says:

      I find normal people weird.

    6. David Spinks says:

      Well said. I’ve faced that notion many times in my life… It comes down to fear and safety. The reason we all feel the need to follow that path to 9-5 etc etc is because it’s safe. There isn’t much risk. Theoretically, if you follow the rules and do exactly as you’re supposed to, you’ll be safe. Straying from that path is dangerous. You might fall flat on your face. You might succeed with flying colors.

      And it’s not an all or nothing thing for people. We make these decisions as we face them. Do we want to take the safe route? The route that makes sense? I think we never really do, but it’s so hard not to. It’s a battle we fight every day.

      David
      Community Manager, Scribnia.com

      • I think the 9-5 path is quite risky.

        Sure, it seems safe. Someone tells you what to do all the time, if you do what you are told, you usually can survive, sometimes even make a comfortable enough wage depending on what you are doing. You don’t have to take responsibility for your results as much, and you can plan for old age with enough stability.

        But, companies change: people move on, they change hands, entire industries can disappear or appear almost over night.

        I have never been normal.

        I was a poor student, but not due to lack of intellect or ability to learn. I hate taking orders from another person without a rational reason for why, or doing something because “you’re supposed to”.

        In other words, a misfit in almost every way.

        I am happy that I am not alone in this.

        So yes, in a traditional sense, I am an absolute 29 year old “failure”. I dropped out of college, I’ve failed at jobs, failed to create value with small businesses, failed in relationships, failed to go after my interest in music in a meaningful way, but I learned far more than many people will, and I do not regret any of it.

        I just regret listening too much to others.

        The reason there are more average people who are not successful is because most people do not even try out of their own fears.

        While many people say the solution to my problem is to “hurry up and grow up”, start going back to school ,and working towards some career I don’t really care about, but that is “safe”; this is not the right path.

        Losing everything does not bother me.

        After all, there are many other successful people who have faced great adversity, and failed, but kicked ass anyway.

        • Johnny says:

          I think the 9-5 is REALLY risky. You have ONE boss that way! I have many bosses. Diffused risk is the way to go IMO.

    7. Dave Wilkinson says:

      I can’t help but think you may be on to something. Except for the Kriss Kross thing, which is just weird. Oh wait…

    8. I remember last summer when Marcia Hoeck said to me that I’m weird and everyone does not want to be an entrepreneur. And I couldn’t believe it, I mean how could it be possible that anyone would want to sit in a cubicle and file TPS reports? But apparently, there are people that do.

      The most interesting thing is that I don’t really know any of those people anymore. Now when I say “I’m flying to Austin to go couchsurfing” or “I just decided that in 3 weeks I’m moving to San Francisco” or “I’m not setting any goals for 2010, I’m just going to go with the flow and take massive action as I am inspired” or “I’m getting rid of 99% of the stuff I own” … instead of people saying “wow, that’s crazy” they are just like, “hum, cool.” As if that is normal.

      Weird.

    9. Normal is defined as “normative, conforming to the average, obeying norms imposed by society and milieau”.

      The alternative is not super-normal, or hyper-normal, or post-normal. It’s stigmatized as abnormal, with “normal” being the ideal, the goal, the best.

      Normal people are the ones screwing up the world. I call them mediocres, slackers, conformist zombies, grunts, wankers.

      To be great, to be of real value, one must go beyond the norm, and Be Outside The Box. You nailed it: you must associate with non-normals, over-achievers, geniuses, weirdos, and misfits.

      Like Jesus did.

      You can also read books by non-normals like Derrida, Proust, Twain, Rilke, Rimbaud, Will Self. Listen to oddball music, attend theatre by pioneering whack jobs, look at art by DuChamp, Frank Stella, Marcel Broodthaers, and subscribe to Artforum magazine and October.

      To be unique is to love differences and instability and going against the flow.

    10. Marty Feldman said it best.

      “I believe the name was Abby Something…Abby Normal”

      America applauds your courage.

      Cheers!
      Nige

    11. Sanford says:

      The other side of this coin is that those who aren’t normal and still try to “fit in” often end up on drugs or crash and burn. I speak from experience.
      Keep up the good fight.
      Later..

      • Oh, I was forced into it.

        Was told outright by folks:

        “Why can’t I have a normal child? Why do you have to be the way you are?”

        I’ve crashed and burned a lot too.

        Screw normal. Wasted too much of my life trying to be, and I suck at it. That isn’t going to change. No way am I willing to see a shrink everyday of life and be on a cocktail of pills just so I can file paperwork and answer phones for the next 30 years.

        • Johnny says:

          My wife Robin and I were just having this discussion about whether unschooling our son will make him “weird.” I figure the answer is, “Yeah…. so?”

    12. Keep in mind, the root of normal is “norm”. Not the dude on the barstool in Cheers, but the word that means both the agreggate average of responses and the behavioural expectations of society.

      I’m pretty sure I was going somewhere with this, but now I’m just singing the Cheers theme… oh! Right.

      There are lots of people who think normal means “the standard, from which people shouldn’t deviate” and forget that normal is just the big hump in the middle of the bell curve, or a group of habits that most people follow.

      Being normal means being average, literally. And average is fine, unless you slip and slide down the bell curve into the cool little slope-y bits on the sides.

      I think the main reason people dislike the ab-normal is that you can’t respond in the easy norm-al ways. You almost have to connect with weirdos more meaningfully because you can’t use all the standard, sitting-in-the-hairdressers-chair conversational gambits. And some people are lost without those standard cliches.

      Catherine

    13. Dave Doolin says:

      Weird is the new normal.

    14. Pace Smith says:

      This post kicks ass, Johnny.

    15. LisaNewton says:

      I already know I’m not normal. Every time I try to explain to someone what I love doing, their face has a very puzzled look on it. They just don’t get it, but I do, and that’s all that matters.

      I’m so happy to have found a place where unnormal people are welcome. :)

    16. GirlPie says:

      How did you know I wore my clothes backwards?

      @TheGirlPie

    17. Anne says:

      Darn you, Johnny, here I am commenting again! :)

      I have been home-schooling for almost 20 years which definitely puts me out of the mainstream. But then, I also don’t fit in with the mindset of many of the home-schoolers I know (though I just keep my mouth shut – like you say, it’s not so much that they’re wrong – I just have a different mindset about things).

      I often think to myself I don’t really fit in anywhere but I prefer that to becoming someone I’m not.

      Obviously, I enjoyed this post. And yeh, I think we’d get along fine.

    18. Thor says:

      OK The Fish landing a 727… easy, its Airbus Airplanes you gotta worry about!

      THE TRUTH

      … a “Fish” is a nickname for Pilots from Iceland… (my brother used to fly Boeing 747s for an Icelanic Charter Company;)

      Loved this post Johnny… my Spoon is to create/find/build a spare £125,000 in the next 11 months… any ideas welcome y’all?

    19. Mary says:

      Speaking of the school system (hey, you brought it up!), I wonder why all children aren’t given an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Why should it be that the school system serves two of my children well, but not the third? (There’s nothing “wrong” with the third one. He’s just not normal.)

    20. After reading this, I think I’m in love with you Johnny!
      Calm down to a panic … I’m happily married (and despite the name, I’m the FEMALE half). It’s just so great to read in your blog what runs through my head most of the time.
      Luckily, my partner’s thinking is about the same as mine. In fact, your “normal-person rule” struck a real chord – except we describe it as being out of kilter with everyone else (well, we are English so what do you expect?).

    21. Johnny says:

      You know, this here is a lesson for all of you bloggers out there, or at least those of you who will read the comments all the way to the bottom.

      This was the seventh post I had written in five days. I wrote one for IttyBiz, two for Copyblogger, one for ProBlogger, one for Project Mojave, and two for my own site.

      So by the time I go to this one, I was really fucking worn out about writing, and tired.

      I thought this post was mediocre. I figured, “Well, fuck it. I’m tired. It’s going up, and maybe it’ll be somewhat interesting.”

      Yet it’s apparently struck a chord better than most things I’ve written lately, including some that I thought were much better.

      So let that be a lesson to you: Write tired. Or drunk, or high.

    22. Matt S says:

      Wow, I was just getting all angry about this sort of thing the other day, in response to the existence of this show called “What Not To Wear”.

      In the episode I saw, they took this 30 year old woman who dressed in a punk-influenced style (baggy jeans, skulls, two-tone hair) and basically shoved her into a Thirty Year Old Woman image. Everything that made her unique was gone, and the hosts were fawning over themselves for “fixing” her.

      I hope she burned her new wardrobe when she got home.

      This post really got me fired up today, sitting here in my cube, pretty much mentally checked out because I have Big Plans that normal people just don’t get. Thank you for this.

    23. Ryan says:

      Hi Johnny,

      Most are out of their minds – they live according to conventions which were developed out of their minds. They think, feel, and act according to what others consider to be normal.

      A few are in their minds – they live according to how they want to think. They don’t think about what’s going on outside of their minds – what others might think, say, or do in response to them being them.

      Ironic that the “in their mind” crowd is considered out of their mind by the “out of their mind” crowd.

      This is the sheeple phenomena discussed by independent thinkers. People think, feel, and do things because it’s what most other people do – ie. normal and safe. Sheeple die each day. Weird people live each day.

      Because I run a personal development blog I’ve been considered mentally ill by some friends and family. A personal development blog. I’m not kidding. The way they talk about my blog it’s as if I’m “sucking d*ck for crack”, as my girlfriend said.

      Such is the price to pay for being weird in a normal world.

      If I had to do it over I’d have chosen to be weird from Day 1.

    24. SEO Victory says:

      People aren’t normal or boring by nature its something that takes a long time to program into them. Sometimes i just want to grab the person i am talking to shake them by the shoulders and say “you aren’t really this boring, i am telling you, there is something really creative and great inside of you, can’t you see it?”

    25. Johnny says:

      Thanks for the comments, gents. (I’m assuming you’re a gent, Victory, from my phallocentric world. Apologies if I’m wrong.)

      The thing about all of this is that it’s really liberating once you settle in and really let it hit home. You’ll be like, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. Oh, I can do that even though I’m not ‘supposed to.’ Oh, I don’t have to do that thing that everyone seems to feel is required.”

      I imagine it’s like coming out of the weirdo closet.

    26. It is extremely liberating, when you realize that you can count your true, no BS, always there for you friends on one hand, it really doesn’t make much sense to conform to some randomer’s idea of what you should be. From this you get the added benefit that “dumbing yourself down” a bit leads to some advantageous realizations by the person you are communicating with.

    27. Jesse says:

      When my sister was younger she would always tell me, “Jess, you’re weird.” I would just look at her, smile a half-smile, and say, “thanks.”

    28. Jaszy says:

      I swear just last night my husband and I had this conversation!!! We often call each other a “freak” as a kinda tongue ‘n cheek compliment, but there are times when being “normal” seem appealing because of the perceived security being “normal” presents. We had more money when I was “normal” working a 9 to 5, but I was not fulfilled. Embracing my inner freakness is much more fulfilling and rewarding especially because I get to meet and interact with VERY interesting people and build true connections.

      Definitely things happen for a reason, there was no better time for me to find this post! Thanks!

    29. This is such a true post that I don’t even know where to begin. Ever since College I’ve tried to come to terms with this idea that it’s great to be weird.

      People used to say it so often to me that I realised that’s what I was, then it was when I looked around and saw what everyone else was doing with their adult lives that I realised – I love being weird.

      I feel really sad when I see so many people throwing their hopes and dreams out of the window for the 9-5 because “it’s what I’ve got to do, right?” I really believe, as other commenters have, that with some encouragement and support, these “normal” people could live in a less normal way, in a way that was more in line with their real goals.

      There are so many people who are defeated before they even start and this hopelessness is so embedded in, at least our culture here in the UK, that it’s hard not to think this way.

      As someone above said “the norm is just the bump in the middle of the bell curve”. I want to see a world where the bump is people doing what they want to do. Of course, this won’t happen – the inertia of the system is too great. But is that the hopelessness talking again? Who knows.

      Anyway, thanks for an awesome post and thanks for reminding me that as weirdos we can’t play by normal rules. It’s so easy to forget sometimes.

    30. Archan Mehta says:

      Ah, Johnny, you’re a guy after my own heart. Then again, since your married and I am straight, maybe that ain’t such a good idea anyway. Thanks anyway, for nothing. Your sense of humour is delightful. I am lucky to have found your blog.

      FYI: your last name “Truant” reminds me of a kid I used to know once upon a time: the kid who got thrown into the detention room for doing cartwheels during the lecture hour because he had a short attention span, was restless, couldn’t sit still, and the whole nine yards. Your last name is a metaphor for unique, and that’s why I like reading your blog. And, by the way, the kid I mentioned was yours truly. And in case you haven’t noticed, buddy, your writing resonates with me.

      Yeah, I was a great student, but unfortunately also quite sporty and outdoorsy. Sure, I scored good grades, was the teacher’s pet, considered “gifted,” but found misery as my true companion. You see, what really made me happy was to be out and about in the natural world, and doing manual labor brought me joy.
      Physical labor is what I love and sports was my one and only true love.

      Is our schooling designed for people like me? Well, of course not–you have to conform.”Why are you so unhappy when you ace every test?” I was asked often. Since when did acing every test become the goal of life anyway? Ah, there are better things to do with your time, money and energy. Elementary, my dear Watson…keep up the good work. You are one heck of writer–darn good. Cheers.

      • “Since when did acing every test become the goal of life anyway?”

        When a group of people decided it was a good idea to control and micromanage people, and the rest of them went along with it.

    31. Thank you. I have always known I wasn’t normal, but you’ve made me feel GOOD about it.

    32. Johnny says:

      Ah, awesome… then I have succeeded.

    33. Denıs says:

      I ONLY HAVE TO SAY THAT THIS FUCKING WORLD IS SOOOO FUCKING MIND PROGRAMMED ! MUSIC IS MY GETTAWAY ! FCUK WHAT NORMALS SAY YEAH BABY IİM ABNORMAL SO FUCKING WHAT : ş=é

    34. Emily Rose says:

      Your right… I’m not normal ^_^

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