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:
- I talked to my friend Clay Collins, who is out of his fucking mind, and
- I saw the “Not Normal” episode of SpongeBob Squarepants, in which SpongeBob tries to be normal and just becomes lame, and
- 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:
- We have this idealized notion that says, “Normal is boring. Everyone should be unique,” but
- 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.