What Makes a Person “Normal”?

I’m asking, since I surely don’t know from personal experience.

Just like finding out what it takes to be cool, the search for a “normal” person is another somewhat abstract search in which perception determines the outcome.  Being normal can be seen as a bad thing, as synonyms may include “average”, “unexciting”, “boring”, “drab”, “dull”, or “unoriginal”.  But in a society where sometimes the desire to be noticed by being different becomes pretty obvious and predictable within subcultures (example: goth, emo, the regular cast of L.A. Ink, etc.), I have discovered a new appreciation for “normal” people in my life.  In fact, I see being normal as an admirable thing- though for me, it’s a pretty unattainable goal.

On the surface, my life would seem pretty normal and American.  Out of college, I got an office job, got married at age 27, and now I am having a kid at age 29.  I am not involved in anything that could be deemed crazy, extreme, or dramatic.  And it’s not that I made it a point for my life to appear so normal, it just happened that way.  But if my life was a reality show (which I would never sign on to- that means you, TLC), it would become obvious very quickly how my quirks alone would disqualify me from being normal.  Yet maybe that’s why America is obsessed with reality TV- because it breaks down people whom we may consider to normal, and we like that because it reaffirms to us that it’s normal to not be normal.

In preparation for writing this post, last Saturday during breakfast I had my wife help me think of the most normal people we know.  We were able to come up with four. One of them is a guy named Jon, who I work with.  So when I mentioned to him yesterday that he is one of the most normal people we know, he laughed and said, “Well it’s good to know that somebody thinks I’m normal”, implying “…if you only knew…”

So far, as I’ve asked people on facebook and in real life what makes a person normal, not one person has volunteered to admit that they are normal.  The typical response is to quickly search their family tree and circle of friends to find a candidate for normalcy, only to put the rare “normal person” in the same mystical category of unicorns and that flying dog thing from The Never Ending Story.

It’s just not normal to be normal.  And ironically, if you truly are normal, that makes you a little weird.  Below are The Rules of Being Normal, followed my some feedback from facebook on what makes a person normal.

The Rules of Being Normal

1) Look normal.  When thinking of normal people I know, I disqualified one guy simply for being “too good looking”.  And another for being under the age of 40 and having an ironic mustache. In the same way that Jesus’ physical appearance kept him from standing out from his Jewish countrymen, so must a normal person not be found regularly standing out from the crowd, in order to be considered normal.

2) Act normal.  Being relevant has a lot to do with it.  And well-rounded.  It means being able to participate in conversations that even when you don’t know a lot about the subject, you don’t make it obvious.   And you don’t have to always dominate the conversation by bringing up something bizarre in an effort to contribute and feel a part of the group- because that definitely alienate you instead.

3) If all else fails, keep someone close to you who is definitely not normal or a lot less normal than you. If my wife was weird, no one would ever know it because she’s married to me.  By simply being the “most normal” person in a group of people who aren’t normal, you by default become normal.  And that counts.


Nick Shell Friends, I need your help again with another post I’m writing. Think of the most normal person you know. Now, what makes a person “normal”?

October 27 at 8:02pm ·  ·  

    • Cyn Z.-  I think that depends…if you are referring to what society deems “normal,” then it is usually a very boring, uninteresting, mundane type of person…in my opinion. “Normality” has never been a good selling point for me concerning anyone…

      October 27 at 8:37pm ·  · 
    • Brad J.- goes with the standards set by society

      October 27 at 9:46pm · 
    • Amy S.-  I have no idea, but I’m curious to see what you come up with!

      October 27 at 10:07pm · 
    • Nickie R.-  maybe a good balance in life and no crazy extreeme ways of living? atleast this makes sense in my head.

      October 27 at 11:19pm · 
    • Ashley R.-  Yeah I think someone normal would be the you know 9 to 5 person, simple easy life, laid back.

      October 27 at 11:46pm · 
    • Jason L.-  its gotta be me Nick…I put my pants on like everybody else in life..I hold them up in front of me and a little low and I jump repeatingly until I have both feet in. I do this with my shoes on and a parakeet in my mouth every morning..now that’s normal

      October 28 at 12:00am · 
    • Tiffanie B.-  normal means 2 things to me either they blend in with everybody else & don;t stand out or you look at them & think they do what society thinks they should:)

      Saturday at 9:46pm · 
    • Benji R.- Normal person in my opinion must be someone who has respect and to be proud in themselves even in the different society or status..That’s very important for being normal.

      Sunday at 1:05pm ·
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What Makes a Person “Cool”? (Being Subtle, Aware of Social Cues, and Having Something Exclusive)

I asked dozens of people in real life and on facebook in order to find the answer.

There are some things in life we recognize and encounter everyday, yet we don’t understand them.  For example, questions I constantly ask myself as I am writing each day are “is this funny?” and more importantly “is this interesting?” Both humor and being able to captivate a person’s attention are not really cut-and-dry, black-and-white issues, though I am definitely a cut-and-dry, black-and-white person.  It takes being very observant of social cues and even pop culture, at least in my experience, to make it work.  The difficulty and creativity in the search to be both funny and interesting is that both of those things are abstract, moving targets.

I am so overaware (it’s a made-up word but if I keep using it I think I can get it to catch on) and intrigued by marketing tools and methods.  For example, from now on, anytime you see an ad for a clock (not digital) or even just a new clock for sale in a store, you will be amazed at how many of the clocks show “10:10” as the time.  My guess is that “10:10” easily shows both arms of the clock and also it’s a time that many people are awake for both times each day, both morning and night.

Another interesting observation is how many African-American models wear purple in magazine ads and commercials on TV.  From JC Penny catalogs to The Princess and the Frog, purple is present.  Notice how few people of all other races were purple in ads.  I’m sure it’s because the color purple compliments darker skin tones much better than it does for lighter ones, and because purple is a color of royalty, which is a common theme in African-American culture- like the way bishops are often common in African-American churches.  And it may be stretching this concept, but the Disney movie The Lion King takes place in Africa, and as the title explains, it is a movie about a kingdom, even though it’s about animals instead of humans.

So keeping all these things in mind, I started thinking about an important and invisible factor in selling a product: being cool.  Apple computers are definitely cool, as is Steve Jobs who started and runs the company.  Is it because of those TV ads starring Justin Long, portraying PC’s as nerdy and Mac’s as hip?  I don’t think so.  Those ads just cleverly symbolized what many clued-in consumers were already aware of: Mac’s are cooler than PC’s.

Apple has always made their own rules, not being limited to the guidelines and expectations of other computer programs or even customers.  But they get away with it because Apple basically writes The Book of Cool when it comes to media technology: User-friendly computers that don’t really get viruses, iPods, iPhones, and iPads, all of which use a minimal number of buttons, and are so cool they don’t easily interact with other Apple products.

This being said, “coolness” is important in selling a product.  And that’s why marketing departments exist- to try and figure out, or at least convince people what is cool, so the product can be sold.  But the art of being cool doesn’t just apply to big companies and marketing teams, it also matters to us as individuals.  People are often drawn to other people who they think are cool; therefore being cool yourself may in turn attract other cool people.  I mean, some people are fine with regularly attending Star Wars conventions or sharing a house with 8 cats all named after cupcake flavors.  But just as that “uncool” example shows, even if we truly don’t care what other people think about us, being cool is definitely better than being uncool, if given the choice.

So what makes a person “cool”?  I’ve asked dozens of people both in real life and on facebook to find out the answer.  There were mainly just a few different answers, some being gender specific, some not:  Some males answered “money and material possessions” while some females answered “appearance and clothing”.  But the most reoccurring answer I received was “being confident to the point that the person truly doesn’t care about what other people think or say about them”.  Another similar answer that resonated well with me was “a cool person has something you don’t, even if it’s just confidence”.

Interestingly, the age of the people I asked made no difference to the kind of answer I got.  Not only do older people think that “confidence” defines being cool, but I also realized that being young isn’t a requirement in order to be cool.  I can think of three musicians who I’ve listened to my entire life who are still making music and for whom I’m still buying their albums and happen to all be currently right around 60 years old: Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Phil Collins. Age has nothing to do with being cool.  If anything, being young is a major disadvantage in being cool, since life experience is lacking.  Most teenagers only think they know what is cool, but many of them are trying so hard to be cool that they are not- which brings me to the first Rule of Being Cool.

The Rules of Being Cool

1) If you realize or acknowledge that you are cool, you either never were cool or are now no longer cool. Like John Mayer.  I will always love his music, but I refuse to think he’s cool anymore.  By the time he publicly started dating celebrities then disrespecting them later in magazines while making an arse of himself with prideful comments and talking about how much money he makes, it became official: John Mayer is aware that he’s cool, which officially disqualifies him for being cool.  I can’t totally discredit the guy, after all, he did pen the song “83” (I’ve been obsessed with the year 1983, since 1995) and it was one of his concerts that transformed a friendship into a dating relationship into a marriage into a family (the first date my wife and I went on was a John Mayer concert).  But John Mayer is officially disqualified from being cool.

2) You must be aware of social cues, but not become ruled by the expectations of other people. Obviously if a person doesn’t care whatsoever what people think, he could be rude, selfish, and only shower once a week.  But it takes more than not caring what people think and participating in personal hygiene, it takes being aware of the social expectations that actually matter: Like being friendly, positive, and simply passionate about things that are important, while not being self-centered, vain, or overly aggressive. Why?  Because a person who has these attributes I just listed in italics is a confident person.  When I meet a person who is constantly being negative and is generally condescending to others, I see a person who is unhappy, unfulfilled and desperate to find confidence; needless to say, that’s not a cool person.

3) You must have something that others inspire to have. Whether it’s wit, aggressiveness, style, a high income level, or personal character, just to name a few examples, we use other people as models for our lives.  Yes, being cool depends on who you ask, since it’s largely based on perception.  Yet still, confidence can always be found as the foundation of coolness.

And that’s it.  That’s how I define what makes a person cool.  From Zack Morris in the fictional world, to my own family and friends in the real world, I am blessed to know cool people.  Just as iron sharpens iron, so do cool people enhance each other’s coolness. Therefore, be cool to one another.


Unnecessary Bonus…

Ethnic Backgrounds of Celebrities Mentioned in This Post:

Steve Jobs (half Syrian, half English)

Justin Long (half Polish, Sicilian, English)

Phil Collins (English, Irish)

Bruce Springsteen (50% Italian, 37% Irish, 13% Dutch)

Tom Petty (English, 1/4 Native American Indian)

Henry Winkler as “The Fonz” (Jewish)

John Mayer (half Jewish, half German)

Mark-Paul Gosselaar (half Indonesian, half Dutch)






Are Jeans Really as Comfortable as We Think?

Jeans vs. regular pants… you make the call.

Paraphrased conversation from this weekend:

Me: Those are cool.  Did you get some new plaid pants?

My sister: No, I just think you’ve never seen them before.

Me: Oh.

Pause.

Me: Actually, usually when I see you, you’re wearing pants, not jeans.

My sister: Yeah, it’s because jeans aren’t comfortable.  They fit tighter and they’re thicker than regular pants.

Me: Good point.  Maybe I should just start wearing dress pants all the time too.

Scene ends.

In my mind, I like wearing jeans because they’re so much more comfortable than dress pants or any color of khakis or corduroys.  But I can’t shake my sister’s words.  She’s right.  Jeans aren’t really as comfortable as I’ve been giving them credit for.

Though I had always assumed that pants are uncomfortable, it’s actually what I wear with the pants that I actually have a problem with.  Typically when men wear dress pants, they also wear a button down collared shirt (tucked in to the pants) and dress shoes; accordingly, women wear a dressier “top” and nicer (painfully uncomfortable) shoes.  But when we wear jeans, we tend to wear a more comfortable shirt (maybe a t-shirt or something along the lines of a long-sleeved polo or sweater) and go untucked.  And obviously, we wear more comfortable shoes.

Everything we wear with the jeans is less restricting than if we were wearing nice pants.  But honestly, the jeans typically fit tighter and are thicker than dress pants.  Plus, I believe there is more pressure to “look good in jeans” than there is to look good in dress pants.  More eyes are critical of jeans than they are for pants.

So what is the solution?  The obvious answer in my head is to start wearing pants when I would normally wear jeans.  That means I would wear sneakers or Chuck Taylor’s with any color of khaki or corduroy pants.  And a Smurf t-shirt.  Already though, that’s starting to sound slouchy.  How ironic that replacing jeans with dress pants could actually lower the standard, but it sort of does.

Even still, if only a personal project, I will be making a conscious effort to replace regular pants with jeans.  For guys, baggy jeans are a thing of the past (they died out around the time that dark jeans became the standard), which means these days we aren’t able to hang loose like we use to, thanks to the new norm being tighter fitting jeans for guys.  And for girls, I get the impression that not only are jeans not comfortable to begin with, but they’re more trouble to look good in, despite what happen for all four girls in Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.

Challenge: Let’s replace jeans with normal pants with jeans.  I think we can find a way to make it work without looking like a slob.

Surprising twist ending…

Everything you just read was written exactly a month ago.  It was saved in my “drafts folder” because I questioned whether or not enough people would agree that jeans aren’t as comfortable as we say we are.  But today in church, my friend Tommy Axford told my wife and I that because he went to private school, he never really wore jeans until his sophomore year in high school, and after having worn khakis his whole life, he declared that jeans are not comfortable.  So much so, that he proudly proclaimed he even wears khakis when he’s just chilling out in his living room at his house.  It was because of this conversation with him that I decided this post must be made public so that others could have a chance to agree that regular pants are better than jeans.

Being that this was written last month, since then I have had the opportunity to take my own “try wearing khakis instead of jeans” challenge.  The result- I’ve continued to wear jeans in casual situations.  Not because they’re more comfortable, but because I somehow feel they’re more appropriate for me as a guy.  I have this fear of looking like a banker- and in my mind, male bankers never relax enough to wear anything besides nice pants.  But I do hope to get over this one day.  If it were truly up to me, I would wear pajama pants all the time, but I couldn’t feel comfortable socially.  You just can’t win.

The Art and Irony of Trendsetting: Featuring Crocs, Hawaiian Shirts, Voss Water, and WWJD Bracelets

Trends are only truly cool when they’re not quite cool yet.  And by the time they are in style, they’re pretty much going out of style.

Recognizing the hilariousness of how in many offices in America, it is standard that everyone dresses professionally Monday through Thursday, but on Friday, everyone goes casual with jeans and often t-shirts, at the beginning of the summer I decided to start making Thursday a “buffer” day for how I dress in the office, encouraging everyone else to participate.  How do you transition from khakis and dress shirts to jeans and t-shirts?  Hawaiian shirts.

They are button-down shirts with collars.  Perfect, tacky transition.  At first, only one other coworker would join me in Hawaiian Shirt Thursday.  But then, if for no other reason they felt like they were missing out on something cool, one by one, others began joining us.  By the end of the summer, I had half of the office on my side.  Some people dug through their closets to find the shirt; some actually went out and bought one.  And now, even in autumn, many of us are keeping the tradition going.

Of course, this isn’t the first trend I’ve started at work.  In an effort to make sure I was drinking enough water everyday, I went to Whole Foods and bought a glass Voss water bottle that I refill several times throughout the day.  At first, coworkers joked with me, “Isn’t it a little early in the day for vodka?”  By now though, several of them have privately approached me to ask where they could get a water bottle like that.  And sure enough, the glass Voss water bottle is no longer weird in my office, but instead it’s the norm.

But the irony with trendsetting is that by successfully coming up with an original and unpopular idea, it eventually becomes unoriginal and popular.  Prime example: Crocs.  For the last couple of years, I’ve looked on from a distance at the weird plastic rainbow colored Birkenstock rip-offs.  They were so trendy.  You’d see moms and their kids out at the mall, all wearing Crocs.  Even though I wanted some, I refused to buy them.  Because they were too cool at the time.

However, this week I came to a realization.  The Birkenstocks I have been wearing were given to me by my parents Christmas 1999.  I had already paid $35 five years ago to have them resoled.  It was time for me to either have them repaired again, or pay $110 for new ones.  Or… pay $30 for some brown Crocs.

To entertain the idea of buying Crocs, I checked around Cool Springs during my lunch breaks while riding my mountain bike instead of driving (another office trend I’ve been trying to start since April), but sure enough, I had trouble finding any Crocs for sale.  Eventually, some girls behind the counter at a Hallmark told me to check out the Croc stand across from Fossil in the mall.

Needless to say, with yesterday being Thursday, I wore my Hawaiian shirt, with Crocs, while drinking water from a Voss water bottle.  And boy was I cool.  Yet I wouldn’t have been caught wearing Crocs if they were still trendy.  The trend of wearing Crocs is over; which is why it was more difficult than I had imagined to find them.  I’m not saying that Crocs aren’t cool anymore; they’re just no longer a fad.

And so an important rule for a trendsetter is to not get involved in a trend that is overly popular.  But once a trend is over, then it’s “game on” to participate.  Some fads, after their prime, become an outdated, yet timeless classic.  Like Hawaiian shirts.  And Chuck Taylor’s.  And the wondrous Rubik’s Cube.  WWWD bracelets?  Not so much.


Today is Copyrighted

Important Rule in Life: When someone asks you “what’s up?”, it’s good to have something cool or funny to say.

A good thing to ask yourself at the end of each day is “What happened today that makes this day different from every other day I’ve lived?”  So many of the days of our lives seem normal and insignificant.  As a way of making them seem more meaningful, I like to observe what makes each day special.  It makes future conversations more interesting. 

Like today, I jumped in my Honda Element for the drive to work, and immediately I was taken back to the smell of the boys’ locker room from my high school in 1996.  But there are never dirty clothes in my car and I never leave the windows down (in the event it had rained during the night) and there’s no carpet in my car at all.  So why did my car smell like a sour milk sock?  I endured the odor for 22 minutes until I arrived at work when I took a minute to sniff around, but to no avail.

Six hours pass and I’m getting my mountain bike out for my lunch break ride.  And near the front of the bike tire, underneath my emergency hoodie, was a black-and-brown banana, wrapped up in a clear plastic grocery bag from Publix.  And then I thought to myself, “So that’s where left that banana!”  I’m thinking it had been there for around 16 days.  It was so rotten that it was liquefying and running out of the bag.  Good thing I keep emergency Wet Wipes handy.

That mildly entertaining story will become the copyrighted material of today.  It’s why today is different than any other day of my life.  Nothing too dramatic or life-changing.  At best, just a reference I can make at some point in the future in a conversation with a group of friends where the conversation topic is “smelly things”.  This day will live in infamy.  And comedy.

Taking a God-Nudged Leap of Faith (Like a Guinea Pig)

And hoping not to fall like an idiot in the process.

Thinking back on the lyrics of the popular traditional song, I’ve never really understood or wanted to understand why ten lords were ever leaping in the first place.  But after much thought, I perhaps have come to the realization that I have been one of those lords a leaping the entire time.  Needless to say, I’m not cool with wearing tights.

Desperately trying to avoid imagined images of myself wearing tights, yet still needing to get a grasp on my way of thinking, I’ve always been a bit of a Peter Pan.  (You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.) People like me never really grow out of that 1980’s propaganda mindset for kids that taught us we could do anything dream of if we put our mind to it.  Then we graduate college and realize that with this many people graduating college, having a college degree is less of a major advantage and more of a basic necessity.

On paper, my life looks pretty normal and planned out and even typical.  But behind the scenes, my life is series of leaps of faith that always got me where I wanted to be.  And I think by now, I’m just used to it.  My life plans are often void of much practical reason, instead, they are intertwined with my lofty dreams which I interpret as God’s will for my life.

I realized a while back that God tends to use me as the Guinea pig.  He already knows the plan will work but I become the human example to show others.  This is a fate I have accepted with surprisingly little fuss.  One of out 20,000 people in America has dyshidrosis, a vicious form of eczema that consumes a person’s hands and much of their body.  I was one of those 20,000 people.  But after several years of devastating torture embedded with anxiety and some depression, my skin problem has now 100% left me.  But God wouldn’t instantly heal me like I prayed for Him to do about 30 times a day.

Instead, He spoke through the wisdom of soft-spoken people in my life.  As well as random websites.  I now know the cure for dyshidrosis and eczema.  I proudly serve as God’s spokesman on how to overcome the skin condition, refusing any monetary compensation.

I feel honored to give out  this information.  Read The Cure for Eczema. Also, my e-mail address is listed on the upper right side of the screen for my more info.

That being said, I had prayed that God would get me around or over the problem, instead He took me through the problem to the other side.  And that is a classic (yet annoying) truth about life.  God doesn’t often use instant magic to fix our problems, He enables us to solve them ourselves.

But ultimately, even after God equips us with the wisdom and direction we need to solve the current problem; the ultimate issue is whether or not we give God the credit for it.  I remind myself that life is ultimately a spiritual war, and we can either say “God is good” or “look what I figured out” when we move from “tragedy” status back to “normal”.

Like the game between Jacob and The Man in Black on LOST, we serve as islanders who prove to the spiritual audience what’s really inside of us. It’s true that physically spoken words here in the physical world play a major part in the spiritual world.  That’s why I take these words of King Solomon so seriously in Proverbs:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, but in all things, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (3:5-6).

So whatever leap of faith that is required of me from God (or that I throw myself into), I have to ask myself, “what’s the worst that can happen?”  If it is of God, or God finds favor in my plan, I’m not convinced that God will allow me to simply make a fool of myself when I am completely focused on finding a way to honor Him through it.

“Something good coming, there has to be… And I’m in it for the long run, wherever it goes, riding the river.” –Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (“Something Good Coming”)

Read the sequel to this blog, by clicking right here.

For a related post by the same author, read Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People ?

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on faith, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one