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 ·

Becoming a Different Person at Work: Does It Truly Always Pay to Be Yourself?

I wish the “real world” would just stop hassling me.

In theory, I am an actor for a living.  Given the generation I am a part of, I am overaware that I should never be ashamed of who I really am.  That it’s basically a sin to pretend to be someone I’m not.  And while I’ve done a pretty good job of living my life that way, there is one facet of life where I’ve learned it’s not really smart to be yourself- instead, you’re rewarded by being a different person- I’m referring to the work place.

I’ve explained my theory before that we all have a handful of different personalities that we share with different people in our lives.  But recently I realized that the personality I use at work is drastically different than any other of my personalities.  Here are just a few observances about me at work and how that’s not the real me:

-More aggressive and confrontational with people I don’t personally know

-Cautious to speak my mind or let my emotions show

-Don’t stand up for myself, even against co-workers

-Do my best to hide my true personality

-Constantly act as if I know all the answers

-Pretend I don’t have a life outside work

-Wear glasses, since I’m in front of a computer all day

-Tuck shirt into pants

"Work Chandler" is a prime example.

 

It’s sad for me to play this part of someone I’m not- but here’s the thing: By playing my “work role”, I am able to make a living.  Literally, it pays to be someone I’m not.  What is the real world?  To me, it’s my life outside of work.  But to many, it represents work, along with a lifestyle of chasing things that don’t actually matter- and that’s when I throw the phrase into sarcastic quotation marks like this: the “real world”.

When I go to work everyday, I enter an imaginary Avatar world where I care about policies, technicalities, the constant appearance of busyness, and being a guy who is not willing to rock the boat.  For me, that’s not the real world at all (though typically work and responsibility equals the “real world”) – but it pays the bills for the actual real world (my personal life), so I don’t complain.  Even now, I am simply making an observation that I’m sure many of us subconsciously know, but keep tucked away in the back of our minds, as to not seem ungrateful for our jobs.  I am extremely grateful for my employment, but the bottom line is, the version of me that people from work know is not me at all- and I’ve worked with them for years now.


Every place of employment has their own culture; their own unspoken rules.  Your first couple of weeks, you keep your head down and observe the code.  What matters there?  What doesn’t matter there?  Then once you get a good feel for it, you become the necessary person for that version of reality.  This is normal procedure.  The norm is not to be yourself- because if you did, you wouldn’t fit into the culture and would endanger yourself of… being voted off the island.

I work from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday, with two 15 minute breaks and an hour lunch.  That’s 42.5 hours a week, which translates to ¼ of my life, and that’s including sleep.  By the time I factor in travel time (an hour a day), and time to cook dinner and then clean up, I only see my wife for a couple of hours before it’s time to time for bed.  And the weekends are obviously full of errands and chores we didn’t have time for during the weekdays.  Put into perspective, the time allotted for the actual real world (life outside of work) translates to crumbs from a huge meal.  I spend more waking hours with coworkers (who know a false version of me) than I do my own wife (who knows the real me).

The term “the real world” typically represents the hustle-and-bustle part of life.  But the irony is that for most of us (I hope), we recognize the real world and as the reality where we can truly be ourselves.  Because unless I worked at home as a full time writer, I will continue spending one quarter of my life acting as an aggressive, nerdy, robotic, no complaints yes-man.

Granted, the work place isn’t the only situation where it doesn’t pay to be yourself.  Anytime you have to “be on your best behavior”, you’re not really being yourself.  Like a first date.  You may be taking certain hidden traits of and qualities of yours and amplifying them for the right occasion, but still, in general, it’s a major stretch from your normal self.  It pays to be yourself most of the time, but to ignore the inevitable exceptions is a set up for failure.

“I find sometimes it’s easy to be myself. Sometimes I find it’s better to be somebody else.” -Dave Matthews Band (“So Much to Say”)


The Honorary Pack Leader

Who’s the boss?  The one whose example people actually follow.


As my wife has been finishing up her Master’s program in Childhood Education, she recently opened my eyes to a simple concept I never realized before: Children crave structure.  And when there is no structure, no outlined expectations, no explained behavior guidelines for them, chaos proceeds.  Kids look for the “pack leader” (as Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan explains regarding the dog world) to help instruct them on how to be productive and helpful in their society.

This “aim to please” mentality doesn’t disappear once we enter the adult world.  Though it may be easier to complain about a superior or an authority figure behind their back than it is to praise them in person for keeping us the security they provide, we still recognize them as the pack leader.  There’s still an understood respect we hold for them, because after all, we still crave structure and the pack leader is the main supplier.  And we all have a personal need to be needed.

But in addition to the established leader and teacher of the group, there is the honorary leader, who may have no official important title, but still guides others by his or her actions and attitude.  And in my opinion, this “honorary pack leader” has more impact that the established pack leader: For all practical purposes, the honorary pack leader is the actual pack leader.

In all social circles (clubs, churches, sports, work environments, etc.), it’s the person who establishes what being “on time” means, who sets the work pace for the group because his or her peers mimic the honorary pack leader’s own level of activity, and who has an overall calm-assertive attitude.  In other words, this person knows how to respect the establishment’s own politics (a major key to survival); and yet how to stay out of them as well.

It’s the person who the general population follows by example, not necessarily because he or she is the most outspoken or demands the most attention, but because the honorary pack leader naturally takes the most productive, logical, and sincere path to success (or at least the path of safety from being picked out as the slacker or weakest link).  And others notice.  There are always established leaders in a group, and sure, they make the rules.  But the honorary pack leader makes the rules that the rest of the group actually follows.

Metaphors in Super Mario Bros. that Taught Us about Real Life

How many lives do you have left before it’s “game over”?

Something that Super Mario Bros. taught us first, more so than any other video game, was the concept of having “lives”.  If you fell in a hole (which means you instantly died; no chance that the hole wasn’t really that deep or that you could have grabbed on to a branch while falling), you lost a life.  If you touched an enemy, you lost a life (which is completely irrational; I wonder what would happen if Mario touched a “frenemy”?…). If you ran out of time, you lost a life (okay, I admit, that concept is somewhat lifelike).

However, if you accomplished certain goals to better yourself, like ate a healthy mushroom(this promoted organic a lifestyle), saved 100 coins (which causes the game to most likely be endorsed by Dave Ramsey), kicked a turtle shell that slid into 10 enemies (illogical and scientifically impossible on so many levels), or jumped to the top of a flagpole (because that’s normal in real life), you actually would get a “1 Up”, which means that you gained an extra life.

But the whole point of this game, despite collecting gold coins (which instantly disappeared when you touched them- could that be a metaphor symbolizing how money is meaningless?) and muddling through everyday distractions (like busting bricks with your fist because you thought there was a steel box with an “invincibility star” inside- choose your own metaphor for life on that one…) was to save the princess from the evil mutant dragon named Koopa.

If you could run under the dragon in the final castle when he jumped up while breathing fire and hammers at you, you instantly touched an axe that caused the bridge to collapse, therefore sending the dragon into the fiery lava pit (poor architectural planning, if you ask me…). In the next room, the famous princess was waiting to be saved from captivity.  In other words, despite being responsible by saving money, despite gaining power, despite becoming a hero to anyone, it’s all really about helping other people.

Cool Retro Sunday School Bonus!

And for those from a Protestant background, the Mushroom Kingdom represents the Heavenly Kingdom, the dragon symbolizes Satan who will be hurled into the lake of fire in the end, and saving the princess symbolizes sharing Christ’s message of salvation and loving others as ourselves, which is the summary of Ephesians 2:8-10, and in my opinion, the meaning of life and the whole point of Christianity.

Drinking Kool-Aid and Watching the Smurfs

Childhood isn’t a place too long gone for me; it’s what the attic of my head is wallpapered in.

For many of us, childhood was one of the brightest, most promising times.  Therefore, it remains today as a safe, heartwarming place in our minds.  A place where we can return to, like remembering a good dream, whenever we want.  And thanks to the people who are still alive who share those memories with us, we have access this seemingly imaginary fantasy world that we were all once a part of.  In a land called The Eighties.  Or Nineties.  Or Sixties.  (There are several to choose from.)

My literary teacher Michael Chabon explains it (he doesn’t know who I am, in reality) in a way that would make me jealous that he thought of it first, except for the fact if it weren’t for studying his style, I wouldn’t be the same writer I am today.  He refers to mutual collected memories in his book Manhood for Amateurs as “an entire network of tunnels, secret passageways, into the past”. 

We carry the exclusive memories of each other in the hard drives of our own minds, sporadically reminiscing to make sure of the validity of the events, and to glean from the enhanced emotions attached to them. 

The way my mind works, I can’t just simply open a file in my head entitled “Childhood: 1981-1993”.  Instead, these scattered gems are embedded along with all other memories and knowledge.  So when I click on one file, there’s sure to be a random childhood memory hanging on to it. 

And sometimes I just have flashes of them.  Like the Spring and Summer of 1989 (2nd grade) when I played baseball.  The pings of the aluminum bats, the crickets singing their alien songs in the moist, freshly cut baseball fields.  The sun going down as each game began. 

And when I go to that place, I remember how I had the biggest crush on Meg Guice, who never had a clue.  Yes, those were the days were drinking Kool-Aid; my favorite flavor being the short-lived “Sharkleberry Fin”, only second to Hi-C’s “Ecto Cooler”.  When Saved by the Bell hadn’t quite arrived, so The Smurfs pretty much taught me what I needed to know about society. 

Memories of being in Cub Scouts, riding the bus from school every Tuesday to the First Methodist Church, where my parents (the scout leaders) met us there with the aforementioned Kool-Aid and some adventurous craft assignment, like a bug collection (in which Matt Hall brought in a dead bat) or brainstorming about the upcoming Pinewood Derby race (which I won 1st place overall in 1991, thanks to my dad’s craftsmanship). 

I could go on, but I have a feeling by this point, some of your own childhood memories have been stirred up.  Don’t let me interrupt that for you.  Have fun.

Living in a Van down by the River

It’s Open Mic Night for motivational speakers.  I’m up…

Mission statements are lame.  So dumb.  Glorified BS.  They don’t motivate me whatsoever.  I remember in 8th grade our middle school bought a big banner with our new official mission statement on it and posted it near the main office.  To mock the concept, I memorized it and quoted it as fast as I could like that Micro Machines guy from the ‘80’s, every day as I walked to lunch with Mrs. Ray’s English class.

Ultimately what every mission statement boils down to is this: “I will do my best to please The Man, therefore The Establishment and The System, and by successfully doing so, ultimately, I will please Society.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  That’s just how life works.  Simple American reality.  It’s that mindset that helps a random group of people find a focus that will keep them unified and motivated.

I don’t need a lofty mission statement.  Just tell me the rules.  Tell me the expectations.  Give me a chance to learn the culture.  Then once I fit in, I can focus on utilizing my actual talents and skills in order to show my worth in that society, in addition to getting the job done.  That makes me an individual, despite having to confirm to the norm.

The Man is good.  Thank God for the man.  He gives me the opportunity to make money without having to depend on starting my own business and having to keep up with all that overheard and stress.  Until I can find a way to make a good living off of this website or end up writing a successful book, I depend on The Man.

I like The Man.  But I am not The Man.

The Man

The Establishment and The System are great too.  They are the structure to my means of earning a living.  If The Establishment or The System only allows me to wear jeans on Friday but not Monday through Thursday, then I will go along with that silly Simon Says game.  Individuality has its place, but rocking the boat outside of a moral issue isn’t cool.

And Society.  The good with the bad.  Enough capable people these days are choosing not to reach their full potential, which provides an opportunity for an average guy like to me step in and become qualified for a role in society that I wouldn’t normally be eligible for.

Which gives me new experience.  Which earns me new skills.

And for those in society who are the overachievers, well, they become my role models.  I watch every move they make so I become like them.  So, yeah, society is a good thing too.

I should become a motivational speaker and take my “No BS Mission Statement” idea to the road.  Power point presentations.  Laser pointers.  Wearing a suit jacket with jeans on the last day of the conference.  I can see it now…  (Looks up, turning head towards Stage Left with glazed over eyes, hands clasped together up to chest, while a harp-like sound effect begins.)

“Try to picture the man to always have an open hand and see him as a giving tree.  See him as matter, matter of fact he’s not a beast.  No, not the devil either.  Always a good dead doer.  And it’s laughter that we’re making after all.”

– “Live High” by Jason Mraz

Related Posts by the Same Author:

The Modern Day Tortoise  http://wp.me/pxqBU-kP

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