The literal meaning of “normal” is nothing less than, and, regrettably, nothing more than “average.” When people tell me they want to be normal, I cringe. After all, why do they aspire to just average? I can understand how being average is better than being below average. But if you happen to be below average, wouldn’t you simply want to become better? And if you’re above average, why on earth would you want to diminish yourself to the average?
I once spoke with a woman about this and she replied by saying, “You know how it is, Dr. Hurd. We all want to be part of the pack.” I don’t know if this is true of everyone, but we all want and need to belong. But those who belong simply for the sake of belonging are sidestepping the need to develop themselves. A perfect example of this is young people who join gangs, abuse drugs or do other foolish things in groups. This need for approval is often a consequence of their inability to figure out who they really are and what’s really important to them.
In my work, I sometimes encounter young people who deliberately fail in school. You guessed it: They don’t want to be embarrassed by rising above the pack. Aside from squandering their education, they’re making the long-term decision to systematically undermine their potential for success and happiness in favor of nothing more than to be… well, average. And there they will remain, long after the pack has fizzled out.
If one is going to enjoy the self-esteem that a well-lived life can bring, then he or she must use good judgment to develop his or her talents. If that results in being below average, then so be it. But if there’s any hope of rising above the crowd, then one has to be willing to move out ahead of the pack.
People sometimes seek therapy in order to become normal — or, more likely, to “see if I’m normal.” I ask them why it matters. It seems to me that the important thing in life is to be happy, adaptive, rational and effective. Sadly, if you look around today’s world, these qualities seem more suited to the minority than the majority.
Some people struggle between being normal and being a “free spirit.” But you don’t have to choose between one or the other. The alternative to being normal is simply to be yourself! If in some respects that happens to be average or below average, who cares? We all have some potential; hidden or otherwise. Develop it by being productive and innovative in your approach to problems. Be a free spirit in the sense that you enjoy life by keeping your feet firmly grounded in reality.
The next time you find yourself wondering if you’re normal, remind yourself that “normal” is nothing more than a statistical average. It’s not necessarily good or bad. The only thing that matters is that you’re in touch with reality, happy and effective. I dream of the day when earned self-esteem – note the use of the word “earned” – and true contentment finally become the statistical norm. I’m not holding my breath, but I don’t think it’s impossible, either.
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