Why I Embrace Normal and You Should Too
Our society has an addiction towards the extraordinary. Our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are flooded with story after story about things like billion-dollar startup valuations and kid geniuses breaking barriers. These stories have become so common in media that people barely bat an eye when we hear of someone donating to charity or volunteering at a food bank. Suddenly, with a blink of an eye, normal has become synonymous with inadequate, boring, and unwanted. How have we come to this?
It all starts when we are young. At school, we give ribbons and gold stars to "winners," the cream of the crop in academics and athletics. For some individuals, they get pressure from family and friends to make themselves as different as possible, by signing up for swimming, gold, piano, painting, and who knows what else for fear of being average.
When we get older, it is the era of social media. All of your friends are checking into the hottest spots in the city, eating amazing foods, and making new memories. You go to your local bookstore, and the shelves are filled with biographies of giants like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Tony Hsieh. But you know what people fail to tell you? That most of your life, regardless of how you choose to live it, consists of the normal.
What does "normal" mean? Most of the things that we fail to record, snap, or share on social media. Things like the contentment you feel after sleeping in on the weekend. Or the smile on your face when you are reading a new book. Or the warmth you get after cuddling with a significant other. A majority of our time is consumed by the normal, and that is okay.
So what is the problem? We have become desensitized and almost (hostile) to the idea of normal. We have a society focused on the pull rather than the push; we are constantly seeking more, without being grateful for what we already have. We live and act in a state of scarcity rather than abundance, always craving but never satisfied. That sounds like a sad way to live.
One of my favourite mentors is Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. She is the author of the book Lean In, and also the founder of the Lean In movement, which has been making its round through organizations like the NBA. Her book is the manifesto for the professional woman, encouraging her fellow lady to take on leadership roles and raise a family too. After the unfortunate death of her husband last year, Sandberg has released a letter that shocked the public to their core: that she had underestimated the time and energy it takes to raise children. A now single mother, Sandberg is showing women the less glamorous (but equally important) responsibilities of being a working mother. Even rockstars like Sheryl Sandberg experience moments of normal too.
Not only is rejecting the normal toxic to yourself, but it poisons the connections you make with other people too. In a world of apps like Tinder, it could literally take minutes to get a date. That, coupled with unrealistic movies and books of fairytale romances and instant BFFs (think John Green's The Fault in Our Stars), people expect to have these amazing, deep connections with minimal effort or patience. As a result, there is a cycle in which people engage in short and superficial connections, without building anything meaningful.
In our time, there is a huge and growing difficulty in forging lasting relationships, romantic and platonic. When we think of older generations, of couples who have been together 50+ years (like my grandparents were), there were no shortcuts. It was about taking things day by day, the good and the bad, and appreciating the small things.
Not every single moment in life can be extraordinary, but you can find the magical in the normal. There is a beauty in appreciating the every day, in understanding that life is made up of the small things. I know I have met someone special when I can feel happy and content doing the normal things, like watching a movie or sitting on a patio. I remind myself daily that the things worth fighting for are the same ones that require time, effort, and gratitude to build. Ironically, building something extraordinary is all about appreciating the normal and creating that foundation through patience and memories.
Human relationships have parallels to entrepreneurship. The media is obsessed about reporting the successes of large startups like Uber, Airbnb, and more, but many fail to see the journey, all the normal that one has to experience and appreciate to get there. For example, Airbnb founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbla were broke for an entire year. They were so poor that they had to sell 800 boxes of cereal in order to fund the launch of Airbnb's website. From there, it took Airbnb a total of three years before they received their first Series A investment. Imagine the daily grind these guys had to deal with, in order to create something remarkable.
Embracing the normal sounds easier said than done, but it is imperative. It is hard not to want, and want, and want it now, when social media makes everything awesome seem so instantaneous. But appreciating the normal is essential to living a full life. When we respect and even thank the normal, we give ourselves the ability to express our gratitude to those in our lives. We take the positive and we amplify it; we turn all the small things into sources of abundance rather than scarcity. We create our own happiness.