What is normal?
As a society, we’re always comparing ourselves to others, trying to be different enough so that it plays to our advantages, and yet similar enough so that we’re not rejected. Essentially, it’s a balancing act — albeit one that can be detrimental to our mental health.
Why are we so obsessed with being “normal”? What about us makes us feel like we have broken some unspoken cultural rule if we don’t fit into the cookie cutter constraints that society has laid out for us? And how can we overcome these fears associated with being normal? This is what I’ll be exploring in today’s article.
What is “Normal?”
Normal and the idea that someone may be normal or abnormal has a great deal to do with social constructs that humans have created. For instance, it is “normal” in America to make direct eye contact when interacting with another person (this is also known as a societal norm).
Normal behavior is observed by people like physicians, psychologists, and sociologists through the use of data, observations of multiple people in everyday scenarios, and even surveys.
However, these definitions and numbers do all but one thing: consider that each individual is unique with their own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and background experiences. While there are certain practices that are expected in situations, it’s unfair to decide that the majority of a group of people fit into a certain box while the others are seen as separate, other.
For more information on the study of normal, Revise Sociology is an excellent resource.
How “Normal” Can Be Harmful
While certain expectations of society’s definition of “normal” keep us safe, there can be significant ramifications if someone is excluded from a workplace or social environment simply because they don’t fit in.
Every person is different. When interacting with someone whose worldview doesn’t quite line up with ours, that can be easy to forget. But that other person has thoughts, emotions, and insecurities just like everyone else. Their story and inner monologue is just as complex as your own.
If someone in your office is kind, respectful, and polite, but doesn’t quite jive with the rest of the group, is it fair for them to be ostracized, simply because their personality is a bit different? And is it fair to ask them to be inauthentic to who they truly are, simply for the sake of fitting in?
These are the difficult questions people face in workplaces each and every day.
Normalcy at Work
While it’s totally normal to adjust the way you speak and act depending on the type of situation you’re in (a common word for this is code switching), there’s a big difference between this social cue and feeling like you have to put on a fake personality to be accepted at work.
Still, being unauthentic in the workplace is not all that uncommon, according to a 2017 Forbes study. The survey found that around 51% of people “always” or “frequently” have to not act like themselves in order to get through the normal work day. Even more staggering, of that 51%, 32% are less likely to “love their job.” Meaning, people are pretending to be someone they aren’t while at work and their mental well-being is suffering because of it.
The beauty of the modern-day office is that it can provide a place for people to work hard and reach a common goal. Everyone’s ideas can and should be welcomed. Take a look around your own office. Is there anyone having to fake it to push through the day?
Being The Authentic You
The first step in letting go of this idea of “normal” and whether or not you or others fit the bill is taking the time to truly accept yourself for who you are. This can be a lengthy process; don’t expect immediate results. Do some soul-searching and talk with people you trust about what your insecurities are and how you can overcome them.
On the flip side, take notice of instances when you feel tempted to judge another person for not being “normal.” Learn more about what your thought process is when this happens, and try to see the situation from that other person’s unique, complex viewpoint. Make an active commitment to showing those people kindness; you might find out you have more in common than you think.
And, if you’re someone that feels like they need to “fake it to make it” at work or in any relationships, it would be well worth your time to understand why—and whether it’s a position you still want to be in.
Always remember that you are enough just by being yourself, and the human on the other side that you may not see eye to eye with is also enough. Normal is overrated anyway. Instead, commit to complete kindness and authenticity.
Wrapping It All Up
Being normal is a complex, social construct that is, in many ways, outdated. Judging someone based solely on whether or not they fit in creates toxic atmospheres and overall resentment, not to mention, it can be detrimental to that person’s mental well-being.
As long as you and others are being kind, polite, and thoughtful, there’s no reason to try to fit someone into a box. Learn to be comfortable in your own skin, and allow others to do the same. Life will be a lot more enjoyable with everyone staying true to who they really are.
Helping teams and people in workplace situations have difficult conversations about culture and working together is one of my specialties. If you feel like there are people who may be faking it to make it in your office, I would love to be a resource for helping you resolve these issues and create an action plan for future disputes. Get in touch to schedule a meeting.