Normal Is Not Great

I’ve long wrestled mentally with the idea of ‘normal’ and what it means to to fit that definition. To be a part of  the middle section of the bell curve. To be one with the masses.

I don’t think anyone in my acquaintance would describe me as wholly normal, but when facing decisions I often ask myself if I want to move closer to it or away. Should I reject or embrace the long tail?

There is a part of my history where this dilemma surfaced itself in shallow ways. In college I stopped liking bands once they became popular enough to sell out shows at my favorite local venues. It became a matter of principle rather than just musical tastes. But, is liking only obscure bands solely a point of elitism? Or is there in fact value to that thought process? Even if the band and music did not change, the times certainly had? Maybe a constant pressure to pursue the next thing and never settle for yesterday’s space in the trends is a positive thing.

There are also chapters of my history where this has surfaced in slightly less shallow forms. I don’t tend to really embrace challenges unless most people think I’m crazy for attempting them. There is a certain satisfaction in completing something that the majority of your peers do not think is sane. Surfing the wave that kills men or attempting to win the day long race on my first try. I am not certain that it is necessarily better. I just know for a fact that it is not average – neither by mean, median nor mode. There value lies somewhat in the uniqueness of it – the experience that isn’t common.

As I look at my future this has implications that reach much deeper. The life goals I set and purpose I strive for are affected by my perception of normal. Our society that is build around average individuals pursuing personal comfort and prestige. There are many ways to reject that – some which put you on the cover of Forbes and some which put you in prison. Some eventually achieve both.

At the hart of the matter is the realization that by definition you can not be normal and great. Normal is the local mean of particular factor within a considered population. Greatness is the quality of being distinguished in regard to that factor. It is impossible to achieve both simultaneously.

It is of course possible to be great by some measure and normal by others. Reality in fact tells us that greatness at one factor often comes at the cost of weakness at another. The biographies I read of famous businesspeople, scientists & historical figures are often littered with broken relationships and neglected priorities due to their intense focus at the craft we know them for. This is the trade of we face as finite beings.

And so I wrestle with the concept of normal.

Is it better, when looking at the sum of all factors, to be great at a few of normal at many. All things in moderation – history, however, favors the great.

Then there is the question of which not-normal is the greater one. We know that greatness is far removed from normal, but in which direction. For any normal there are at least two ways to move apart from it. For some concrete factors this is simple – the greatest runner is the one with the lowest time – but what about those things that are less quantifiable? Does the man in the mansion with the packed schedule live more than the man in the grass hut with time to watch the sunset? Is it better to hustle to the top or hustle to the bottom?

Should I even acknowledge the common idea of greatness, or is defining greatness differently in fact another type of non-normal that is great in itself. What if by doing so, by holding a non-normal definition greatness, I begin to define great as something exactly like the normal that is normally defined.

I think that would be a different normal. I think it comes with the freedom to change definition more easily. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe normal people have chosen to be normal in the same way and this is simply an exercise in overthinking. I suppose that would make this pretty normal in its entirety then.

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