I was considered normal for a large part of my life. I fitted in. I mimicked the behaviors of the people in my group. I had plenty of friends to mimic, and invitations to go out never stopped. All seemed good.
But gradually, due to the books I’ve read and the nasty phenomenon we humans possess called thinking, I drifted to a hypothetical lonely island others found terrifying to visit.
Subconsciously, we all try to appear as normal mammals when among others. We strive to be polite, cheerful, respectful, and prone to agree to the status quo to avoid causing havoc.
And while these traits can be labeled as nice to have. There are plenty of bad characteristics attached to the concept of being considered a normal person these days.
I mean, statistically speaking, a normal person typically…
- Is physically unhealthy.1
- Goes to the gym only in January.2
- Is financially in debt.3
- Is financially in debt because of inability to manage his money.4
- Binge-watches TV shows.5
- Has at least seven social media accounts.
- Spends at least 2 hours a day mindlessly scrolling through the virtual gallery of the life of others.6
- Is self-obsessed.
- Lacks patience.7
- Believes in imaginary entities without having a clue why.
- Loves to be interrupted by beeping notifications.
- Loves to add even more beeping notifications to his device.
- Compulsively checks his phone for new updates approximately every 5 seconds.8
- Wears a Fitbit but fails to be fit.
- Travels because it’s considered acceptable – and cool – to travel.
- Needs to own the newest trendy gadgets as soon as possible.
- It’s easily swayed by the opinion of the crowd.
- Watches all kinds of sports, but never participates in sports himself.
- Consumes more than he needs.
When I decided that I didn’t want to be normal. I didn’t do it intentionally. I didn’t wake up one day declaring, “I’m an idiot surrounded by other idiots!”
No, I started with identifying behaviors that were corrupting my life and then made a conscious decision to replace them with alternative activities. Activities that were meant to contribute to my life progression, instead of persisting in current endeavors that have confined me in a wretched abyss of mediocrity.
You know, affairs like reading books, not drinking, exercising, saving money, eating proper food… The typical activities you will find written by a self-help junkie.
While I eventually succeeded by embracing wholesome routines in my life. During the process, I stumbled on an unpleasant side effects that I never anticipated.
Strangely, with each additional good habit I’ve added in my life, I slowly drifted away from my friends.
Hell, I drifted from everyone.
All of a sudden, striving to eat healthy food, exercising, and being mindful about how I allocate my money became a big factor for my declining database of friendships.
People told me I was different.
I thought that they were all the same.
Now I know the truth. I simply stopped being “normal”.
The Allure of Normalcy
Probably you don’t have the same problem as me.
Probably you are part of a group full of overachievers where everyone is managing his money like a seasoned Wall Street executive while also running half a marathon for breakfast. Good for you! Can I join?
Even if some people have access to an extravagant circle of friends where you are all rich, smart, interesting, and on top of that, good-looking. Typically, that’s not the normal state of affairs.
As mentioned above, according to data, most people have problems – money problems, health problems, motivational problems, mental problems, you name it.
And while you’d typically expect that people with problems will work towards solving them. This does not happen with these types of problems.
Instead of people doing everything possible to remove suffocating actions from their lives. They usually add more. Thus, they further cripple their daily existence, not fully aware of the harm they bring to their lives.
The immediate benefits unlocked from these types of problems paired with the approval of the crowd.
Here are a couple of examples:
- People who drink don’t consider drinking a problem, they consider it a social activity that makes everything fun and cool.
- People who smoke don’t consider smoking a problem, they consider the act of breathing exhaust pipes an all access pass to the realm of coolness. A rebellious declaration where each exhale not only represents cool indifference, but it also makes reality more bearable.
- People who pay extra for premium goods or early bird access even if they don’t have cash, don’t consider this a problem that can lead to high interest fees. They consider the act of obtaining high quality goods before everyone else a way to showcase their awesomeness to others.
I don’t simply know these things because I’ve read numerous books on psychology and papers on human behavior. I know this from a first-hand experience.
The normal behavior of a person is to say yes to things like:
- Going out.
- New shows.
- New trends.
- New gadgets.
- New experiences.
- New social media posts.
And not only say yes occasionally, but all the time.
The reason is pretty obvious…
- You want to feel good.
- You want to fit in.
- You want to avoid the agonizing boredom that’s unlocked if you follow a mundane daily routine.
But after trying to change my life, failing, and then trying a couple of times more. I realized that the only way to change my trajectory towards better is not saying yes to more things considered normal. But by saying no – to practically everything that’s done by the masses and feels good in the current moment.
In my attempt to salvage my life and direct it upwards. I started considering the consequences of pretty much everything I previously did. The result?
I am not going to lie.
Life began to feel more like work and less like living – or at least the living you’re used to seeing on social media.
- I started to wake up early.
- I stopped eating sugar.
- I stopped smoking and drinking.
- I started exercising and running long distances.
- I stopped watching shows, so I can focus more on books.
- I started saving money, instead of spending like crazy on new stuff.
- I stopped endlessly browsing online shopping sites full of things I don’t need.
It sounds good on paper, but it often feels like hell.
Not only because it’s way easier – and, let’s not pretend, quite more fun – to live a life where you don’t have a monthly budget, and you are spending money on cool things all the time. What makes it difficult is the constant outside pressure to live a normal life.
Here are a couple of examples…
- At a party, I want to go home on time because I want to get up early in the morning and run for an hour. Others, however, try to persuade me to stay because they are having a good time.
- When dining out, I want to order one meal – usually a salad – eat it, and proceed with my life. Others, however, will stuff the table with high-calorie food options, complain how they can’t eat all of it, and then look for desserts.
- When discussing vacations, others are quick to mention how they are planning new trips to different exotic locations. When I bring up the topic of investing and saving money, the discussion quickly dies off because money-saving is rarely practiced.
- When others talk about what they did, they reference their recent social media statuses – thinking that everyone saw what they did. When I talk about what I did, it sounds boring because you can’t back it up with social “proof” – i.e., pictures of how you are supposedly having fun all the time.
Even if you spent years living as an abnormal person – doing different things from the masses. People will never stop judging you for your “weirdness”. After doing all possible to persuade you to adopt the habits of the crowd, but fail. They will usually start judging you for your different lifestyle, which is also backed with avoidance.
But before I tell you how to navigate in a world full of pushy people trying to encourage you to do “normal” things.
Let me first explain what happens when you begin to avoid the status quo living.
When you begin to decline invitations for wild parties; Don’t know about the latest social media trends, because you are not on social media; Prefer exercising than hanging in pubs. Suddenly, you are considered unfriendly and not cool.
What happens then?
There are three common paths…
The first one is going back. Returning to the “normal” way of living. Abandoning the concept for a different life because you don’t want to disengage from what the crowd is doing, and because it’s simply easier.
The second path is quite interesting. In this situation, you try to balance the two lifestyles. On one hand, you don’t completely abandon your desire for improvement – better health, continuous learning, more money, etc. But you also don’t completely cut ties with your old ways. You keep your tabs on the trends and remain subscribed to a couple of wreckless behaviors.
The third option is probably the loneliest one – but the option with high returns. In this situation, you completely disengage from your previous lifestyle and start solely pursuing improvements. You’ve either found a group of folks who share your obsession for advancement, or you are depressed on your own of how everything is so average.
I’ve walked all the three paths.
And let me tell you, the hardest thing in relation to living a healthier life isn’t exercise. Nor the struggle to get up early in the morning. It’s dealing with other people.
Returning to Normalcy
In my early 20ies, my life was a complete disaster in terms of health and finances. Yet, at the same time, it was a huge success in terms of socializing.
I was partying a couple of times per week. Numerous people liked and commented on my social media posts. I was dressing based on the latest fashion trends…
Life felt grand – or at least it appeared like so on the outside.
I won’t go into details, but as you can probably imagine. All of this drinking, shopping, smoking was taking a toll on my health – not to mention how I never had enough money.
However, no matter how many times I tried to disengage from my crazy lifestyle – stop smoking and start exercising – I failed. I failed because I was afraid of being on my own. I still wanted to hang out with my friends. I still wanted the validation. I still wanted to have fun. Thus, no matter how many times I told myself that I will stop the destructive habits, I kept doing them.
What can I say, fear of not fitting in can be more potent than messing up your health and finances at the same time.
Trying To Balance Normalcy with Oddity
Eventually, after a lot of trail and error. I was able to abandon most of my nasty habits. The day I realized I was off the hook with alcohol, was when I was able to go out with friends, and don’t even feel a slight temptation to pour a drink – though everyone around me was in the process of getting wasted while desperately trying to convince me to join their drinking fiasco.
Initially, it felt that I had the best out of the both worlds.
I no longer craved the reckless behavior. And at the same time, I get to spend time with my friends.
However, although I didn’t intend to, my decision to stop most of my hazardous ventures unlocked a chain of events.
Since smoking and drinking were integral part of my social interactions with the people I know, at least. When I decided to quit, the common activities that once brought me together with my friends were no longer shared.
Initially, I was, in a way, apologetic about not drinking. People around me were trying to convince me that “just one drink won’t harm” – or all kinds of variants of the same message. I felt the need to give a lot of fact-based reasons on why I can’t drink tonight.
In my head, it looked kind of like this:
- Friends: “Come on, drink!”
- Me: “I can’t… hmm, I need to get up early in the morning and do this thing. I will drink later.”
After getting tired that I have to explain myself on why I don’t drink anymore. I started to firmly declare that I don’t drink and that’s final. I stopped feeling the need that I have to apologize for my choice.
This led to a gradual distancing from my longtime social circles.
My take is that my new lifestyle was perceived as a judgment on my friend’s choice about how they live their lives. They felt uncomfortable when I was the only person ordering extra water on the table when they were ordering extra booze.
Of course, this is just a speculation. I didn’t have the balls to discuss our declining friendship. But the fact that I had to explain myself on why I don’t do these “normal” things, says a lot about how differently we think about how life should be.
Going all in on being Different
Is modern life rubbish?
Certainly it is full of luxuries and fun stuff to do.
Each day can feel like an exciting party if I do the common activities – going out, late night shopping, new TV shows, video games, sugary food, etc.
But the more you do these things, the more you add depression when you stop doing them.
You can’t have fun all the time. Not only because you will exhaust all of your money. Not only because your body will take a shape of a circle. Not only because at some point you will get reminded of the dullness of living when you check in at the office. But also because all the activities mentioned above will unlock a dose of lethargy to your life.
Here, I’m not talking about the lack of energy due to late night TV watching while destroying a couple of bags of chips. I am talking about something else…
As I gradually reduced my dependence on societal norms and unfortunately became less involved with my friends. I found myself with extra time on my hands. This newfound time allowed me to prioritize activities that contribute to my well-being and personal growth.
I am not pretending that I live in an ivory tower where everything is f*cking amazing.
I have plenty of issues. I often have episodes where I feel sad, depressed, and anything in between.
I simply started using different tools to escape the emotional pain. For example, instead of drowning in alcohol to feel soothed and fit in, I turned to activities like exercising, running, and reading.
And I am not completely alone. I have a family and people who have similar interests as me.
However, it’s not as it was in the past, where I could confidently say that I had a few best friends with whom I maintained constant communication.
Well, I guess that’s the price you have to pay if you want to escape the so-called normal lifestyle.
The Price of Being Different
“Ivaylo, what are you talking about. There are a gazillion of online folks talking about how to be different and hundreds of other folks cheering in the comments. You are deluding yourself!“
That’s one big reason I hate social media.
Not only online gurus make it appear that this self-improvement “stuff” is all too easy and effortless. But it’s also fragmented and inauthentic.
Everyone with a social media account is experiencing the fake happiness syndrome – life looks beautiful on the profile page, but at the same time the person feels miserable inside.
Our real lives can’t be represented by a carefully curated library of images and status updates.
But we desperately try to do it.
With each “life is fantastic” status update. We try to convince ourselves, not necessarily others, that our life is indeed awesome.
That’s what I personally think, at least. The more I see someone posting pictures where everything seems awesome, the more I think this person is depressed.
The price you have to pay for acting differently from everyone else, based on what I’ve found, is dealing with a lack of external validation.
Since you are not in the race of trying to convince others that your life is close to perfect. You’re typically involved in activities knowing that these won’t get any cheerful comments nor positive votes.
- You start running daily, not because you will get a ton of likes when you share the activity afterward. You run because you genuinely love the act of running.
- You buy a new car not because you will feel awesome when you see the envious faces of your “enemies”. But because you want a reliable vehicle that will get you from point A to point B while feeling safe and comfortable.
- You prepare a salad with a low-carb appetizer, not intending to share this as an Instagram story where the other health enthusiasts will cheer you for your ecstatic dish. You do it because you are mainly interested in taking care of your body.
All of this sounds good and all. But trust me when I say that it often feels utterly depressing and lonely.
And the main reason it feels utterly depressing and lonely is that what you do is rarely supplemented with the approval of others – something we’re all badly attached to.
You try to find fulfillment in the process, in the work itself, but you can’t shake off the need to receive praise from the surrounding others.
In a way, you start living for the future. Thus, all your actions are aimed at solely improving your future state.
However, if you constantly neglect your present state. You will have a hard time dealing with the daily monotony. Eventually, everything will start to feel like a chore. Life will feel “blah”.
The way we can approach this is by doing at least some “normal” activities.
- Occasionally sleeping in.
- Occasionally staying up late to watch TV.
- Occasionally spoiling ourselves with our favorite junk food.
- Occasionally doing what everyone else is doing.
- Occasionally doing something spontaneous.
Basically, occasionally indulging in activities that bring immediate pleasures.
Sure, the common belief stating, “The road to excellence is built on the altar upon which immediate pleasures have been sacrificed.” Is still true.
But maintaining a life with close to zero pleasures is extremely hard to maintain.
Or what I want to say is that you can’t completely escape normalcy – nor I think you should.
You should strive to coexist with the typical way of living. Being different and being considered normal shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. You can be just like the normal person in relation to some things, but at the same time, completely different in other type of activities.
The important part is to keep fighting. Keep fending off the allure of normalcy. Keep fighting the feeling that you are bad for being weird.
Furthermore, keep fighting the reappearing feeling, stating that you need to always justify yourself in front of others on why you are acting differently from the crowd.
The fight against normalcy is the most important fight of your life.
The world wants you to be typical. Everywhere you turn, you are pressured to be “normal”.
Due to this, sadly, we all grow up preoccupied with appearing normal. Like everyone else, we want to fit in rather than stand out.
But exactly standing out is what brings excitement in our lives.
Don’t feel ashamed of acting differently. Find out what works for you, regardless of what others think.
Some Closing Thoughts
Where to go from here?
The goal of writing this piece is to shed some light on what it means to live a life outside the social expectations.
I wanted to highlight that a life where you push yourself to get better is not necessarily a life where everything feels awesome.
There is the phrase circling in the online world stating:
“It doesn’t get easy. You simply get stronger.”
While this is generally true. Getting stronger is subjective. You can gain more muscles and get physically stronger. But you also need to develop emotional resilience.9
You can’t rely solely on muscles to handle the dark moments. The agony when everything appears meaningless. When it feels like no one understands you, you need inner strength to deal with the loneliness.
It’s often a dark place to be a part of. It certainly feels life-crushing based on my experience.
From the outset, sure, being a discipline person sounds like a no-brainer. But bing a disciplined person in a world where most people are undisciplined is far difficult than you’d expect.
It feels like an endless battle, not only with yourself. But also with everyone around you.
“It is very hard to show up as the person you want to be when you are surrounded by an environment that makes you feel like a person you aren’t.” Brianna Wiest
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- Elflein, J. Obesity prevalence U.S. adults 2011-2021, Statista. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/244620/us-obesity-prevalence-among-adults-aged-20-and-over/
- Rackham, A. Why do people always wait until January to get fit?, BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-67559290
- Nearly half of American adults expect to pass on their debt after death. Yahoo! Finance. Available at: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/nearly-half-american-adults-expect-150400391.html
- Why have Americans racked up so much credit card debt? CBS News. Available at: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/credit-card-debt-how-to-pay-it-off-cbs-news-explains/
- Castillo, L. Must-know binge watching statistics [latest report]. Gitnux, GITNUX. Available at: https://gitnux.org/binge-watching-statistics/
- Belle Wong, J.D. Top social media statistics and trends of 2024, Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/advisor/business/social-media-statistics/
- Lim, C. How technology is ruining our patience – the stute, The Stute – The independent student newspaper of Stevens Institute of Technology. Available at: https://thestute.com/2020/11/19/how-technology-is-ruining-our-patience/
- Howarth, J. Time spent using smartphones (2024 statistics), Exploding Topics. Available at: https://explodingtopics.com/blog/smartphone-usage-stats
- You can try with discomfort training and the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.