As humans, we’re genetically hardwired to fit in. We’re like any other animal — programmed with instincts and behaviors from millions of years of evolution and experience. On top of that, from the day we are born we’re exposed to social cues and conditioning that strongly dictate how we act, think and feel. Social norms work to influence us to behave in a manner that’s considered “normal.”
But what is normal and who gets to define it? For me, normal is one of the worst things you can be — yet it took me years to come to that conclusion.
Growing up, all I wanted to be was “normal,” living a life nearly identical to everyone around me, going to the local school with my neighborhood pals and spending my afternoons playing football in the streets of my neighborhood, Finglas — just outside of Dublin, Ireland. That’s what everyone else was doing — and had always done. My quest for normality was derailed when, out of the blue, I was accepted to attend Belvedere College, a private secondary school in Dublin City Centre (thanks to a teacher who saw potential in me, and my mother’s persistence). When the postman dropped off the acceptance letter there were tears in our house ― my mother had tears of joy, I had tears of despair! Only the “posh” kids attended that school, not the “normal” kids.
My own internal monologue prevented me from being the real me and being open to new opportunities. I wasn’t happy living this way and I was so tired of pretending to be someone that I wasn’t. After years of avoiding it, I eventually broke free."
I invented a story in my mind about how kids would not like me to protect myself from disappointment. How wrong I was: The diversity of new people and experiences I eventually had at Belvedere College was hugely beneficial and a positive experience.
However, similar self-doubt followed me into my professional career. Once more, fear of being labeled the “impostor” hung around with me. I never shared much of my true personality or upbringing in offices, going as far as pretending to be someone I wasn’t, avoiding telling people where I grew up, trying to hide my accent, just so I could feel more comfortable among the crowd.
Breaking Free from “Normal”
It took me many years to realize that I was living unconsciously. I didn’t put any thought into why I felt or behaved the way I did — I just continued to edit my life like I was on autopilot I wasn’t happy living this way and I was so tired of pretending to be someone that I wasn’t. After years of avoiding it, I eventually broke free.
By ditching certain assumptions and openly approaching every aspect of my life free from bias, I found that I could find common ground with just about everyone (not to be confused with the notion that I like everyone, or that everyone likes me!). What a relief it was to take off that mask and let my true colors show.
Celebrate Your Differences
When you rewire your brain to be consciously unbiased, you naturally become more open to all sorts of people and experiences that will greatly enrich your journey through life. You’ll discover that there are a lot more people who also reject the idea of normal than you imagined. The evolution may be gradual or come quickly. But by making small conscious incremental changes every day, you can retrain your brain to habitually think and behave in new ways.