nor·mal: adjective. Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.
Well, who the heck wants that?
Today I wanted to talk about why it’s okay, and even better, to not be normal. Because for our entire lives, we have felt pressure to be normal. But the thing is, being normal might be the most overrated concept on the planet. Because since when has a normal person done anything groundbreaking? Since when does conforming to the standards mean pushing something further and making progress?
Quick personal story time:
I’ve spent a lot of my life struggling between being the weirdo and being the cheerleading captain. I usually ended up doing both. High school will tell you that the two are mutually exclusive, but I will tell you that they are not. I was probably the nerdiest cheer captain there ever was. I brought my AP European History textbooks to practice. It should have been disastrous.
But because I was a nerd, I was a great cheer captain. I spent time memorizing cheers, poring over YouTube videos and creating complicated, dynamic routines with the same drive that I put towards my Spanish homework. I was the girl that always had her headphones on, and my love for music helped me learn how to mix soundtracks for the perfectly timed stunt sequences that I made up. Rarely one to be at the party every weekend, I had free time to dedicate toward making my team look its best under the Friday night lights.
I definitely wasn’t captain because of popularity, that was for sure. But the routines I created are still used by the cheer team today, 5 years after I graduated.
Same thing went for my sorority. Joining a sorority seems like the ultimate conformity, but under the matching T-shirts are the most brilliant, compassionate, genuine people on earth, and they encouraged me to be my weird self. One time, on the night that we held elections for officer positions, I stood up in front of the whole chapter and told a story about the time I stepped in wet cement and got stuck because there wasn’t a Wet Cement sign. It was a very low point for me. The entire chapter died laughing, and that night they elected me PR Chair. My ownership of my own dorky moments are what made me stand out from 200 women.
Enough about me, let’s talk about you.
So we’ve established that being yourself and taking ownership of the things that make you stand out are what will help you succeed as a leader. Still with me? Cool. Let’s talk about getting there. Because let’s face it: It’s not everyone’s first instinct to let their freak flag fly. If you want to work on embracing your unique qualities that set your apart, this one’s for you.
Here’s what you gotta do:
Let go of people who have criticized you for being different.
Some people will just live for taking other people down, and that’s not ideal, but it’s the world we live in, so you’re going to have to let things roll off your back. So what if someone thinks it’s weird that you spend so much time listening to musicals or going on outdoor hikes? They can go be bored while you develop your cultural sensibilities and appreciation for nature. So what if you dress up for class when everyone else wears Nike shorts and sweatpants? You probably have a better fashion sense and will be ready to rock the real world, while I will be adjusting to life without my yoga pants. The point is, people get intimidated when someone is unique, and you can’t let that stop you.
Surround yourself with supportive people, and you’ll find that you are so much better off.
Nurture the skills and activities that make you happy.
I actually kind of hate the word nurture, because it’s not like we’re all plants, but whatever. It makes the most sense here.
Make a list or draw out all of the things that make you happy. My list includes things like 80s music, helping people, beauty products, reading books, seafood, art, ballet class, and public speaking (yes, public speaking. Told you I’m weird. We’ll get to that in a second). Then, evaluate how much time you dedicate to each of those things. If you love yoga, do you go to yoga class as often as you’d like? Are you missing out on opportunities to teach yoga? See where you can do more to develop your unique passions.
Figure out what strengths you have that other people don’t.
You know the Pussycat Dolls song that goes, “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?” Make your own version of that song: “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend had a knowledge of Led Zeppelin like me?” Not as catchy but a lot more fun.
Here’s another personal example: I love public speaking. I think it’s a great time. Meanwhile, most other people fear public speaking more than they fear death. Therefore, this is one of the things that makes me not normal. But it’s also great, because once I’m in the Working World, I’ll be comfortable giving presentations, and one day I might be in a position where I’m one of those big-shots that give motivational keynote speeches at conferences. Boom. Weirdo wins.
Find your version of public speaking. Figure out what you can do that most other people in your field can’t. Everyone has something.
Find inspiration in fearless role models.
For me, it’s Kelly Cutrone, whose book Normal Get You Nowhere helped inspire this post. She’s one of the most badass women in the PR game, so there’s that. I’ve also been inspired by fictional characters, like Carrie Bradshaw and Blair Waldorf. Carrie made it cool to be a writer. Blair made it cool to care about grades and success. Not that I needed permission to feel okay caring about these things– but it helped to see my own qualities reflected in strong women, real or not. And then I became my own superhero.
Become your own role model.
Once you’ve embraced yourself and developed your strengths, it’ll be your turn to inspire others. Mentor a younger worker in your office. If you’re still in school, mentor younger sorority members or people in your degree program. Once you become an expert, or leader, or business owner, or whatever it is you want to be, you can pass it on to someone else. It’s amazing how much inspiring someone else will make you realize how awesome it is to be yourself. Unapologetically, one hundred percent yourself.