Sometimes hearing something bluntly makes you realize new things in areas you thought you knew. That happened to me recently.
A friend said something that dramatically improved how I thought of people and how I get to know them. The perspective becomes more liberating and improves your relationships more the more you understand it.
She said, “Josh, nobody is normal.”
Nobody is normal!
At first I the bluntness caught me off guard. I wanted to disagree. Aren’t there lots of normal people? I mean, aren’t they the ones who buy the stuff in ads. Isn’t that who shops at the Gap?
I kept thinking, though.
I have plenty of friends, many quirky. I like them for their quirks. The quirks make them interesting. As I thought I realized all of them were quirky. Among my friends, she was right. Also, I like my friends for accepting and enjoying me for my quirks.
Maybe she was onto something. As I’ve thought of it since, I came to conclude nobody is normal, like she said. Sure, if you average everyone’s traits, you’ll describe someone, but I don’t think anyone fits that description. I think everyone has quirks. Sure, when I’m outside a Gap store looking in I feel like I’m looking at normal, average people, but I bet elsewhere their quirks, foibles, kinks, and so on emerge. But sometimes I find myself in the Gap. Does that mean anyone outside could conclude I have nothing unique about me?
The more I thought about it, the deeper and farther this revelation reached.
I concluded we build friendships and other relationships on people’s unique points, quirks, foibles, kinks, wild dreams, pipe fantasies, and so on — not on talking about sports, weather, and socially normal things. Now If I don’t know someone’s quirks, I feel like I don’t know them yet. If I meet someone and we never talk about what makes us unique, I have to take responsibility for getting these things out.
I look forward to learning these things about people. I know everyone has them. If they don’t share them it probably means I’m projecting too much judgment, so it helps me project more openness and non-judgmental acceptance, characteristics I like.
Note the dilemma we face in choosing to share, however. We hold on to our quirks because we like them about ourselves. We value our friends most for understanding us without judging these traits. Yet we are most afraid of sharing them with new people, or even longtime friends. The more unusual the trait, the more vulnerable revealing it makes us feel, yet the more personal it is. Do we share or not?
Who doesn’t remember being made fun of in school for these things and learning to hide them? Who doesn’t still have that fear of revealing something we might get ostracized for? So we end up hiding our individualities.
To our detriment. Look at what hiding them means. The more valuable and meaningful something is, the more we hide it, yet the more joy it would bring. We hold ourselves back from our greatest joys.
If you hide something or wait for the right person, you may not get to enjoy it even if it falls into your lap. Let’s look at an extreme case. Say you have a fantasy you’ve always wanted to live out with someone. I could have used a pipe dream as an example — the company you always wanted to start, the around-the-world trip, the hobby they’d say you were way too into to do — but fantasies are more visceral and we all have them. You know from the internet that tens of millions of people share the fantasy, but you may still be scared to reveal it.
Now say you meet someone who shares it. If you never reveal it, you may never know you could have enjoyed your greatest fantasy. That’s big! Even if the other person makes it happen, if you didn’t reveal you liked it, you couldn’t enjoy it fully. You might, after not sharing it, feel too embarrassed to make it happen again later. You might ruin a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
Most things we fear sharing aren’t are greatest fantasies, but the effect is the same with lesser interests and the rewards correlate with the risks. Sharing little idiosyncrasies gives you some reward. Sharing deep fantasies and vulnerabilities gives you life-changing reward.
Overcoming these fears feels as hard as, say bungee jumping or skydiving, but you don’t risk your life. You might feel like you’re risking a relationship, but once you realize everyone has their quirks — that nobody is normal — you realize the person you choose to share your thing with has their quirks too.
If they act like you’re weird, you know they’re just as weird. They just haven’t shared it. You can feel better knowing you’re ahead of them on being yourself without reservation, a way of being that everyone values.
More likely, when you share things about yourself, they will realize they can feel comfortable sharing with you. The more you project that you won’t judge, the more comfortable they’ll feel sharing with you.
What happens then? You become closer friends. Your life becomes more about your values, not just generic, average values you might not like. You get that much closer to realizing your greatest fantasies. Putting it this last way may not make for everyday conversation, but you know what? We all have fantasies we all want to experience yet few of us share them. Yet we all know that we all have them. When I was younger I remember being surprised at some people’s interests, but I can’t remember the last time I heard something new. The fear and shame come from inside.
Sure, some people may try to shame us for dreaming of something few people do, but we don’t have to accept that shame. Most likely that person hasn’t realized that nobody is normal, is still trying to blend in, and isn’t ready to open up. Their loss.
When you meet someone like that, you may decide you don’t want someone so judgmental in your life. Usually if you hold fast to your sense of self, they will come around, accept you (maybe celebrate you), and learn from you. You’ll probably find people want to open up to you the more you open up first, if you do it without judging.
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