On Being Normal

The last handful of years have been some of the hardest of my life. Since 2018, my wife left me, I was diagnosed with depression, our country is accelerating its slide towards fascism thanks to Dear Leader, and COVID ravages our country and my mental health from being isolated.

This wasn't how life was supposed to go. It wasn't in any of my plans. But that's how life is. You can't predict what will happen. Success is not guaranteed.

I feel like life has taken a crowbar and beat me silly.

And with that beating, I realized something.

I'm not special. That was shocking, since I always thought I was.

I was taught to believe that I was one of the most important people to ever be born. In Mormonism, they teach that everyone existed before being born, and that there was a big war in Heaven regarding what Earth life would look like.

Lucifer wanted to force everyone to be righteous so they'll be saved, while Jesus wanted to let people choose righteousness for themselves, risking damnation for those who can't follow the rules.

As part of that war, the most valiant and righteous people in the fight were born to good Mormon families, and my generation in particular were constantly taught that we were "saved for the latter days" and were some of the best supporters of Jesus in the war.

(Totally off topic, but another thing I was taught is that "fence sitters" who didn't choose a side in the War in Heaven were born with black skin so we can tell they were less valiant when fighting for Jesus. Yeah... Mormonism is heavily rooted in racism, but others have covered that topic in much more detail than I ever could, especially in this post about being normal. Go look into it. It's fascinating and morally disgusting at the same time.)

Anyway, I was raised to believe that I was a super fighter for Jesus before being born on Earth, and, as a result, I was rewarded with being born into the One True Religion, with the mandate to share it with the world and make everyone else Mormon too so we all can become gods and make babies with a harem of wives for eternity. (Which totally leaves out people like me who wouldn't mind mixing in a few husbands to that deal as well!)

That's an insanely egotistical though to put in a little kid's head and nurture for years.

I didn't leave Mormonism until age 23, so I heard how special I was a lot. Church conferences in particular were filled with speeches about how we're in a war with Satan and only Mormon men have the power of God to fight back and do good in the world.

In addition to the egotistical religious indoctrination, I was a "gifted" child. I always thought that meant I was smarter than everyone, when in fact I was just lucky enough to be born into an incredible amount of privileged that allowed me to thrive and be my best self.

None of this is to say I'm not smart. I have a few talents that I'm quite proud of!

But I'm not special. I'm not "gifted". I'm just a dude trying to live my best life. I'm definitely unique, but that doesn't speak to my abilities perform.

It's taken me a long time to realize that I'm normal.

I think my job as a consultant is what helped me realize it. Part of it is that we hire amazing people who are smarter than me in so many ways, but another part is that the workforce requires an entirely different set of strengths than schooling.

I am amazing at school. I know how to beat standardized tests. I love to read and learn and write and remix ideas. I have a hard time making friends sometimes because all I want to talk about are abstract ideas and systems and how they impact our world. Those skills helped a ton in school. They help a ton in my day-to-day work as well, but schooling requires an incomplete subset of skills compared to working in the private sector.

It turns out, I'm not good at a lot of non-school related things, and I struggled mightily to adjust to work after graduating from university. Part of my failure in that transition was definitely my un-diagnosed depression, but I attribute many of my early failures to not having the skills to succeed in the workforce.

My friends who got Cs are now years ahead of me in their careers because they spent their time learning the skills that make a good worker, not the skills that make a good test taker. While I was studying for tests, they were starting side businesses and making cool apps. I'm not sad that I studied. I love studying! I'd be a professional student if I could.

But watching people I literally helped tutor become thought leaders in their specialties while I struggle to even get a simple promotion is brutal. I'm not jealous of their success (I wouldn't want to do the jobs of most of the people I'm thinking about right now), but I do feel like I'm failing on my own internal measuring stick sometimes.

I know it's dumb to hurt myself like that, and I've gotten much better not doing that since embracing my normality.

One of my favorite little stories that helps me embrace failure and not measuring up is about a fish being called stupid by the other animals because it couldn't climb a tree. What the other animals forgot is that the fish could swim circles around all of them!

We all have our own strengths, and everybody is good at something. It's normal to be great at some stuff and absolute garbage at other things. It's okay to fail. It's okay to change your plans. It's okay to ask for help.

So the next time you wish you were "special", remember that line of thinking does more harm than good. Normal is great. Normal is perfect. Normal is being special.

It's advice that I'm hoping I'll take myself.


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