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drawing of being comfortable outside the bell curve

❝I hate to be different, but I hate to be normal.❞ -NF, "Leave Me Alone"

I’m sitting outside at a restaurant having a beer when I overhear part of a conversation. Admittedly, I missed the first half of the conversation, but my curiosity peaked when one person says, “I can’t believe that! That’s not normal.”

The other person seemed to be taken aback by this statement. It seems he didn’t want to be told he was “not normal.” He shouted angrily, “How dare you tell me I’m not normal!?”

Ignoring the fact that he used reverse cognitive behavioral therapy (he found the most negative interpretation) and the fact that he seemed to be identified with normalcy (“IT'S not normal” vs. (I'M not normal”), it brought up an interesting question.

What’s wrong with not being normal? Why wouldn’t it be a compliment to be told you were not normal?

There’s nothing wrong with not being normal, and, in fact, there are many times when it’s a good thing.


To be normal means to be ordinary. It means to be close to average. For any given characteristic, you can find the average.

drawing of average

In practice, you’ll find that things will either be above average or below average, but for the most part, things are close to average. You might remember the bell curve from statistics class. It says that the average is the most common outcome or result, and as you get further from the average, it is less common or likely.

drawing of the bell curve

Thus, to be normal is to be in the middle of the bell curve. Being out in what they call “the tails” of the distribution, by definition, is not normal.

drawing of normal and not normal portions of the bell curve

Take height, for example. ChatGPT tells me that the average height of an American is about 5’7”.

drawing of average height

If you measure the height of everybody in the United States, you find that most people are between 5’4” and 5’10”. Therefore, we would say that it’s normal to encounter somebody in this range.

drawing of average height range distribution

Magician Penn Jillette, the tall and talking half of the magician duo Penn & Teller, is 6’7”. If you go to a Penn & Teller show and meet the duo afterward, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be awestruck by the size of him.

That’s not normal.

drawing of penn jillette's height is not normal

Again according to ChatGPT, the average number of cars an American household has is two.

drawing of average number of cars

Some households have one car, and some have more than that, but most have between one and three cars.

That’s normal.

drawing of number of cars distribution

Jay Leno is reported to have somewhere around 150 cars.

That’s not normal.

drawing of number of cars jay leno has is not normal


Normal shouldn't be a term we use to describe right or wrong, good or bad, or any other judgment. It's not good or bad that Penn is 6'7". It's not good or bad that Jay Leno has a car collection habit.

It should describe what we expect to see.

Yet we are wired to want to be normal and oppose being called not normal. If you trace your ancestry far enough, you get to ancestors whose survival depended on staying with the herd. Being a part of the herd was normal, and not being a part of the herd meant you didn't survive to become our ancestors.

drawing of the herd in the normal distribution

Our ancestors found themselves in situations where it was advantageous to follow the herd.

drawing of chasing the herd

Even if we didn't know where the herd was going, it made sense to follow it because we didn't want to be left alone.

drawing of chasing the herd to not be alone

A grateful person exhibits certain traits. Rather than feeling deprived in life, a grateful person experiences a sense of abundance. A grateful person acknowledges the contributions of others to his/her success and well-being, appreciates life's simple pleasures, and acknowledges the importance of experiencing and expressing gratitude.


But we don't live in tribal times anymore. Sticking with the herd may not be in our best interest. Sometimes the herd runs over a cliff, and we follow along mindlessly.

drawing of following the herd off a cliff

Following the herd is akin to doing what we think we're supposed to do. The sad truth about that is that author Bronnie Ware, author of the book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, noticed in her work as an end-of-life caregiver that the top regret people have on their deathbed is that they lived a life they thought they were supposed to live rather than the life they would've wanted to live.

Following the herd and being normal is a top source of regret.

drawing of the top regret of the dying is doing what you think you're supposed to do


To break from the herd means to gain confidence that you have different values from everyone else. You have different sources of meaning from everyone else. Breaking from the herd means recognizing that sometimes the herd goes over a cliff.

For example, a large percentage of Americans would not be able to cover a $1,000 unexpected expense without borrowing money. Being normal, in this case, means not being financially healthy.

You should strive not to be normal.

drawing of most people can't cover an unexpected expense without debt

A vast number of Americans don't have a will in place. To be normal means to put yourself at risk of dying intestate, meaning allowing the government to decide what happens to your assets and who will take care of your kids.

You should strive not to be normal.

drawing of most people not having a will

Many people with money in the stock market, and especially people with money in the stock market who pay too much attention to the news, want to sell when the stock market falls. And yet selling after the stock market falls is a surefire way to lock in those losses.

You should strive not to be normal.

drawing of panic stock market selling

The default mode for many people is to float from circumstance to circumstance, reacting to whatever life throws their way. It's to use their money in a way that they are unconscious of.

You should strive not to be normal.

drawing of reactive spending

Being normal doesn't have to be a value judgment. Not being normal doesn't have to be bad. All normal describes is how most people are or what most people do. That's it. It says nothing about rightness or wrongness.

You should judge your life not through the lens of what's normal but through the lens of what you want out of life.

You get one life; live intentionally.


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Ariely, Dan & Jeff Kreisler: Dollars and Sense Ben-Shahar, Tal: Being Happy Housel, Morgan: The Psychology of Money Irvine, William: A Slap in the Face Ivtzan, Itai, Tim Lomas, Kate Hefferon & Piers Worth: Second Wave Positive Psychology Kabat-Zinn, Jon: Wherever You Go, There You Are Kahneman: Daniel: Thinking Fast and Slow McAdams, Dan: The Stories We Live By McKeown, Greg: Essentialism Millburn, Joshua Fields & Ryan Nicodemus: Essential Emotional Intelligence Masterclass Science of Self-Acceptance Masterclass Reivich, Karen & Andrew Shatte: The Resilience Factor

Ware, Bronnie: The Top Regrets of the Dying



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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