About this thing called “normal”


“You know, for so long, I looked at myself as this kid that was a talented swimmer that just went up and down the pool and didn’t really know who I was as a person. To the point in my life where I didn’t like who I saw in the mirror.”

– Michael Phelps, Olympic medalist swimmer [ 1 ]

You could replace the words “kid”, “swimmer” and “pool” by…

“woman”, “copywriter” and “agency’s hallways” in the statement above,

and it would still ring true.

The same if you used “guy”, “inventory clerk” and “aisles” instead.


Cause it kind of grows on us to define who we are only by the thing we spend most time doing,

every week.

Working, that is.

At least,

for most adults.

Working and…

going through the motions of the pre-work energy-draining routines we have to do with.

Like getting our lunch ready.

Getting stuck in traffic.

The same with the post-work stress reliefs we can’t wait to enjoy.

Like that drink we pour ourselves,

once back home.

Or that run we go for.

To help us turn the switch “off” in our brain,

and stop thinking about work.

Everyday-life bits and pieces that somehow explain why,

when you meet someone new and ask “What do you do (for work)?”,

the kind of answer you get most is “I’m a ___ (fill the blank)”.

“I’m a copywriter”

“I’m an inventory clerk”

“I’m a ___ (fill the blank). So, this is what I do. This is what I am.”

All said in a detached manner

or with a trace of bitterness in the voice.

But for sure,

without any pride,


or excitement.

Cause that person’s job doesn’t inspire,


or fulfill him anymore.

If it ever did.


A pro-level athlete would use the same words and tone to describe her own situation,

no one would fall off their chair,

or seemed bothered.

Except maybe for one of her friends who,

out of empathy,

would say: “I understand (…) But don’t worry. It’s normal.”

Why she’d say that?

To make the bitter “sweet”.

To make it easier for the athlete to accept what she’s going through.

As this is what “defining who we are only by the thing we spend most time doing” and…

“reaching the point where we don’t like how it makes us feel” became over time;

something we’re told to accept.

“Because it’s normal”.


Why something you and I would normally find unacceptable,

would want to stay away from,

suddenly becomes “acceptable”?

Once it’s said to be “normal”?

Like “feeling bad or depressed about ourselves cause of our work”,

for instance.

One reason is:

we do so out of habit.

Out of getting used to something happening,

over and over.

To the point where we come to expect it.

Which somehow matches a broad definition of “what’s normal”;

a situation that plays out and ends a certain way,

each time a specific set of conditions are found together.

This also apply to people’s behaviors,


and reactions.

Based on how many times we see a given situation happening,

over and over,

or a behavior repeating itself,

without us ever seeing any change in the outcome,

from one time to the other,

we start to convince ourselves that “It’s the way things are”.

We find a job.

Do it for a while.

It starts to drain more out of us than what it provides us with.

We lose,


the excitement and pride we had in doing that same job,

at first.


we start talking about our job situation in a detached manner,

or with a trace of bitterness.


There’s no point in trying to change things.

Or make them better.

They won’t.

Maybe I should simply accept them the way they are.

And go with it.”

As we buy into this,

normal” becomes a standard,

a benchmark,

a lens we use as a magnifier.

To look at ourselves,

at our situation,

and compare it to those of other workers.

Enough times that the bits of insights we get to find in the process,

somehow quiet down and even cheer up,

if it’s possible,

the Eeyore-kind-of-voice (vf: Eeyore est le nom de l’ane dans Winnie The Pooh) that gets louder in our head,

whenever we get started on a “comparison contest”.

So, after all, I’m doing ‘ok’.

Cause I’m not alone,

all by myself in a corner.

I can see, now, that there are other people like me.

People who just don’t like their job and how it makes them feel.

So, I’m ‘normal’.

I’m like the others. Like everyone else.




Trouble with “normal” is…

it’s often confused with “what’s acceptable”,

or “the thing to do”.

If workers are expected to talk about their job

and how it makes them feel,

with their mouth filled with bitter…

And if we’re expected to end up doing the same, too…

Doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.

Doesn’t mean that any situation considered “normal”,

is automatically “acceptable”.

And that it has to remain so.

That we have to settle for it.

For children to work in the early 1900s,

instead of attending school,

was normal.

Not anymore.

At least,

in developed countries.

For food companies to discard imperfect/ugly produces

and send overstocks of “perfect ones” to waste was normal.

It’s losing it’s “acceptable” tag these days.

The same as going “up and down the pool” lost its own “acceptable” tag,

at one point,

in Michael Phelps’ life.


As we get old in a job or a career,

something else grows to be “normal”.

Both in our head and chest.

That “something” is:

wanting to see a point to the work we do.

Wanting to do work that matters.


For a bunch of reasons.

All of which make us realize that…

We don’t want “just a job”.

We don’t want our work to be the only thing we define,


ourselves and our life by.

We don’t want to make “just a living” neither.

We want more than that.

We want to make an impact…

on top of making a living.

Cause we come to believe it will help us give some “meaning” to our life.

At least,

more than we think it has right now.


We want a job,

a type of work that will allow us to achieve both.

Making an impact,

on top of making a living.

And the work we hope to do,

once we find it,

would have a point,

a purpose.

Instead of feeling pointless.

Like the job we have right now does.

As it sinks in,

this idea of “doing work that matters” expands.

Like a piece of bread dough you just kneaded

and decided to let rest.

Before sending it to the oven.

Its shape becomes more clear.

It gains in character as well.

To the point,


wanting to do work that matters” starts to brim over (vf: déborder).

Over the space that “feeling bad about ourselves cause of our job” had taken,

one day at a time,

both in our chest and head.

As a ripple effect,

we start thinking more about “how to find and do work that matters

than “how to keep dealing with a pointless job that makes us feel bad”.

And the more time we spend playing with the former,

and tweaking it,

the better it seems to fit our expectations,

and match our values.

Better than “sticking to a job that goes nowhere” does.

Talking to other people about it,

we realize not everyone share our opinion about work.

Many people just don’t care whether their job has a point or not.

As long as it provides a steady paycheck every week,

it’s all that matters to them.

Discovering this gap,

between their view and ours,

triggers something we didn’t see coming.

Some sort of tension inside us.

With how good “trying to figure out how to find a line of work with a purpose” makes us feel.

Because we realize we’re not on the same page as the majority of people we talked to.

We’re not “like everyone else” as we thought we were, anymore.

At least,

not when it concerns work.

This wake-up call,

on us being different from the others,

from the majority,

(on something as important as work is in many people’s life)

makes our stomach churning.

Cause there’s something reassuring in knowing we’re like “everyone else”.

Being “normal”.

Being part of the “normal people/workers” group.

But we’re just not sure we’re still one of them.

That we’re still “normal”.

On top of being confused with “what is acceptable”,

trouble with “normal” is:

it’s used as a label that can be put on any situation only if it’s experienced by a majority of people.

The same for a behavior, an emotion or a reaction.



for example,

a survey summary report says:

80% of employees working in ad agencies, in the UK, are disengaged at work. Meaning they tend to stay away from any given opportunity to help improve how things are done in their team, they have a negative attitude, and show a lack of commitment to, both, their work and workplace.”

It means that,

if you’re working for an ad agency in the UK,

it would be “normal” for you to be disengaged at work,

at some point,

while working in this industry.

Cause there’s a majority of employees in that same industry (e.g. 80%) who feel the same.

What is often overlooked,


and even dismissed,

are the other “normals” that also exist.

In this case,

it’s “being engaged at work”.

Which is a “normal” to 25% of all employees working in UK’s ad agencies.

(“Normal” and “acceptable” to them.)

There’s something reassuring in knowing we’re like “everyone else”.

That we’re “normal”.

Even if,

by now,

we both understand that “everyone” doesn’t equal 100% of all people,

all the time.

The same as the “normal” tag can’t be owned only by majorities.

Cause minorities also have “normals” of their own.

Like “being engaged at work”,

when you’re an ad agency employee in the UK,

for instance.

What’s even more reassuring,

and gives hope,

when the Eeyore-kind-of-voice starts to get too loud in our head,

is knowing there are more “normals” out there

than the one we are told the most about,

or asked to accept.

Let it be as a worker,

for instance.

Or as a pro athlete,

a student,

a parent,

a disabled person,

or many others.

The challenge,


is for you to find your “normal”.

One you’re willing to accept.

Cause doing work that feel meaningless might be considered a “normal” thing.

But it doesn’t have to be yours.

– – – References – – – – – –

[ 1 ] Michael PHELPS’s Interview… “Becoming Michael Phelps” on Tony Robbins podcast (Apr2019)

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