Finding Your Normal
Have you noticed how the “new normal” keeps changing? It’s been increasingly difficult for columnists to write in advance, as we must do because of publication deadlines. I’m writing this at the end of March, putting it off as close to my April 1 deadline as I can due to COVID-19. I have NO idea what life in south central Pennsylvania will be when this issue hits the stands.
To help us through this period of time will you agree to re-think what normal means to us, both individually and as a community? One segment of society can never speak of what’s normal for everyone. It’s normal for one person to go to church; his neighbor may be an atheist. The churchgoer might look down on the atheist, feeling she’s not normal. But the atheist, in her normal, might see her neighbor as mis-guided.
You and I are the ones responsible for determining what we like about our life and what we don’t, what we want more of and what we want less of. Often “normal” means convenient, acceptable, stable, and pleasing. A change of our normal can cause a minor or major upset, particularly if we feel we are at the effect of the actions of others or government.
What we currently feel defines the level of happiness in our lives. The operative word there being “currently,” as our desires frequently change over time. One person might feel at one point in her life success means driving the newest, most expensive car and living in a mansion. As she grows older, she might be perfectly content with a smaller abode and an older car that’s paid for. The decision you and I get to make is whether we’re going to allow our happiness, our contentment, and our definition of a normal life to be decided upon by society or our own individual wants and desires.
When big changes occur in our personal lives, or a global event like COVID-19, having a clear idea of who we are allows us to maintain better stability while chaos swirls around us. That doesn’t mean we won’t become fearful of the future or angry about the situation at times. What it does mean is that our concerns will be tempered with confidence in ourselves and whatever we view as the unshakeable foundation of our life: our spiritual source, scientific facts, or for some of us, both.
If we are asked “Who are you?” our response (after a momentary pause or blank stare) will probably be based on the labels and categories into which we’ve been placed by society or our own decisions. It would do us well to ask ourselves that question. To find the answer, we can return to the time when we were children. What were our dreams? What did we want to be when we grew up? What did we really, really, really … REALLY like?
An exercise like this can often lead us to the career we end up in or the lifepath we follow. But it can also lead us to gently take stock of our current trajectory in life. Of course, the current global event we are living through is something none of us have seen. That doesn’t mean we can’t move through it and beyond.
Does change require change? Almost always. Some very talented people have never become famous, influential, or wealth because they were afraid of what they’d have to give up for that new life. Will my old friends fit into my new life? Will I want them to? Will I find new friends, and can I trust them? No matter what we achieve there’s always a price to pay.
If the change is to our liking, we are happy to pay that price. Going to dinner at an expensive restaurant will cost us more – a LOT more – than fast food. But if that’s what we want we know the price we’ll pay. We only feel like a victim when we have to pay in some way for something we don’t want in the first place, like isolating due to a virus (loss of freedom), closing our business or losing our job (loss of livelihood or income), or any of the many changes you may have had to make recently.
Like the rest of our lives, we have a choice. We can choose to complain and moan about what we don’t have or can’t do; or, we can acknowledge our circumstance and work toward changing it. The former is the easier path and the one taken by the majority of the world which includes feeling like a victim. But when we live our lives from choice we are empowered, confident, and successful.
Find your normal, meaning take this very difficult time in human history and figure out what and who is important in your life. There may be some hard choices for us all in the coming months, harder than we’ve ever faced. But by determining who we are and supporting who we love, we will come out the other side, better people, a better society, and more determined than ever to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again in our lifetime. Travel safe. Be well.