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The Futile Search for Normal

There have been many new terms and phrases that have evolved from the pandemic but the one that I’m questioning the most these days is “new normal”.

This term has been around since just a few weeks into the pandemic and lockdowns. Yet as rampant as this new expression is, and how anxiously people are seeking to define it, I personally don’t recall anyone ever craving the “old normal” while we were in the middle of it then.

Think about that for just a second. Since when did we all truly, or regularly, “revel and rejoice” in what used to be “normal” just over 12 months ago?

In fact, taking it a step further to pre-pandemic, many of the people I knew complained incessantly about the old normal; the everyday grind that consumed their daily lives. Either because they had a genuine disdain for their current lot in life, or that they were increasingly weary of their hectic schedule, or because they just really liked to sport the “busy badge” as if it brought them some life meaning or purpose.

I’ve heard all these grievances, and I still see it in abundance in my everyday life from those around me.

“Jesus buddy, I’d love to stop in for a beer but I’m just busy as shit.” (Best friend of 30 years)

“My god – never have kids – you’ll be running them all over the place 24-7” (Friend with 3 kids in every sport imaginable)

“We MUST see you, soon! We just have no weekends open for the next 7 weeks…how’s June for you?” (Almost everyone)

Personally, I think what everyone is forgetting is that we all chose our normal “back then”, much as we are choosing our normal now, and much as we will choose our normal tomorrow.

We are always choosing.

The only thing different now is that we are able to place blame on the current state of affairs for our perceived lack of choices and options.

Now let me be clear, I’m not suggesting that absolutely everyone has an infinite menu of choices and luxuries amidst a pandemic, or even in “normal” times for that matter, but we still all have choices. Whether we choose to cling at all costs to our old normal; reluctantly surrender to some new normal; or positively reinvent ourselves for some future normal; we are all able to choose.

The challenge of course is that most of us have spent decades conforming and succumbing to the whims of culture, societal pressures, and big business algorithms, all telling us what we should be doing. So now, choosing our own normal is really goddam difficult. Mainly because it won’t really feel normal at all amidst the intense “noise” around us. It will feel abnormal.

Despite the fact that many of our pre-pandemic “normal” days of existence were just plain frustrating, tiresome, energy-sucking, and soul-crushing; everything we’ve been taught by industry has assured us that this is the way life is supposed to be. That the pain and suffering, incessant scheduling, consumeristic behaviour, and daily sacrifices are all in the best interests of happiness for ourselves and those we love.

Until one day in 2020.

Until lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.

Until cancellation of sports, entertainment, and pretty much everything social.

Until work-from-home.

Until remote learning.

Until families stopped seeing each other.

Until lifelong career passions were abandoned to make ends meet.

Until all the shit we used to care about didn’t matter at all anymore.

Despite all this, I’d suggest to you that the “old normal” that we seem to look back on with such fondness wasn’t really the haven of happiness that our brains have convinced us it was. Which is precisely what big business is counting on; after all they spoon-fed us for years and years to ensure that we would remain at the trough. Gorging on the feasts of the north-American economic juggernaut.

And rest assured, the powers at the switch will feed us that same medicine again, the second they’re able. And most of us will be helpless but to lap it up, dogs at the bowl, gluttonous for every morsel. We won’t even have a chance to react.

I read an article about “The Ultimate Gaslighting” back in April 2020. The scary part is, that particular article was kind of based on a potential resumption of “normalcy” within weeks, or at worst case months, from the onset of the pandemic. Can you imagine what 12 to 18 months of simmering angst will do to the same concept?

It’s going to explode.

Parents will see sports open up and they will be convinced that to make up for little Sally’s year off that they will cram every available activity in the schedule.

Restaurants will open and we’ll decide those home-cooked meals and sourdough bread recipes are no longer good enough for a special occasion.

We will once again justify 50 weeks of work per year to spend $10,000 travelling for 2.

Our yearning for the old normal will blindside us into desperate attempts to re-create the past. And we will all justify it as though we are making up for what’s been lost; making amends for a year of unimaginable trauma.

I guarantee you – if during this eye-opening experience, you have been able to convince yourself that this past year’s events have been a genuine life reset, that your priorities have changed, that you will live forever differently – beware. You will be tested, and tested hard.

People are going to forget their newfound peace and acceptance. They are going to forget that little Johnny was just fine without rep hockey, and that he wasn’t bound for professional sports anyway. They are going to forget everything that they learned, in favour of the immense consumer, societal and peer pressures that are coming, in droves, that will utterly crush these newfound lessons for most of us.

So perhaps the lesson is simply this. Every day is a normal day. We have ups and we have downs. We have busyness and we have lulls.

But more importantly, we have the life we choose.

We had the life we chose then; we have the life we choose now; and we’ll have the life we choose tomorrow.

Let’s stop chasing the definition of “normal” that is pushed upon us by everyone and everything around us. Let’s spend the time deeply examining our values to define our “own” normal, then choose to live our life by that definition, each and every day. Not by a definition that is forced upon us by our peers, not by society, or not even by a pandemic.

Define your own normal, and don’t make it normal at all. If we do that, we will never again worry about what is normal; we can remove it from our vocabulary in favour of an intentional, atypical life.

And there will be immeasurable peace in that.

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Mar 28, 2021

THIS. THIS. THIS. We define our "normal" every day. Early on in the pandemic I remember celebrating all the found time, the lack of hustle and bustle. I've gotten the weird looks when I affirm "I was built for a pandemic!" and when I've pointed out all the blessings personally, professionally and within our family that have occurred over the last year. We aren't going back...we are only going forward and for many that is a scary thing. There is so much joy and so many opportunities in THIS moment and the moments to come, why would we want to go back? As the world reopens and life recalibrates to the changes, I hope that we all are more a…

Kevin Greenwood
Kevin Greenwood
Mar 28, 2021
Replying to

"Built for a Pandemic". LOVE THAT. What a different perspective and that's something I need to contemplate myself. Well said, wow.


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