Finding Normal in the Abnormal


Clemson Flood 2013
Standing out in the rain, I could not believe what I was seeing. Newly formed rushing rivers were running through my backyard and around my house. This had never happened before. 11 inches of rain powered these rivers inches way from knocking on my backdoor. While I escaped any real damage, some of my neighbors weren’t so lucky. Many had flooded basements and damaged foundations.

This was an abnormal summer in the Upstate of South Carolina. Last week I was looking at these accumulated precipitation graphs which verified for me how “above normal” we were. In the graph below, the brown line represents normal, the blue line represents our accumulated precipitation which was the highest on record and the red line is the lowest on record.

Accumulated Precipitation in Greenville, SC (Source: Blue Water Outlook)
Accumulated Precipitation in Greenville, SC (Source: Blue Water Outlook)

I was planning on writing about the blue line on the graph, but what about the normal line? I didn’t realize we were “normal” all the way through April of this year.  Who really thinks about normal things?

Whether we realize it on not, normal is our constant guide to all our experiences in life.  We always compare ourselves, our weather, our kids to normal. We think about normal, but we don’t talk about normal. You are either have a good day or bad day, whoever says they are having a normal day. Normal is a buddy that you take for granted until they move away. You realize afterwards that normal was alright.

Normal is not out traveling the world. Normal is your next door neighbor. Normal pretends to be all-knowing and worldly, but really is just the average of its surroundings. I took the family to an indoor water park a couple of months ago. I felt above average in that crowd compared to my annual triathlon rock hard crowd.

Normal is like a pond. In Malcolm Gladwell’s fantastic new book “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” he says we do not form our self-assessments based on our standing in the world. We form our self assessments based on our standing in our immediate circle.  If our circles change, our perceptions change. Move to a big pond and your normal changes.  Using this general theory he gives several examples why attending an elite college or working for a famous company could ruin your dreams. He believes people are generally better off choosing to be part of a lesser known organization where they have a greater chance of standing out.  In other words, you need to be the big fish in the little pond.

Normal is dull. The only way to give attention to normal is by declaring it as new and fresh. Apparently the term “New Normal” was first used in the context of one of the financial crisis in 2008 by an economist. Since this time, like a mutant flu virus jumping hosts, it has infected everyone from engineers, planners, politicians, and academia. Everything that wants to be read is labeled with the term “New Normal.”

Growth of the "New Normal"
Growth of the “New Normal” (Google Search Results)

Hopefully, it doesn’t take a flood, drought, or the threat of a new normal to find your normal. Enjoy and appreciate whatever is normal in your life the rest of this week.