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Finding normal

Finding normal is often harder than it sounds. For me 2022 is all about finding normal and I want to tell you what I mean. I guess in essence I think that 2022 is not a year for me to climb Everest, win an Oscar or write a New York Times bestseller. I doubt I will get a lead part in Hamilton and I possible won’t get a promotion or win any awards. But what I hope to do is find normal.

Normal

It isn’t the most exciting word to start the year but I guess what most of us crave is a normal life. Normal is possibly a distant memory; back in those days where we didn’t have to stick a cotton bud up our nose. You remember normal right! But normal is also what is expected, it is balance, standard and typical. Again, boring words, but stick with me on this journey.

Sometimes we can strive for too many things. A new job, role, relationship or situation. We can reach for the stars, aim for the moon and seek out the most extravagant. We can avoid enjoying the normality of life, the situations we can handle and the goals we can achieve. We always think that we need to do more, and yet being consistently normal is possibly the new equilibrium to find.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like to drink the nicest wine, eat great food and try and run as far as I can. I want to dream dreams and believe that I can take on the impossible. But often when I strive for something, I fall short, get annoyed and most of all get confused. My pursuit of normal in 2022 is a pursuit of a standard of life that is sustainable, fun and far from boring. Whilst the word normal falls short of awesome, it is a benchmark I hope to reach.

Normal for me is going to mean the things I can do everyday that will make me happier. My normal won’t be yours, but we can both consistently do whatever we can handle. Abnormal would be me trying to do things that are beyond my means, abilities and position – and oh how often do I seek those things! Normal can however mean dreaming dreams and doing something every day to pursue them. You can make it normal to run a bit further, be a bit nicer or read a little longer. When you establish normality you start on a journey, a daily one.

The opposite to Normal

Let me share what I think the opposite to normal has been for me, and I am not talking about the pandemic. The opposite to normal in my life has been where I am always striving, getting burnt out and never feeling like I am quite enough. As a teacher this is where you keep thinking about climbing the career ladder, never stopping to enjoy the view from where you are at.

At the start of this year I am not looking for much change. I have goals, ideas and plans, but nothing too abnormal. This isn’t because I am not ambitious, or because I lack drive. But it is because I don’t feel I need to keep seeking, knocking and searching. I feel like what I want is to be able to rest in what I do, enjoying it along the way. The opposite of this has exhausted me over the years and I am bored of believing the lie that what I am doing isn’t enough. I know what I want for the year and I think I can achieve it, but also grow in the process.

I have been at my current school for, well, years. I went there as a 14 year old and 24 years later I am still there, only as an adult who gets paid to be there. I worked there whilst at uni, trained there, and now I am enjoying a role that I have put a lot of time and energy in to. I love my job, my school and the humans I work with – young and old! I love the rhythm and pace and I think I am almost getting good at this teaching lark.

Normal isn’t progress

But some would say that this kind of normal life with no change is holding me back. Maybe some would look and wonder why I would carry on. Well this normality is what I enjoy and it is actually far from normal for me! Every year is different, with new challenges, goals and projects Every students, class and year group are also different and I am still learning so much. I have things I want to do, stuff I want to do better and I also think that I still have vision and passion for where I am at. The opposite to normal would be to think about something that there really isn’t space for in the year ahead. My kids are a certain age, my abilities are at a certain level, and seeking abnormal goals isn’t a good plan.

Forgive the stupid example, but if I spend the next year trying to go to the moon I probably won’t get there. So what’s the point.

But James, you’ve got to have a dream! Yeah yeah, I agree. But I don’t actually really want to go to the moon, it just seems like a cool “off the cuff” thing to say. I don’t like height or fast rides, so a rocket would freak me out.

How often do we take on crazy ideas that are frankly, far from normal!

But what if I spend the next year trying to be a better dad, husband, teacher and friend. What if I do more of the normal things like read a bit more, go on more walks and arrange fun days out. If I do all that, well, I think I will be all the better for it, and I can always look up at the moon at night!

Goals

Goals can be normal, as in the things that most people want. I doubt that there are many people that are setting goals beyond – read more, get fit, eat healthy and see more musicals (the last one maybe less so). Most of us will have the same mindset – normal goals that if achieved will actually mean something far from normal. And I guess that’s the thing. If we set ourselves normal goals and achieve them, then this year will be great. We could read 52 books, see 52 operas, run 1825K and learn how to rest. Normal for you might be working less, spending more time with family and seeking ways of sorting out your own mental health. If you do them, you will be better off this year!

So I am thinking that normal goals will make for a great year. And I want my goals to feed my value of normality. By value I mean, the stuff I wish I had more of, and I want more normal. I want be healthy, but in a normal way! I want to read more, rest more and work less (that’s the hardest one). My value of normality is hopefully going to be mean that I am consistent and that normal brings happiness. Who do I want to be – a normal guy living his life and enjoying the fruit of his normality.

Cultivating Normality

In order to cultivate normality you need to think about what you want normal life to look like. What would you like for the average day? Can you work out now what would make you happy?

Those are the values and “things” you should seek. If you are already running 15K a day, then that is “your” normal. And if it makes you happy, then keep going. If you already spend loads of time at home, then maybe your normal will be getting in to work a little earlier to become more productive. Normal might mean eating less meat, drinking less wine or reading an extra chapter. Normal can be done every day, and it will all add up to a better you!

But if you are running 0K a day, then normal isn’t going to be that you suddenly move to a half marathon every day at 6am. If you currently get out of bed at 8am then trying to make 5am normal might be a stretch. Cultivating normality should bring you happiness and joy. I would love it to be normal for me to be found at home by 4pm one day a week, out paddle boarding every Saturday and listening to more enriching podcasts on my walks to work. Can I achieve all that, I reckon I can (and no rocket required).

Cultivating normality for me is going to start with me looking forward to the life I have, the job I have and the stuff I have planned for 2022. I am going to seek out the things that bring me joy and not allow cynicism, stress and frustration to be part of normal life. I want life to be about seeking the good, ignoring the critics and improving the things I can realistically improve. If my normal is a day full of things that make me a better person, then I am happy!

Finding normal

So why not come on this normal journey with me – I think it could be fun. It certainly isn’t anything new, but the goal to be normal is possibly the best one you can set yourself. If we can get to the end of this year and look back on all the normal things that we made part of our life, then I reckon it will be a pretty good year. But if we look back on loads of crazy things that we didn’t really achieve or enjoy, then that won’t be quite so much fun. If 5K a day becomes normal this year, then in 2023 normal could be 6k a day!

I would love it for my wife to say “It’s normal for James to be happy”. I would love my kids to say “It’s normal for dad to be home and smiling at 4pm on a Monday”. And I would love my friends to say “It’s normal of James to be a good listening ear, he is always there for us”. And if Ofsted ever visit, I would love my students to say “It’s normally like this, he always uses great teaching strategies”.

If you know me you might think that I am far from normal – I am certainly a handful for those around me. I am often hot-headed, a dreamer and someone who doesn’t always think about those around me enough. I have abnormal approaches to workload, stress and tidying (clean freak alert). So maybe if you know me, you will enjoy finding out what more of a normal James looks like, and I welcome your comments along the way.

Finding normal isn’t boring, it won’t be easy, but it will be sustainable. And if I am wrong then hey, hopefully it can’t hurt to try and create a new normal for me!

Because don’t forget, normal life can mean you are achieving amazing things for you each and every day.

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3 comments

  1. Another good read, I am 100% behind that James. Good luck with your quest and remember to re-read this article at the end of every month – I’m going to just to keep ‘on track’.

  2. Good luck! I’m trying for something similar. My normal is to change my mindset about work – to return to the idea of ‘playing’ with my students and enjoying their progress rather than stressing myself out about workload and expectations. I hope your ambition goes well for you.

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