What is this … “normal”?

I just heard on a podcast (This Developer’s Life 1.1.4 to be exact) and I heard the tired phrase again: “normal college experience” (not a direct quote and probably way off). I won’t comment on the context of the quote, but I will comment on just the phrase “normal college experience” and the word “normal” as it is used consistently.

A “normal” college experience usually includes, at least in the minds of the media, partying, skipping classes, hanging out with friends, hijinks and all other sorts of things usually attached to a group of young people in their early twenties (or late teens). Needless to say, responsibility and thinking of the future usually is not part of that equation.

Once again, in the minds of the media and what connotation the word “normal” carries with it.

The sad thing is that using the word “normal” for behavior like that encourages that behavior to become, well, normal. When you perpetuate the idea that doing things like that is somehow justified by the idea of “normal,” then I think you forfeit the idea of acting surprised when you hear of what people are doing under such a banner.

It’s also a lame excuse for not getting your work done or learning anything useful.

However, to an extent, the word “normal” bugs me as well because there are people who tend to look down on you if you are not following the “normal” path (or what they expect, which is what they would consider “normal”). Want to finish your education degree but not get your teaching license? That’s not normal, so expect to get some flack for it. Want to get married in college? That’s not normal, so expect comments during class pointing that out. Having a kid before you are out of college? That’s not normal, so expect more comments and a constant “that was your choice” to be reigned down from on high for the choice you made.

Who cares what “normal” is. If I would have followed that path, I would be very miserable right now and doing no one any good. “Normal” tries to hole us up into easily defined categories so that people can more easily understand us, or more easily pare down the choices we need to make because we should stick to only the “normal” ones.

Get over it. People are complex and all people are individuals and should be treated as such. The choices that a single person makes isn’t going to please everyone, but maybe it is the decision that needed to be made anyway.

It wasn’t normal to move to Milwaukee, start a new job and then move back to another new job in my home town only four months later. That’s not normal, but it was what was needed.

Give it up, there is no “normal,” only people.