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Written By Colin Graves

A few weeks ago, I came across a blog post titled The Half-Normal Challenge by Mr. Groovy, who blogs alongside Mrs. Groovy at Freedom Is Groovy. Don’t let the funky cat sporting John Lennon spectacles fool you, the guy is a serious writer.

In the article, Mr. Groovy identifies a lifestyle that’s considered ‘normal’ by North American standards. The typical fancy house, the fancy car. We live in a society that says it’s normal, even healthy for these material things to become our primary pursuits. He goes on to argue that by choosing a more modest lifestyle, not only are you NOT sacrificing your happiness, you are avoiding a lot of misery. He uses what he’s titled the “Half-Normal Challenge” to drive his message home. It’s great writing that provides a very effective illustration.

You see, great writing doesn’t simply make a point. It goes a step further and creates a jump-off point. It sends the reader on a journey, beginning a process of self-discovery, should they choose to engage.

Mr. Groovy’s post did just that. It got me thinking about what’s considered a ‘normal lifestyle’ in our culture, and about how society assumes we are all striving for the same material standard, whether some reach it or not. It’s why some of my peers can’t understand how, as a family of five, we can choose to live in a 60 year old, 1200 square foot home. You wouldn’t believe the looks I get when I mention that my wife and I share an iPhone. I consider these to be minuscule sacrifices. There are people who are far more minimalist than our family, to be sure. I can’t imagine the reactions they get.

With that in mind, and building off of the “Half-Normal Challenge”, here are several reasons you should NEVER strive to be normal:

Normal is often rooted in fear.

The reason that many people make buying stuff their primary pursuit in life is because they’re afraid of something.

You see, I believe that most people have at some point dreamed big dreams. People don’t set out to simply strive for superficial things. They want to have a purpose, a dream to chase after. The problem is that dreams come with uncertainty. There are no guarantees.

The path of a dreamer needs to be forged. Often, fear causes people to give up on their dreams before they even start. It could be a fear of failure or rejection, you name it. As a result, many simply divert to materialism, or what society seems to believe is normal.

Why is this? You see, the path of the normal life is broad and well worn. I’m not saying it doesn’t require hard work, material success often does. But the formula is easy to follow:

Get an education and a good job where you can climb the corporate ladder. Once you’ve spent a few years doing this, you can then leverage your income-earning ability and strong credit rating. This will allow you to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars to build your dream home, buy a fancy car, and over time a host of other nice things.

My feeling on all of this? Don’t give in to fear, you have too much to lose.

Normal leads to regret.

Regret is what you feel when you’ve abandoned your dream. You’ve stopped chasing and defaulted to the formula I’ve described above. The place in your heart where a fire once burned, where a dream once resided, becomes filled with material success. But it’s only a substitute, and it’ll never replace the real thing.

Many people realize it all along. For others, it may take years to understand.

For some, it’s possible they’ve pushed their dreams so far down, that the truth will never reach the dark places where they lay hidden.

Normal is incredibly expensive.

Currently, the average price of a home in America is close to $300,000. The AVERAGE price! In Canada, it’s closer to $400,000 USD. This means that millions of families are buying homes well in excess of these numbers. According to Mr. Groovy’s post, the average new car cost $33,560, and the typical couple spends $26,000 on their wedding!

That’s the price of normal in North America! Let me tell you, the cost is far greater than dollars and cents. By chasing after normal, people are losing their freedom, their marriages and relationships, and their futures. Pretty serious stuff.

Believe me, the numbers alone are a compelling reason to never strive to be normal.

Normal won’t change the world.

Keeping up with the Joneses won’t make the world a better place. In fact, it may make it a little bit worse, due to the environmental damage caused by our wasteful society. I read somewhere recently that Americans throw away almost as much food each year as is produced in all of sub-Saharan Africa! America is home to 3% of the world’s children, yet they consume 40% of toys manufactured globally.

Normal won’t change your life.

“Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.”     – James Allen

This quote says it all. You can work to have the nicest of everything, but if you’re not learning, not growing, you’ll remain stagnant. Remind yourself of the dreams that you once had. Will acquiring a bigger house or impressing your friends with a nicer car move you closer to your dreams, or keep you further from them?

Here’s the good news.

never strive to be normal

You may be pursuing a ‘normal’ life, but YOU are not. You are unique, so you should live that way. The environment you live in has got it’s priorities messed up. To say our society is broken and diseased isn’t a stretch. It’s as though our consumer society has captured millions of otherwise unique individuals, and attempted to cram them into the same, static mold, mindlessly shifting from one trend to the next, hoping that someday they will find that sense of purpose and fulfillment.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”     – Anais Nin

You have a choice. You can strive to be normal, or you can be so much more.


  1. Good post! I think normal is also rooted in our parents’ and society’s expectations of us. As children begin to get more financial literacy education, they can dare to dream differently, do better at resisting the marketing/consumption messages all around them and instead strive for a different kind of life.

  2. Hey, MMM, this is some serious writing! You make so many great points, I can’t figure out which one I like best. “Normal is often rooted in fear,” says it all–or so I thought. “Normal is incredibly expensive,” also says it all. But then there’s, “Normal won’t change your life.” Damn, this says it all too. Thanks for shouting me out, MMM. I’m very flattered. But thank you most of all for crystallizing the point I was trying to make with my post: BE NORMAL AT YOUR OWN PERIL. Awesome post, my friend.

  3. I like the points you are making and couldn’t agree more. What’s considered as a “normal lifestyle” is so deeply rooted (in our society, education system, ourselves) that it seems to be the only way of life. That’s really a tricky one leading to stress, unhappiness etc. But as you write, each of us has the choice to rise to the top of his or her capabilities, lead an independent and voluntary life and pursue his or her dreams.
    Great read, thanks.

    • Thanks for sharing! I like how you use the words ‘deeply rooted’. We’re so saturated with consumerism, it’s understandable that people don’t realize how it impacts their decision making, their lifestyle. Most of us have fallen into the trap at some point, I know I have! : )

  4. Another great one! There’s a quote from a TED talk that I love about our focus on the “Average” (a synonym fof normal in my book):

    if we study what is merely average, we will remain merely average

    I don’t want what’s normal – debt, stress, financial worry, and having limited options due to financial handcuffs!

  5. “Fear causes people to give up on their dreams before they even start… As a result, many simply divert to materialism, or what society seems to believe is normal.” It’s a gut punch, but it’s a solid truth that will only do a person good to think about. It’s never too late to dream and it’s never too late to free yourself from that particular brand of consumerism that enslaves.

    • So true, Linda. It makes me think that some of my ‘gut punch’ lines come across that way because there’s some personal experience behind it, they’re rooted in self-realization as much as it is observing the world around me. Interesting… 🙂

  6. Great stuff, Mystery! You definitely had me at the first point, “Normal is often rooted in fear”. Such a powerful point that I’ll be sure to keep top of mind whenever I’m tempted to keep up with neighbors and friends.

    The ironic thing is, the way spending really gets out of control is when people try to be normal and “keep up with the Joneses” but then go just a little bit further to make themselves feel like they’re exceptional, the Joneses do the same thing, rinse, repeat…

    Enjoyable read, as always!?

  7. Great post, MMM! I think it’s so much easier for people to take the road most traveled, where there aren’t so many unknowns along the path. It’s easier to to go with the crowd. But, I’ve found in my own life, when you choose to step out of the crowd and do something different, something uncomfortable, something challenging…it’s then that you truly live.

    • The road most travelled, that’s a great way to put it Amanda! I’ve learned in recent years to push my fears aside, in a number of areas of my life, but it’s an ongoing process. Sometimes I look back and feel some regret for not stepping out sooner, but you can’t do that. It’s never too late! : )
      Also, as a parent I think it’s so healthy for kids to see their parents chasing their dreams, it sets a great example.

  8. Maybe we can create a new normal? Many “normal” people are spendy, in my opinion, in an attempt to be exceptional. Instead of developing exceptional personal qualities, or building an exceptionally happy life – they use money, bling, cars and McMansions to prove their worth. They don’t know how to find or acknowledge their personal value. They think outside representations will prove to the world (and themselves) that they’re special.

    Great post. And thanks for the shout out to Mr G.

    • Thanks so much, Mrs. G! Wouldn’t it be great if a more reasonable lifestyle became the mainstream! How to find a voice of reason that can be heard above the noise of mass marketing, that’s the million dollar question!

  9. I grew up as a kid with very little. My parents owned their home, but there was very little spare. Little money to heat the house, maintain it, feed and clothe us all. My friends and I all remember ice on the inside of our bedroom windows, no central heating, coal fire in the lounge, hand-me-down clothes, no ‘white goods’. However, the one thing that we were all made to do, was study hard, and become self sufficient. Many people I know, like me, growing up in similar circumstances, over-compensated with their own families, because they could. Not fear, more relief! Also, we were all ‘hungry’ for better. It spurred us on. However, we may inadvertently have made the next generation less ‘hungry’…. But I have faith in the future with the current interest in frugality, extreme early retirement. The next generation is creating a new path, and I think it is great.

    • Erith, thanks so much for your comment, these are great thoughts! Creating a comfortable or luxurious life to ensure that one’s family is better off than the previous generation. I can imagine that would be a powerful motivator for many!

  10. I love the thought of Normal won’t change your life. If we want to live extraordinary lives we can’t do ordinary things to get there. We have to make sacrifices in order to get there. I definitely try to delay my gratification so that I can reach FIRE quicker. Hopefully it pays off 🙂

  11. Sometimes, I have to stop myself and ask WHY, I am doing something in particular. Is it because I “should” do it or it is what I am “supposed” to do? Or even worse, “what everyone else does…..”
    How about backing up a step, deciding what is important to me and then doing what I feel I should do. It is so easy to get caught up in “normal” and forget to think for ourselves!!
    “Normal” can be boring and yes, regretful and expensive at times. I most definitely prefer to create my own normal.
    But, sorry, I still refuse to share my iPhone!
    Great Read, thanks!

    • Thanks for sharing, Gloria, you make a great point. It’s so important to take that step back, and question why we are making the choices we are. I laughed about the iPhone. I have to say, it was tough to make a compromise on that, but I’ve gotten used to not always having it by my side 🙂

  12. I also find that normal is predictable and boring. I learned a longtime ago that I didn’t want to be like other people…broke, sick and tired. I realized I’m the only one who could do anything to change my circumstances…so I did. Great inspirational post.

    • I’m with you, TWL! When it comes to lifestyle/spending, I find myself wanting to go in the opposite direction of most people around me. I can’t say I’ve always been that way, but my outlook on material possessions, and what’s truly important in life has changed so much in the past few years. Thanks for reading!


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