Normal

What is normal? It is something that is usual, typical, standard, average, unexceptional, routine, predictable, to be expected.

Normal is the way things are done, part of the fabric of society, everyday habits, the unnoticed, taken for granted, culturally embedded.

It defines the benchmark against which everything else is measured. The middle of a normal distribution curve. Average, in the middle, the most common. The mean, median or modal value. The majority view, the most popular, a brand’s cash cow. The ‘cookie cutter’ option – all the same.

It’s an established reputation, reliable, consistent, well managed, authentic, honest, desirable. Dull, uninspiring, mundane, dependable, run of the mill, one of the pack.

Winning or losing – both can be normal. Our modus operandi. Reflexive. Natural. Inherent talent. The result of hard work, hours of practice. What we make of ourselves.

A facade. What others see. Without seeing. Ethical. Unethical. Just normal behaviour – nothing to see here.

The stereotype. Aren’t they all like that?

In PR. In Hollywood. In politics. In fashion. In the art world. In business. In the media. In the past. In reality. In our imagination. In our nightmares. It’s normal. Why are we surprised?

Male. White. Privileged. Powerful. Entitled to harass others. One of the boys.

Female. Black. Underprivileged. Powerless. Subject of harassment. Just a girl. Not one of us.

A role model. An influencer. A victim. A hero. Someone like me. Who I’d like to be. Who I once was.

#MeToo #Notinmyname #Blacklivesmatter

#MAGA #Brexiteer #Remoaner

Stand for the flag. Kneel for equality, freedom. Patriot. Citizen of the world.

Is normal what we accept? What we put up with? Who we are? What we will not allow to define us? Is normal not being abnormal?

We’ll ostracise, exorcise, eliminate, deny that bad practice or bad behaviour is the norm. Will good practice, good behaviour then be normal?

Just like that. Happy ever after. One for all. All for one.

Is our normal a comfort zone or a place of uncertainty? Who creates normality?

Are we all the same? Normal in our difference? Inclusive. Diverse.

Blending in. Standing out.

Is the Other not normal? Not like us? Even when otherness is the norm, the majority?

Why does it seem that the normal is not to be female, a stay at home parent, transgender, poor, living with disabilities, recovered from a mental health condition? Why are these normal experiences made to seem an exception? Even when they are common? Even when rejecting someone’s normality is unacceptable?

Blaming the individual. Blaming society. Blaming those with power, with agency, with control. All to blame. No-one’s fault. If only she, they, he, we…

Time for change. What’s normal for some is no longer normal in society. Never was. Never should be. Change the rules. Abide by rules. Just don’t be disrespectful. It’s not a joke or banter or locker room chat or girls’ talk.

Call your public relations people to craft a narrative of ‘I honestly don’t remember the encounter’,’I didn’t mean any harm’,  ‘it’s an addiction’, ‘sexual chatter’, ‘just old dinosaurs’. Resignation, rehab, mea culpa – sort of. A partial or pseudo apology has become the normal PR-crafted response. Should this really be the norm in PR? Time we refused to play the game? Stop protecting those who forfeit the right to excuses?  Change this time-worn narrative of crisis management?

What is shown as normal become engrained in how people view their own normality. My PhD research revealed an ongoing belief that normal careers involve hierarchical progression, reflecting the 20th century Mad Man norm of popular culture. The fact that this never normal for most of society doesn’t affect the normalised narrative of onwards and upwards.

Rise to the top, accrue power, reward, privilege, the right to do unto others as you wish – no longer do as you would be done by…

My thesis argues there is no normal career. The strategy employed by public relations practitioners is not the professionalised norm that is written or spoken about. Yet, we’re told to aspire to achieve great heights, to look up, to admire – to do what it takes. Claw your way up to a position above, from where it’s normal to look down on others.

I heard career stories where ‘old boys clubs’ and ‘hedonistic macho agencies’ were the norm in public relations. Where some are invited to climb and others are not.

A normative hierarchical narrative is engrained even when individuals’ own experience is different. They feel abnormal, blame themselves, if they don’t achieve the idealised “normal career” that is defined by the experience of the minority not the majority.

Careers for the few are not the norm. Careers for the many are not a tidy linear progress courtesy of one employer. Job for life, gold plated pension, better salary, bigger bonus.

The normal PR career strategy is to craft our way with backstitches, knots, fragmented stories, messy lives.

Yes, for some their career norm in PR may be easy, a good life. For others it’s a gig economy, low waged, no contract, redundancy, obsolete, automated out of a job, outsourced, replaced by the internet of things. Perhaps that will become the norm.

Maybe nothing is normal.


Image: Emoji cookie cutter from Pampered Chef

PhD

having-the-phd

Life is what happens when you’re completing a PhD (to appropriate a more famous expression).

My proposal to undertake a PhD investigating Career Strategies in Public Relations at Bournemouth University was accepted in October 2009 – this week I was delighted to be told during my Viva (oral examination) that I would be awarded my doctorate (subject to minor amends).

A lot of life has happened in the past seven years and eight months. There have been the matches, hatches and dispatches by which the news of life can be reported. People have entered, stuck around or departed through the routine of my working life.

Friends and memories have been made. Dogs have found their forever homes, grown up, grown old and some have passed on. A French house was sold and a British bungalow was bought – with a mother relocated.

Many long journeys were driven in a car full of books as my studies were forever portable. Piles of books and papers, USB sticks full of downloads and drafts, note books of reflections, printouts and interview recordings – spread throughout the house spinning out of control like spiders’ webs.

The valley of despair that I warn students about, has been my intellectual home for several periods, until I’ve climbed back up the slope of hope, often with the support of others. The life of a PhD is a solo venture but it isn’t undertaken alone.

Friends, family, colleagues, wonderful supervisors and research participants each play a part. Then there’s the work of so many writers who have shared their research, thoughts and theories in the multi-layered texts that enable any of us to build our work on solid foundations.

This knowledge base has not been a static, dusty archive waiting to be unpicked by me. It is a living construction that has developed alongside my own work. The fields of public relations and career studies are dynamic where the past, the present and the future are continuously knotted and entwined.

Academic research involves looking back, looking around, looking forward and looking inside yourself. What we think we know has to be deconstructed and reconstructed. New work sometimes offers new vistas to be explored, sometimes it reveals dead end thinking to be challenged. From a panoramic viewpoint, your own work needs the space to breathe and move forwards, as you look to open up something new, make an original contribution, to offer up yourself and your words.

A PhD also means learning about you – your strengths and your weaknesses. For me, the experience has provided realisation of personal resilience alongside recognition of reasons why for many, many moments I could have given up. Although perhaps it is the comfort of knowing I could stop, that kept me going.

More hours than I could calculate have been spent reading and writing, working through my thinking and working out what I want to say. Why am I doing this? Hoping that I have constructed something worth saying, worth reading, worth others thinking about. Something that will make a contribution. Be good enough, better than I fear. Be bold enough to challenge the theories and practices that I critique. Be interesting, innovative, inspirational, informed, intriguing.

And it is. I think, I hope, I believe, I know.

There is much more to say on the process of completing a PhD, the content of my PhD, and the many individuals without whom I could not have given life to the thesis.

But that’s for another day*. For now is a time to reflect on life passed and life to come. To mark this kairotic moment.

PhD – doctor of philosophy: a prestigious qualification that demonstrates talent, academic excellence and a thirst for knowledge.

A friend told me that the first woman to obtain a PhD degree was Elena Cornaro Piscopia; conferred on her at the University of Padua on June 25, 1678. Confirmation of my doctorate came 340 years and two days later.

Like any qualification worth having, a PhD is earned through hard work and intellectual endeavour. The Viva stipulation of a few amends to complete is a chance to relive the life that went into every word. It offers an opportunity for kaizen (continuous improvement) before freedom from the PhD life, to a new place where ideas can grow freely. Where my work can stretch its wings, like a wild bird of prey – a kite – flying the nest.

Apparently the first doctorate degree was awarded in medieval Paris in the mid-12th century, and became an official licence to teach. A time of of falconry and swordsmanship.

I love the idea that in Finland, a doctoral sword is part of the PhD conferment ceremony. I think this is a fabulous way to recognise this ancient, yet still relevant achievement.

Now that I have more spare time, I’m attracted by the seven day sword making course offered by Owen Bush at his School of Blacksmithing and Bladesmithing in Kent. Or maybe I treat myself to a fabulous master-crafted example. I don’t suppose I’ll be able to wear it to my graduation ceremony though.


* I am participating in a panel discussion on Employability and Sustainable Careers at the inaugural #MindthePRGap event at Birmingham City University on 12 July – see: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mind-the-pr-gap-2017-bringing-together-research-and-practice-tickets-31931103791 to book.

The image for this post is a playing card from a hypnotherapy session that helped me to get out of a valley of despair period. It indicates my key goal and has been pinned to a board that I have looked at every day for several years. At graduation, I will put a bright green tick on it. To mark the sense of achievement.