It has become easy to buy into the “be like us” mentality and lead a life handed down, blindly accepting the cost of unfulfilled dreams and a continually shrinking comfort zone. We wake up down the road frustrated that we’ve lived our life according to someone else’s order, living one of Thoreau’s “Lives of quiet desperation.” It’s a life half lived with all the basics—the car, the house—but without the weird potential. The road to normal is well-paved and even has rush hours. But weird? Weird is a solitary path.
There’s a refrain from a popular American gospel song that says, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…” It’s a beautiful sentiment, but the problem is that most of us we don’t let our light shine—and for two reasons: it’s too EASY and it’s too HARD. It’s too easy because it’s “little,” it’s familiar to us. We poo-poo our own talents and don’t see the value of what’s in front of our face. Or weirdness is old news, and not interesting to us. It’s too hard because once we recognize our gift, we now have put it out into the world. We have to trust our weirdness and present it—for the public, for the critics—and we live in fear that someone may not like it.
As a teacher, I often see first-hand the fear my students have of their weirdness. Inevitably I have to take one or two of ‘em aside and point out to them that they are funny, smart, and charming. After the praise, I become serious and further point out that their work is neither funny, smart, nor charming. It is the perfect “A-ha!” moment.
Fearing to expose themselves, they’ve excluded WHO they are from their work in order to make it fit in and look normal (read: perfectly professional and seriously bland). My very loud lesson is, “Put your weird in your work!” Sometimes, all we need is someone to give us the courage and permission to be weird professionally. After all, if your work appeals to everyone, it moves no one.
You need only look at any “successful” person or celebrity and chances are they’re boldly following the calling heard as a kid. Pop-culture icon (and astrophysicist) Neil deGrasse Tyson, remembers as a child he looked up into the night and thought, “The Universe called me.” Will Ferrell, Tina Fey—any comedian worth their salt are acting out the same antics they crafted as kids. Tim Burton, Tony Hawk, Laird Hamilton… all are essentially getting paid to play out the qualities (nerdy, goofy, curious, athletic, artistic) they already possessed as children.
But we all know these stories, we’ve seen the documentary and probably read the book. I’m more inspired by the heroic stories of those who possess the real courage to be weird when it’s not easy, the proverbial “Mad Ones.” Those at the day-to-day job of taking risks, before their weirdness is validated with money, notoriety, or any level of success. To be weird when it’s hard work. That means you.
Owning up to your weirdness isn’t about making it big and deciding who will play you in your life story. It’s about the courage to be who you were born to be. You don’t quit the band or stop writing poetry just because you have kids. Your weirdness is the source of your character and creative powers. Weird is who we are, the best parts, not perfect, not trying—just yourself.
James Victore’s 99U talk in 2012: Your Work is A Gift.
My pal Jimbo is an artist, director and children’s book author. The first five years of his professional life he was as a plumber, making good money but completely unsatisfied. Unwilling to sacrifice his weirdness to pay rent, and much to his mother’s regret, he left his well paid job to be an artist. “I couldn’t NOT do it. I’d be doing it whether I was paid or not. Sure, there are sacrifices, but I would rather be happy doing what I love for 70 hours a week, than work 40 hours at a job I hated. I’m not exactly where I want to be, but at least I’m trying.”
I believe we were all born wildly creative—some of us just forgot. You need only to accept nature’s call of greatness in order to invent, to create, to dance—to put something new into the world. And when you accept it and start to believe in your gifts—that’s when things get really weird.
That’s when others are inspired by your cause. That’s when you find those people, that audience, who accept you not because you’re weird or different, but for whom you really are. You create the potential for shared humanity, and allow others to see their struggle reflected in yours. Ultimately you hear that glorious refrain; “Oh, you’re weird? I thought I was the only one!” This is how businesses are formed. This is how relationships are formed. This is how you find your people.
The things that made you weird as a kid, make you great today. Accepting that weirdness is a hard personal choice, but quite frankly, exciting and enriching. We don’t do it for the reward or the success but for our own freedom and to light the way for others.
Accept it, you’re weird.