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James Victore for Holstee.com

Risk-Taking

The Undeniable Benefits of Being Weird

The weird shall inherit the Earth.


All my life I’ve heard the same refrain, “Why can’t you be… Normal?” But, everything in life has its risks including (and especially) being ‘Normal.’ Most of us understand there’s risk when taking the chance and aspiring to something more. But even more are ignorant of the cost of Normal, the cost of not taking chances, and the risk of complacency.

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. 

After the praise, I become serious and further point out that their work is neither funny, smart, nor charming. 

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.

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.

Comments (28)
  • http://thingsthatarentbad.com/2015/06/04/let-your-flag-fly/ let your flag fly | things that aren't bad

    […] This piece extolls the virtues of being weird.  […]

  • http://ellisbenus.com Ellis Benus

    Awesome post. Absolutely awesome! My wife and I were just talking about this a few days ago. It’s so fulfilling to he your weird self. The fact is everyone is weird. Most are too afraid to let their weird hang out. Checkout the book Wild At Heart but John Eldridge. Great post. Thank you for sharing!

  • http://marketingfromtheinside.com/ Larry P Zolob

    I’m on board with this article. Made a similar point in my 2nd of 3 strategies to transform org culture (http://marketingfromtheinside.com/2015/04/14/three-culture-strategies-that-can-be-truly-transformative/ ). Here’s the challenge. If you’re weird but you end up being truly brilliant and successful at what you do, you might be accepted to some degree. If you don’t end up being larger than life, then, well, you’re just weird. And, even if you don’t assert your weirdness, people will discover it…and they love to label you or even judge you, if they feel they can get away with it. See the sweater story in my post and how society actively and subconsciously shoos people out of the margins and back into line.

  • http://www.c4cruz.com Miguel Rivera

    Great article. Thanks James!

    • http://www.ultimatexbmc.com/ Ultimatexbmc.com

      +1

  • e

    Yes nice one. But still one has to pay bills in the meantime. And imagine world where everybody is beeing only creative. That might be horror.

  • http://www.createintandem.com/must-reads-for-creatives-6-5-15/ Must-Reads for Creatives 6.5.15 - In Tandem

    […] The Undeniable Benefits of Being Weird >>> […]

  • https://planforth.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/the-friday-five-june-5-2015/ The Friday Five (June 5, 2015) – Planforth

    […] The Undeniable Benefits of Being Weird. James Victore encourages all professionals to show their weirdness in their work. I’m in! […]

  • http://positiveprescription.com/defy-expectations-be-the-left-shark/ Defy Expectations: Be the Left Shark

    […] is a cost to bending over backwards to fit in. As described in an article “The Undeniable Benefits of Being Weird,” if you always do what is expected of you, you may never find your own […]

  • http://99designs.com/designer-blog/2015/06/05/99us-tips-becoming-best-work-self/ 99U's tips for becoming your best work self - The Creative Edge

    […] The undeniable benefits of being weird […]

  • http://blog.theadamthomas.com Adam Thomas

    Its hard. Something I struggle with. I sit in a place where I think my weird is too weird.

    This is something I have to get better at. This article came at a good time for me. Thank you James.

  • http://www.cynthiaboris.com Cynthia Boris

    Hallalueh! I’ve been on and off this path for the last few years and you’ve helped me get solidly back on the road. I’m weird (just ask my family) and proud of it.

  • http://calvinhanson.tumblr.com/ Calvin Hanson

    Let the weirdness shine!

    The gospel song is talking about letting our light (faith in Jesus expressing itself through good works) shine before people.

    Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heaven.”

    On the same note, the Jesus movement is seen as weird to the world. Jesus was very weird in his day, yet amazingly brilliant and engaging. May we all achieve unity under our heavenly Father expressing our unique weirdness🙂

  • http://www.createlaboratory.com/design-news/all-my-life-ive-heard-the-same-refrain-why-cant-you-be-normal-but-everything-in-life-has-its-risks-including-and-especially-being-normal/ All my life I’ve heard the same refrain, “Why can’t you be… Normal?” But, everything in life has its risks including (and especially) being ‘Normal.’ Most of us understand there’s risk when taking the ch

    […] James Victore writes a stunning piece on 99U about the undeniable benefits of being weird. More than anything Victoire speaks about the courage it takes to take your own path and finding […]

  • Novel Sholars (Novel IDEA)

    Can you be my Daddy? This was REAL!!! Thank you.

  • http://1novelidea.com/ Novel Idea

    Loved this! Can you be my Daddy? Real talk, would love to be at the dinner table with you.

  • Shin Nano

    Amazing article. It is really insightful and interesting to read.

  • Marina Qutab

    Amazing article. Awe inspiring. Yet I am still curious – what’s a good response to “not-weird-people” that are offended or turned off by your weirdness and confidence? Any thoughts?

    • CraigB

      There’s no need to respond. Just accept it and move on. Its rarely personal and if it is, it’s usually about them seeing the shortcomings of conforming to the ;normal’ in their own lives

  • https://holdhandsforsafety.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/weirdness-doubt-and-maple-canyon/ Weirdness, Doubt, and Maple Canyon | holdhandsforsafety

    […] just read an article referenced by one of my favorite blogs, The Fox is Black, entitled The Undeniable Benefits of Being Weird. Granted, it probably falls into the self-help, useless advice category of being too general to be […]

  • http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/06/put-your-weird-in-your-work-to-make-your-creative-work-better/ 'Put Your Weird In Your Work' To Make Your Creative Work Better | Lifehacker Australia

    […] The Undeniable Benefits of Being Weird [99u] […]

  • J

    So if we all leave our day jobs to live as out truly weird selves how do you suggest we survive or transition? How did Jumbo do it? I read lots of excellent inspiring articles like this one, but they always fair to offer a solution for that huge piece of the puzzle.

    • J

      Sorry for the typos. Auto-correct!

    • Joanne Yankovich

      Consider figuring out just how much you need, as opposed to how much you are told you should want in your life. Pare down the nonessentials, downsize, let go of the places, people and things that weigh you down. Find other people who share your particular brand of weirdness, and observe how they do it.

  • http://xcuz.me/posts/2015/06/weekly-inspirations-june-twelfth-2015/ Weekly inspirations: June twelfth, 2015 | Posts

    […] It has turn out to be straightforward to purchase into the “be like us” mentality and lead a life handed down, blindly accepting the price of unfulfilled goals and a regularly shrinking consolation zone. We get up down the street annoyed that we’ve lived our life in accordance with another person’s order. It’s one thing I’ve actually struggled with over my profession and this text and video do a pleasant job of laying out why you need to embrace being bizarre. Read the article here. […]

  • http://emma-rowland.co.uk Emma R

    This is just what I needed to read right now! After years of trying to be normal, I am starting to let my weird back out and I now feel normal and much happier!

  • http://tiamart.com/posts/2015/06/weekly-inspirations-june-twelfth-2015/ Weekly inspirations: June twelfth, 2015 | Posts

    […] It has turn into straightforward to purchase into the “be like us” mentality and lead a life handed down, blindly accepting the price of unfulfilled goals and a regularly shrinking consolation zone. We get up down the street annoyed that we’ve lived our life based on another person’s order. It’s one thing I’ve actually struggled with over my profession and this text and video do a pleasant job of laying out why you need to embrace being bizarre. Read the article here. […]

  • http://iampariah.com/finds/today-in-design-top-articles-roundup-25-june-2015.php Today in Design – Top Articles RoundUp 25 June 2015 - Pariah Burke

    […] The Undeniable Benefits of Being Weird […]

  • http://www.potions21.com/weekend-inspiration-08-15-2015/ Weekend Inspiration 08.15.2015 | Potions21

    […] What would you consider normal and what would you consider weird. Embrace your weirdness. […]

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