The following is an item in the December issue of my Brainstorm & Focus ebulletin, a free monthly that offers tips on creativity, writing, and productivity. I'm also posting it here because I'd be interested to hear your views and your experiences. My friend Scott Keyworth and I are considering creating a longer report on this idea and how people might benefit from it, so some early feedhack will be helpful.
So much of personal development is about imitating “the seven habits of highly successful people,” or “what you can learn from Steve Jobs.” The intention is positive but sometimes it seems they’re saying stop being yourself, start being more like somebody else!
Is it possible that a happier and more successful path lies with being more of what you are? Even if that means increasing what society might interpret as a flaw?
Case in point: Lady Gaga. She is a great example of how eccentricity taken to an extreme (when merged with a great understanding of how to manipulate the media) can lead to influence and income. If Lady Gaga had tried to curb her excessive tendencies, we never would have heard of her. In an interview in The Independent, she said, “"I had to suppress it for so many years in high school because I was made fun of but now I'm completely insulated in my box of insanity and I can do whatever I like."
Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali also come to mind. Even Georgia O’Keefe fits—although she was considered somewhat eccentric herself, it was the unusual size of her close-up flower paintings that captured attention.
Even Einstein's appeal to the general public was based in part on the fact that he didn't curb his wizardy hair, and how he subverted the traditional image of the serious scientist by sticking his tongue out at the photographer in one of the most famous pictures of him.
The other week while walking down Goodge Street I spotted the artist who paints miniature pictures on spots of chewing gum on the sidewalk (I’m not making that up). He’s not famous, but with the right press agent he probably could be, and his chewing gum paintings could become collectors' items. If you doubt it, look at what happened to Banksy.
I’m not suggesting that it was novelty alone that made Lady Gaga or Georgia O’Keefe or Salvador Dali so successful; each has or had talent as well. But that talent alone probably would not have elevated them to the heights of recognition and success they attained.
We could debate to what extent some of these individuals were actually being themselves or magnified versions of themselves (I'd vote for GaGa, Einstein, and O'Keefe in this category, as well as the chewing gum man) vs. putting on a persona they thought would appeal to the public (Warhol and Dali might be good candidates). What I'm talking about is the former.
The point isn't necessarily to become famous. A more down-to-earth example comes from the pitching workshops I sometimes offer for writers. I've had participants who were very shy. They assumed that they would have to learn how to become extroverts so they put on a show for the people to whom they were presenting . Instead, we focused on how they could present with quiet intensity. Producers see so many people who pitch in a manic Robin Williams style that the quiet pitch was a welcome change.
Think for a moment about what you consider your flaws, or how you have tried to curb or change things about yourself that are somehow different (and let’s face it, generally society thinks “different” and “flawed” are the same). Are there constructive ways you could emphasize them instead of trying to squash them? Are there ways diving deeper into them could turn them into a strength?
What do you think? What's been your experience? Please comment below or, if you feel it's too personal for here, email me at email@example.com. Any emails sent to me will be held in confidence.
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