In June of 2019 I went to New Zealand. It was winter, but not horrendously cold. Just windy and a little bit biting. I got to speak to 150 creative individuals at NZIPP, a beautiful photography conference in Wellington.
When I started speaking in 2011 at After Dark Education, I was one of the weird one at a weird conference. There were a lot of weird people who were doing things a little off-kilter. I thrived in it. I remember meeting with one of my mentors, Jed, who said, “are you ready to be thrown into the world of public speaking?”
And so I was, and did. I started speaking all over the world to groups big and small. Sometimes only 5 people would come, and sometimes 5,000. And in all of those workshops and lectures, I realized that I was still the weird one. Except, it only got exponentially more obvious.
Fast forward to 2019 where I spoke at NZIPP. I was welcomed by the most loving showrunners who helped me get set up for my talk. As I walked over to the event center from my hotel, I noticed we were right on the wharf and the water looked so beautiful. There was even a dock area…so accessible.
So, before my talk, I asked one of the showrunners (Peter, you were a gem and I’m sorry for nearly giving you a heart attack) if I could jump in the water. In winter. In New Zealand. Never having met any of these people before. In front of 150 attendees.
It was a little risky on my part because I hadn’t felt the crowd out yet. I didn’t know if it would be too weird. But I asked, and after much resistance (they were so worried about my health and safety!), they relented. I have that effect on people.
I got up to give my talk. We talked of inspiration and Photoshop and all manner of normal things. Except, nothing that I do is normal. My pictures aren’t normal. My way of speaking isn’t normal.
And then, with 20 minutes to go in my talk, I asked if everyone wouldn’t mind coming out to the docks with me while I jumped in the water. A moment of hesitation, and then a resounding YES. And off we went.
I proceeded to put a costume on, set up my camera on a tripod, and shuffle to the end of the dock. I looked up. 150 people were gathered all around, phones in the air and ready to watch the spectacle. Oh gosh.
I started to explain my thought process, since it would be crazy to just jump in with no explanation. I talked about how I create self-portraits, what conceptually drew me to the water, what I was hoping to achieve visually…
And then I jumped in. The water was absolutely, butt-kicking freezing cold. I laid back, took a deep breath, slowed my breathing, and moved around the water. I closed my eyes. I didn’t care who was watching or what was happening around me. For one minute I floated, so in my flow that the world could have ended and I would have still been peacefully floating in that bay.
And then I lifted my head, asked if everyone got their shots, and climbed out of the water. Everyone erupted into applause. That’s the icing on the cake, because you see, I do things like this all the time, except I’m usually alone. This is my life on a weekly basis. I make a point of it.
So to have people there witnessing it, it felt nice.
Why bother to tell you this story? Because I have built a career out of being weird.
The places I speak at align with my brand because they trust me to be the voice of the weirdos. Why do they trust me to be that? Because I’ve branded myself into it. If someone hires me to speak to their group, they know they aren’t getting a normal motivational speaker; they are getting a firecracker that is both unpredictable and bright.
It’s not just speaking, and in fact, that is the least of the ways in which branding weirdness is gold.
We are starved for individuality. In a world where copying trends is not only fashionable and trendy, but also incredibly easy to do (consciously or not), it is like breathing fresh air when someone comes along who is marching to the beat of their own drum.
I’ve branded myself as myself.
A lot of people brand themselves into perceptions of success. This is why so many people fail to stick with their businesses or even their art, because we can only keep up an act for so long. If you let yourself be exactly who you are, no apologies or explanations necessary, you will find a niche for yourself that only you can occupy.
When I get hired for a job, be it a photoshoot for a band or a speaking event, I get hired to be 100% authentically me. That follows through to the visuals I bring to the table, the concepts only my brain can come up with, and the way I conduct myself.
When I have portrait clients come to me to make art, I do the same things with them that I do with myself. We end up lying in a pile of thorns, jumping into freezing cold water, or balancing precariously in trees. That’s just how it is.
From Day one I decided not to do a job if I couldn’t be myself. Even when talking to brands for sponsorship, the first thing I do is to lay down my ground rules. Rule #1: I do me. I don’t do you. But if you naturally fits with me, let’s do it.
For real, I actually have those conversations.
If you’re curious if being weird makes money, the answer is that it can. Just like anything else. Everything has that potential. But in an age where individuality is too often strained, the weirdos stand out like a beacon of light in the darkness; a guiding light for other weirdos to follow.
And really, even the most normal of us are a little weird.
Do you identify with being the odd one out?
Do you feel like you own it or shy away from it?