When someone calls you weird, do you see it as a compliment?
If you’re CJ Casciotta, the answer is a resounding yes. CJ has built a career, a nonprofit, and a new book on encouraging people to embrace their “weird” and contribute their unique gifts to the world. He’s a brilliant writer whose voice sounds like my best friend and the career coach I always wanted, cheering for uniqueness, contribution, acceptance, and creativity in every facet of life. His new book Get Weird has shaken free my fears of sharing what makes me special and just might help you unlock the creative and successful future you’re dreaming of. But, only if you’re ready to get weird.
Your new book, Get Weird, was recently released, but this isn’t your first foray into encouraging the celebration of “weird.” What has driven you to make a career out of inspiring others to embrace their uniqueness?
Sadly, most of us grow up believing it’s more important to fit in than to stand out. But there’s something different about you… and it matters.
What if your weirdness was the key to changing everything? What if the outrageous, imaginative, crazy ideas that live inside your wildest dreams are actually there on purpose, divinely pre-installed to help others?
Knowing what makes you weird is the best thing you can offer your art, your business, your friends, your family, and yourself.
It’s the essence of creativity, the stuff of movements, and the hope for humanity.
The word “weird” rarely carries a positive connotation, especially in a society where fitting in is subliminally expected. How can individuals of all walks of life embrace their “weird” without losing touch with the society in which they exist?
We’re not weird to stockpile attention or store up conceit. Rather, when we recognize that every soul comes preinstalled with unique worth, every human designed with a divine imagination, we discover the playing field has been leveled. Yes, we’re weird, but we’re not weirder than anyone else. And if that’s the case, we must tell the others! They have to know that, like us, everyone has the opportunity to step into the unique shape of their soul, the curious cavern where their deepest purpose and passions lie. Like us, everyone gets an invitation to belong in a world that would rather them buy in. Like us, they get to leave Misfits Anonymous and join Misfits Unanimous!
I devoured the sample chapter available for download on your website. This quote shook me:
“The Sacred Weird isn’t there in our soul to be exploited. It’s not something that’s tethered to someone else’s opinion. It doesn’t have to conform to a pattern or bargain for its worth. It’s the undeniable, unshakable reality that is you.”
What advice would you give to creatives whose “weird” is a key part of their work, and often associated with monetary value and criticism?
Well, speaking from experience, lately, I feel like my neck is on the chopping block in more ways than one. I’m coming out with a book. I’m starting a nonprofit that teaches kids creativity and character development. I keep telling myself, “This is not supposed to be easy. If it was, you’d be bored and it probably wouldn’t make that much of a difference.”
I think the more we begin operating out of our true, weird selves, the more frightening it is – but at the same time, the closer we are to the difference we were designed to make.
When it comes to community, how do you surround yourself with people who accept your “weird” and thrive in their own?
For me it’s been surrounding myself with a few people who just couldn’t give a flying rip about what I’ve accomplished or what I haven’t. Sure, they’re proud of me when I do something I’m proud of, but they’re also proud of me when I’ve done something I’m convinced is garbage. And that’s because our value exchange is deeper than what I make in the moment. It’s the conversations, the silence, the presence, the laughter, and the memories that bind us to each other. Now that I’m in my 30s, I’m realizing how rare those kinds of relationships are, so I’m guarding the ones I’ve got for dear life, like I’m Liam Neeson in Taken or something.
What was the very first step you took as a writer in moving towards getting your book published?
The first step was the very non-sexy, non-fun process of outlining everything and seeing if this was actually a viable book. And that can only be done when you write a proposal, which is basically like a business plan for it. It forces you to look at it from every angle including how you’ll get it out there once it’s done.
Can you give us a taste of how we will actually uncover our unique personal gifts in reading your book?
The third section of the book gets really practical. It moves from, “WHY are you so weird?” to, “WHAT to make of your weirdness,” and finally to, “HOW your weirdness will change us.” That last section looks at movements throughout history that were started by weirdos, misfits, and make-believers, who in some ways (and paradoxically) are just like you and me. It follows the path every misfit with a message has taken to change culture. Here’s a snapshot:
1. FIND THE WEIRD: Every movement has something completely unique about it that makes it stand out in a sea of same. But it’s not until it can discover and define exactly what it is that things begin to snowball.
2. GATHER THE WEIRDOS: When a movement owns what makes it weird, a crazy thing happens — others start to join in. These like-minded people who act as partners, patrons, and participants are often fellow misfits just waiting for someone else to say, “I’m with you.” (e.g. the Apostles)
3. MAKE THE MANIFESTO: Next, it’s time to share “the weird” with the world. The greatest movements accomplish this through well-designed manifestos and stories (e.g. “I Have a Dream”). These movements learn how to take their weirdness and translate it in a way that makes sense to others.
4. HACK THE CULTURE: Finally, movements hit a stride when they’re able to make believers out of those who initially overlook them (e.g. podcasts). This tough act of changing minds & permeating culture is only accomplished after completing the first steps.
So my hope in the way I’ve framed the book is that you’ll not only be inspired and, encouraged, but tactically equipped to go live out your weirdness in a world that needs it.
What are the far-reaching, big-dreaming measures of impact you hope to make with Get Weird, and what takeaways do you hope your will readers implement into their lives?
The greatest thing by far has been seeing the responses come in from kids and their parents. I wrote this book for the kid in all of us, but I’m dedicating the rest of my life to helping kids understand this stuff before they become grownups.
I was in a bookstore with my 4-year-old daughter not too long ago in the children’s section. There was another little girl who couldn’t have been more than 3, coloring inside a coloring book at a table. At first she was coloring neatly inside the lines which I thought was very impressive for a 3-year-old. Then, she started getting a little wild, passionately scribbling outside them. At this point, her mother who was standing next to her uttered words I couldn’t believe. She said, “You’ve ruined it.”
She continued, “Why would you destroy it? What’s the matter with you?” I quickly removed myself and my daughter from the area for fear that I would step in and begin co-parenting with this stranger.
This situation reminded me that we are perpetuating generations of people who are never encouraged to express themselves in positive ways.
And as we’ve seen over and over again, when people don’t know how to express themselves positively, they turn to negative means – ones that harm themselves and others. Solving that problem gets me up in the morning. Encouraging people to connect with the part of them that freely colors outside the lines, sees the world from a different angle, and imagines a better solution is something I’m dedicating the rest of my life to.