CJ Casciotta is an author, speaker and media producer from Nashville, Tennessee. His latest book, Get Weird: Discover the Surprising Secret to Making a Difference, is about digging deep to find what makes you, well, weird. Knowing what makes you different is the best thing you can offer your business, your art, your loved ones and yourself.
We sat down with Casciotta to discuss his book along with the idea that your weirdness just might be the key to changing everything.
RELEVANT: The title of your book is Get Weird. Let’s start with the idea of “getting weird.” Tell me about the concept of the book and why you were inspired to write it.
CJ Casciotta: I was sitting in a pub in New York City, and things just weren’t going well. I was pitching something in New York that I knew wouldn’t work out, and I was at a crossroads where I was trying to explain what movements do, and I was trying to understand personally what I do. What do I contribute to the world? It was an existential crisis, in a way.
So I’m sitting there, and I write the word “weird” in my journal. I don’t even know why, but as I wrote it I realized the word coming into focus, and I recognized it as the essence of what I offer people and really, what movements do. A movement is anything that has created any sort of social good in the world, and really figuring out what makes each movement different to actually make a difference made me really excited. All of a sudden I was like, I think this is what I’m meant to do: Help companies be “weird,” and figure out what makes them unique.
But that sent me on a journey to writing this book and realizing that everybody is kind of preinstalled with weirdness. Everyone comes to Earth with a unique set of DNA and a unique imagination. I think one of the journeys we’re tasked with as human beings is to uncover that weirdness and unique imagination, rather than stuffing it down.
Society encourages conformity. People want to fit in. They don’t want to be called “weird.” So with the negative connotation of that word, how can people get out of that mindset and build courage to step out and be unique?
If you look at movements throughout history, anything that’s created social good has all started with a really bizarre idea, and their task throughout their journey is figuring out how to make that idea palpable to what I call the “normal sphere.” So you take any movement through that lens—Christianity, democracy, the Civil Rights Movement—they all start with these bizarre counter-cultural ideas, then start to leak those ideas into the mainstream culture.
From a spiritual perspective, if you believe in the reality of the kingdom, and the reality of Christ being this deity savior figure, you know that whole message is based on the reality that we have this inherent unique worth. We are all created with a divine spark and a unique ability to make a difference in the lives of people we touch and interact with.
As I’ve sat in this topic of weirdness and really meditated on it, what I’m realizing is a deeper call to a life that is different. The Hebrews actually have a word for weirdness called “Kodesh,” and what we would translate that to today is “holiness” or “set apart.”
The antonym for that Hebrew word is “plain, common, simple.” So I’m realizing, not just from a cultural level, but from a spiritual level, there is a lot of evidence for us to embrace our weirdness.
You make a case that insecurity can actually be a good thing. Put that into context.
We live in this point in culture where we are kind of obsessed with security. If we’re going camping, we think, Gotta bring that extra sweatshirt. And we have a back-up tent in case one breaks. We have security systems in our house, and a back-up system for when that one fails. When I look at these movement makers and people who have bravely stepped into their weirdness, they’ve made peace with insecurity and the fact that maybe this won’t work out.
Sister Simone Campbell who runs Nuns on the Bus talks about adopting a theology of insecurity, and I think that’s something that we could use a little bit more of, especially if we’re talking about bringing our weird, potentially world-changing ideas to life.
Could you share some examples of people in culture who have become successful by leaning into their uniqueness?
One of my heroes is Jim Henson, who started Sesame Street and the Muppets. I love following his career and looking at what he was able to accomplish, but what’s really funny about him is he was just weird. Every idea he had, he had to really fight the networks and fight the mainstream entertainment culture. He couldn’t make the Muppets in the United States because no network would pick up this show. He had to go to London and work with a London production company to make this show, and it became the most watched show of its time around the world.
Jim had this uncanny ability to keep going with his own weird ideas, but he also had this supernatural sort of ability, which I think a lot of us have if we lean into it, of seeing potential where other people saw failure. He saw opportunity and worth where others just saw a misfit, and that is one example that keeps me going when I think about it.
What surprised you the most during the writing of this book?
I started pitching a different book about weirdness, and I wrote the whole treatment for it and everything. Well, a third of the way into writing the book, I realized I had never looked up the definition of the word “weird.” Someone prompted me to do it, so I look in the dictionary and, I kid you not, the definition is “suggesting the supernatural.” That just blew my mind.
The very definition of weird that we throw around all day long without holiness attached to it, we say it almost as a derogatory thing. But the word “weird” is soaked in sacredness, and it suggests the supernatural. That was, I think, the most surprising nugget I was able to pull from writing 50,000 words on weirdness.