09. Le Freak, C’est Chic!–Celebrate your Freak Factor
This module urges you to identify the intrinsic personality trait that makes you different from others in your peer group—maybe it’s the same thing you were teased about in junior high school. Perhaps you’re a jock in a family of brainiacs, or the only math geek on the football team. As you mature, you may want to celebrate the same qualities you once covered up in order to stand out from the crowd and to attract others to you who appreciate your interests or quirks—there may be an employer out there who shares your passion for vintage Harley Davidsons, and if you find each other, you know you’re going to love working together.
Your freak factor is a unique quality that makes you different and unusual. And if you’re like most people, it may be a trait that you’ve worked hard to hide in hopes that no one will find out about it.
It’s tough to get over that feeling of being in junior high school, where you would rather die than stand out as different. Many people never get over the shame of feeling different. But personal branding is about owning your freak factor, loving your uniqueness, and knowing that who you are is the most powerful differentiator of all as you build your brand.
Lady Gaga often speaks about her freak factor; she felt alienated and odd in high school but she formed the same qualities that made her an outcast in school into an on-stage persona that made her famous as a celebrity. She has now added this to her mission as an artist; she wants her fans to be liberated from their fears and hopes to help them create their own space in the world. So strong are her beliefs that she has created a non-profit called Born This Way to give people permission to be themselves.
Finding the right group to share your uniqueness with is important. To the wrong group, you may still seem strange. But the right group will accept you for the brilliance of the gift that you bring (fulfilling the need for belonging/love that we discussed in the module called Getting What You Need). Everyone fits somewhere, but to find a group that celebrates your authentic self, you need to be willing to risk exposing your unique self in order to embrace who you really are. Revealing your unique self takes a lot of courage, especially if you feel your authentic qualities may alienate people you care about.
Here’s a story that inspires us to let out our inner freaks: once there was a young man working toward a Masters in Tax. On the outside, he fit the image of the accountant. His look had served him well. But when asked what he loved to do, he explained that he was in a drumming group and that he spent the weekends playing different kinds of drums. Once he began talking about his secret pleasure, he became more interesting and ended up being hired not only for his knowledge in tax but for his appealing personality; wouldn’t you rather work with an accountant you can talk music with, rather than one who is just interested in your W-2s?
It’s not simply his ability to drum that makes this accountant a music freak; that’s more of a learned behavior, an achievement, which we’ll talk more about in the next module, Same-Same, But Different. But it’s his passion for drumming, for letting go and splashing out although he works in a methodical, buttoned-up profession, which makes this accountant the best kind of freak. Your freak factor is about who you are, not just what you do (although the two can, and often are, intimately linked).
In the book The Freak Factor (CreateSpace), David J. Rendall describes how people have taken their weaknesses and created a unique life for themselves by embracing their differences. He talks about the reasons you should be proud to be different. To paraphrase, he says a key reason to flaunt your differences is that when you’re different, you stand out. You are unique, original, remarkable, and influential to others. Being “normal” can mean that you may be ordinary, forgettable, predictable, and invisible.
Consider this module an invitation to welcome your differences and be proud of them, and also to identify them so that you can find others who share the same interests, passions, or quirks. In the box below, list the things that you think make you different. Maybe they’re the same things you were teased for in grade school or middle school?
Now look at the list above. Are there qualities with which you really identify? Would you like to meet others who share those qualities? If so, start brainstorming about where. Your college is probably a larger academic environment than you’ve been in so far. Which clubs, classes, or activities are likely to contain your fellow brand of freaks? Once you’ve really embraced your freak factor, don’t be afraid to let it shine—you never know when your interviewer is going to be a fellow Dungeons and Dragons aficionado or just as passionate about Gregorian chants as you are.