In 2002 I left a nice, safe corporate career to find my art, to discover my true self, and to live life as a freak.
It was scary. I didn't know where the journey would lead. I had no clue if I could make a living by my own wits.
People said I was crazy. They argued I was throwing my career away. They told me there’s no money in writing books. They said you can’t make it on speaking circuit unless you’re famous. My parents told me they were very worried.
I didn’t follow any of their advice.
Instead, I focused on art and my own freaky views of the world and so far I’ve managed to thrive for more than a decade without a corporate paycheck.
Art, not business
So what do I mean by making art and being a freak? I’ll let three of my favorite writers and my favorite painter help me with that question. I admire these four people and their work has helped me over the years to be comfortable doing my own art.
Bob Lefsetz writes about the music business, but his work is applicable to anyone. In a terrific post last month titled Art, Not Business, Bob says the following: “A businessman plays by the rules, an artist breaks them. A businessman puts money first, an artist sees money as a byproduct. A businessman has a plan, an artist flies by the seat of his pants.” There’s a lot more. Read the post.
Seth Godin writes a lot about these themes, but the most comprehensive is in his book The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? It is an ambitious work that challenges you. It's for anyone who is living life as a cog in the machine and who dreams of breaking free, making art, and creating something meaningful. Seth says: "Being an artist isn’t a genetic disposition or a specific talent. It’s an attitude we can all adopt. It’s a hunger to seize new ground, make connections, and work without a map. If you do those things you’re an artist, no matter what it says on your business card."
Chris Brogan has a brand new book The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth: Entrepreneurship for Weirdos, Misfits, and World Dominators that releases later this month. I received a pre-publication copy and I’ve enjoyed the book immensely. I wish I had it when I started my business. The premise of Chris’ book is simple: “How can I do business my way and be successful, when the way I think and the goals I have aren’t in line with conventional thinking?” There’s a career path for freaks and Chris shows how.
Alan Bean, the 4th human to walk on the surface of the moon, left NASA in 1981 to devote the rest of his life to (literally) making art and he’s still painting today at age 82. Alan says: "I was fortunate to be the first artist with the opportunity to be in the center of the action to capture what I saw and felt, and bring it back to earth to share with generations to come. It is my dream that on the wings of my paintbrush many people will see what I saw and feel what I felt, walking on another world some 240,000 miles from my studio here on planet earth."
In the most recent Weekend Edition of The Wall Street Journal, my new book Marketing the Moon (which I co-wrote with Rich Jurek) is featured in the book section. And in a wonderfully freaky cosmic twist, the large photo selected by WSJ from the 300+ photos in our book is of Alan Bean on the lunar surface.
For me, creating art meant starting something new. The same was true for Alan Bean.
But you can create art within an existing structure too.
It's doctors like Kate Burke, M.D. who choose to communicate with patients through video even though the medical establishment looks down on such personal care.
It's the customer service rep who brings his colleagues together every Friday afternoon to figure out ways to do their jobs better.
It's anyone who picks herself to do something important rather than waiting for an authority figure to give authorization to proceed.
I’ve enjoyed being a freak and doing things my way. Marketing the Moon - published by MIT Press - is a good example. Some people think of me as an expert in social media marketing. While I would never describe myself that way, it is true that my recent books have talked about ways to reach buyers using real-time content and social media.
The safe move for me would be to write another book about modern marketing.
So it is a freaky move indeed for me to go in a completely different direction and write a fully-illustrated, large-format book on the Apollo space program. Marketing the Moon explores the greatest marketing case study in history. It looks back to an era before Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey were even born.
But it’s my art.
I flunked Introductory calculus in college and never took another math course in my life. Yet MIT Press, the book arm of arguably the most prestigious math and science university in the world, published my book. Very freaky.
I left the corporate world behind, yet the Wall Street Journal, the go to publication for corporate America, published a half page about my art. Even more freaky.
Without art, MIT would reject me. Without art, the Wall Street Journal wouldn’t care.
Take it from me (and Seth and Bob and Chris and Alan): If you make art and embrace your inner freak you can do most anything!