Get Weird

Discover the Surprising Secret to Making a Difference


By CJ Casciotta

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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 preinstalled 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. It’s time to quit painting by numbers, conforming to patterns, and checking off boxes. It’s time to Get Weird.



I was sitting alone at a pub in New York City doodling some thoughts in a cup ring–stained notebook. The sidewalks outside were covered with the thinnest layer of snow, as if indecisive raindrops had changed their minds just before hitting the ground. I had come to New York to pitch a proposal that wouldn't pan out. Just a few months earlier, I'd been here to produce an event that would end up a complete disaster—one that would leave me riding back to my hotel on the subway repeating the line, "If I can make it here I'll make it anywhere" over and over in my head like some ironic, taunting joke.

Sitting there with my notebook under a blanket of white noise, a combination of clinking glasses and muffled conversations all orbiting my restless and weary brain, I wrote down a word that had never really presented itself to me with the significance it did in that moment.


I was trying to make sense of my life and why every turn of events had seemed like entering a short hallway that led to a solid brick wall. I was a creative jack-of-all-trades, making a living on the rocky outskirts of a cubicle, helping companies with their communications and producing media for their campaigns, all the while trying to conjure up a few creative ventures of my own.

I knew what I was good at. I approached everything as a writer, a poet who believed there was such a thing as a soul, something divinely preinstalled, the source of people's greatest needs and longings.

A hippie prophet once told me my purpose in life was "to connect people to the person they are becoming." That was enough explanation for me, but a bit esoteric for a sales pitch, to say the least.

As I sat there hunched over a high-top table in my own dark little corner of Hell's Kitchen, I started thinking about the heroes of my childhood, guys like Jim Henson, Walt Disney, and Mister Rogers, the misfits and make-believers who had shaped my dream to one day make things half as good as they. I realized I was nowhere close, mostly because I hadn't even tried.

I glanced back down at that word weird again.

It started to come into razor-sharp focus.

I help people discover what makes them weird in a sea of sameness.

It was the heartbeat of how I had been helping companies. It was the character trait that linked all my heroes. It was the essence of all my fledgling creative projects. It was where I wanted to go in the future, a vision of helping as many people as possible, no matter their shape, size, or circumstance, understand what's unique about themselves and each other.

But wait a minute.

I peered down at the word again, this time staring at it until it blurred. Weird. I turned my head and noticed the crowd of drinkers around me, some on their first date, some undoubtedly on their last, some who had wandered in with the same restlessness I had, and others celebrating another sleepless night in a city that famously encourages every one of them.

I wasn't weird. I mowed my own lawn. I made dad jokes. I bought clothes with the precise purpose of fitting whatever wayward trend pop culture seemed to require at the moment. Who was I to assume this mantle of weirdness?

I flipped through my notebook, noticing all the doodles of monsters and imaginary creatures, scanning the random thoughts and poems I had always reassured myself were for "some other time."

Maybe it was time to get weird. Maybe it was time to reconnect with the sacred self my soul was busy scribbling in my notebooks. Maybe it was time to step off the safe and secure shores of Same and realize their promise was an empty one.

I had spent the past several years studying movements—how they start, grow, and create a sense of belonging among their followers, converting others along the way. I began sketching out in my notebook everything I had learned about how movements form, from Christianity to democracy to abolition, trying to distill it to its simplest form.

The through-line? You guessed it. All movements start off weird.

A stiff shot of clarity began to dance its way through my bloodstream. A distant passion drew closer and climbed into my nostrils like divine breath being blown into Adam. I was new again. Awake. Curious. Vital. If someone had taken notice of the disheveled, rigid man who walked into the bar, they would have wondered where he went and why a child was now sauntering out past a bewildered bouncer.

The subway sang a triumphant call as it pushed into the station. The doors flung open, offering a soundtrack to my personal renaissance. I didn't need to make it here. I had everything I needed.

I was weird. Everyone was. And I had to tell them.

Part 1

Why Are You So Weird?

Chapter 1

Who Told You You Were Naked?

It's strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone.

—John O'Donohue

There's something different about you. Since the moment you arrived on planet Earth, you've been carrying a unique combination of matter and spirit no one else in human history could duplicate. And ever since that moment, you've been told to ignore it.

I remember when my daughter was born. Shortly after taking her home from the hospital I was tasked with the duty of going to the local drugstore to pick up an extra package of diapers. I carried this out with both a deep sense of pride and bewilderment, as I imagined the young boys of World War II must've felt right before going into battle. Except I wasn't carrying a gun or wearing a uniform—just a debit card and a pair of skinny jeans along with an old Yankees cap I hadn't taken off since the first night in the hospital. Still, this was as close as I was going to get to those glory days when real men, like my grandfather, did brave things. The fantasy was holding up.

When I got to the drugstore, I carefully ran my finger across the packages that boasted a staggering number of options for an item with a very singular purpose until I found the fresh-out-of-the-oven newborn version. The only diapers available in newborn size had a famous mouse and duck printed on them. I couldn't believe it. I had but one option.

Apparently the mouse and the duck had met in a conference room with some diaper executives and negotiated a large sum of money for the ability to influence my daughter starting from the very first days of her life. Between large puffs on cigars followed by oversize-white-gloved handshakes, they hatched a plan to reach her unique, unblemished body with their form-fitting product.

She didn't stand a chance. None of us did.

From the time we are very small, when our souls are still Play-Doh-like, we're persuaded by some outside force or another that it's better to fit in than to stand out. It's wiser, safer, and more prudent to color inside the lines, trace a perceived path, and conform to some pattern than it is to scribble our own shapes and arrive on our own shores.

For centuries prophets, priests, mystics, and poets have tried to name this temptress, this force that lures us into thinking our fulfillment is found in comparison and conformity. Some call it Sin. Some call it Resistance. Some call it the False Self. I'll give it a name as well: Same.

Same—meaning bland, homogenous, reproduced, discriminatory, and comparative.

We trust Same. We lean on it like a crutch. Same is safe.

But in the beginning, we were weird.

The word weird is often used as a way to reference those attributes that make us different, peculiar, or odd. The actual definition, however, holds far greater power.

Weird (adj.): involving or suggesting the supernatural; unearthly or uncanny.i

Weird isn't just this inconsequential word to be thrown around in jest or used to belittle someone we don't understand. Weird suggests the supernatural. Weird is unearthly. Weird is sacred.

In fact, try an experiment with me. The next time the word weird escapes your mouth, see if it's not a deeper invitation to suggest the supernatural. I've tried this over the past few months, and at least 50 percent of the time, I've noticed that what I was really conveying when I deemed something or someone weird was a veiled confession that I didn't understand what or whom I was talking about, that I was referencing something mysterious beyond my comprehension, something worth listening to, meditating on, and wrestling with.

In the ancient Hebrew language, there's a word for weirdness. It's called qodesh or "holiness," this idea of uniqueness, separateness, or, more specifically, set-apartness. It's a word the Jewish people associate with the concept of the Divine, the great Creator, the author of humanity, God. To them, to be holy is to align your soul (something they call nephesh) with the God who dwells within it.

In fact, in the Hebrew creation narrative, when the first humans disobey God, they suddenly become ashamed of their unique selves, scrambling to the bushes in an attempt to hide themselves from him.

Sound familiar?

Growing up in Sunday school, I must have encountered that story a hundred times in various primitive forms of media including puppet shows, cartoons, and flannel board presentations in which the first humans consistently had yoga bodies and white skin and stood conveniently angled so as to not reveal certain parts (I'd like to formally thank my Sunday School teacher, Miss Pigford, for introducing me to my first crush, Eve).

It wasn't until about twenty-five years later that this narrative took on a whole new dynamism for me. When I went back and read the original text in the book of Genesis, God's response to man's rebellion leaped off the page as if all those years in Sunday school had never transpired and I was hearing the story for the first time.

God called to the Man: "Where are you?"

He said, "I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked. And I hid."

God said, "Who told you you were naked?"ii

Growing up in those stale, fluorescent-lit classrooms in the basement of some old Baptist church, I always assumed God's initial reaction to the first humans trying to be something they're not was anger. Years later, as a father, I can imagine the pain in his voice as the first thing he does is call out, "Where are you?" It's the picture of a father passionately searching for his children, an artist in active pursuit of what's missing. The very next reaction isn't admonishment or wrath, but rather profound disappointment and sorrow that someone had spread the lie to his creation that their custom-designed bodies and souls were somehow deficient, lacking, and, worst of all, needing to be covered.

It's a lie that still snakes around us to this day, the idea that our weirdness, our qodesh, needs to be covered up. From the earliest age we're trained to sit down, shut up, and comply with orders rather than stand up, stick out, and cause a disturbance. As young students we're taught getting the answers right is more important than asking the right questions. As adults we're culturally coached on what to buy, where to live, and how many kids to have. Sadly, even many of our religious institutions are guilty of disseminating this message, spending far more time instructing people in how to act than awakening the unique qodesh in those who seek it.

There's something in our nature, both individually and collectively, that fights this proclivity we have to think outside the box, that attempts to relegate our imagination to books and films and computer games instead of applying it to real life, where it's a thousand times more useful.

It's our imagination, this God-given gift, reserved specifically for humans, that's responsible for our weirdness, the impetus, the nerve center of our qodesh. Whether we view ourselves as creative people or not, we're all born with an imagination that is actively at work in us when we're children. It's the place where rocket ships are created, giants are defeated, and the word impossible is never uttered, for if it were, we wouldn't know its definition. It's the part of our spirit, self, or soul where the question "What if?" resides impervious to the opinions and expectations of others.

When we started out as kids, it was as if our rational selves were unwelcome visitors we learned to put up with. We were more like imaginations weighed down by bodies that couldn't seem to catch up with our instinct to fly.

When I was six, my dad took me to see Peter Pan on Broadway. We lived on Long Island, right outside New York City, and I spent the entire train ride home processing out loud with him two very perplexing questions. The first one was, How could Peter Pan possibly be played by a girl, let alone a grown-up girl, when the Peter who flew around in my imagination was clearly a preadolescent male? The second and more easily answered question was, How were Peter and the other performers able to fly around inside the theater?

After chalking the first question up to "the art of acting," my dad, who always instinctively understood both my affinity for make-believe as well as my desire to be treated like a forty-five-year-old, explained that in order to fly the actors used a combination of wires, harnesses, and pulleys attached to the theater's ceiling.

Well, that was it. We just had to get one of those.

"Can we put one in our living room?" I asked with 100 percent seriousness.

When Dad said no, I spent the rest of the ride home trying to understand why this wasn't plausible. We had the perfect spot, above the casing that separated our dining room from our living room (which was often used as a stage for my performances). If a theater just miles away from our house had access to this kind of groundbreaking technology, the store where said technology was sold must be close by! I couldn't understand my dad's reluctance to agree.

"Is it a money thing? I could save up allowance. Or a safety issue? I'll save up another week for insurance!"

Years later, I'd be sitting in the audience watching another production of Peter Pan. My best friend was working for a Salvation Army center outside of Los Angeles and I came to support its after-school program, which was putting on a version of the play.

There was no flying in this one. Instead the parts were played by little kids mostly from working-class families in the neighborhood. The production was pretty typical for a kids' show. There were cardboard props, homemade costumes, nervous monotone dialogue, and the occasional breaking of the fourth wall to wave to Mom.

But one facet of this production stood out to me. It was the character of Tinker Bell. Like the very flexible woman who played Peter Pan when I was six, this Tinker Bell did not fit the description of the character I had preserved for so long in my mind's eye. Tinker Bell, the traditionally dainty, blonde little fairy, was portrayed by a heavy-set Hispanic girl.

Don't you love that?

There was no conforming to patterns, no appeasing of Same. Just an honest representation of this beautiful young girl's one-of-a-kind identity—a girl who, in at least this instance, dodged the gavel of someone dictating who she can and can't be, fitting her into a box, and limiting her bandwidth. Sometimes I wish we saw that kind of directorial courage in our big, splashy Hollywood films.

I want to live in a world where Tinker Bell is portrayed as any shape, size, or color without us giving it a second thought, where the wild imaginations of our children aren't snuffed out by our weary struggle to maintain all things Same.

But before we can travel into that future together, we have to acknowledge that the past was quite the opposite for most of us. While we're wired for weird, we feel safer with Same. Same has been seducing our imaginations, lulling them to sleep for so long, that, like Lost Boys who've become pirates, we've woken up and discovered that we've forgotten how to fly. Before we can save the others, we must recognize that redemption, joy, creativity, belonging, the things we long for and dream about, don't reside at the end of a quest to conform, but deep inside the holy space that makes us particular, peculiar, and, dare I say, weird.

As a boy, with blood, sweat, and Crayola, I built worlds I longed to live in under bedsheets full of flashlight glow and marker stains I prayed were washable. Now I pray for those colors not to fade, for the light not to be extinguished. At some point, like most of us, I learned those worlds were best kept under cover.

The other day I was browsing in a bookstore when I noticed a girl who couldn't have been more than three or four years old sitting at a table in the children's section. She was busy coloring in a coloring book while her mother hovered over her. The girl's previously precise crayon-work suddenly and gloriously shifted as if a moment of wild inspiration had struck her. Moments ago she was caught in the details and minutiae of filling in tiny categories. Now she was furiously coloring outside the lines.

What happened next was both startling and yet all too predictable at once. Her mother leaned over the drawing and in a disapproving voice blurted, "Well, now you've ruined it."

She went on, her tone growing more chastising and shaming with every remark. "I'm not sure why you just did that. There's no saving it now. It's completely ruined."

The girl kept scribbling. The mother kept reproving. I kept trying to balance looking as if I weren't paying attention with the incredible urge to step in and do some serious "co-parenting."

The narrative that this small child will likely hold for a lifetime in her subconscious, the narrative that equates unconstrained wonder with contempt and detriment, is one that carries profound consequences, a story with no heroes, only villains.

I left the bookstore and began to judge her mother with the pious hubris of someone who had never done anything wrong to his own kid. A few moments into her imaginary sentencing hearing, shortly after I paused to remove a tree trunk from my eye socket, it occurred to me that perhaps she had grown up hearing similar admonishments. Perhaps she was simply transmitting a lie she herself was taught to believe was true. Perhaps she was once discouraged from coloring outside the lines. In fact, I'm sure of it. Because we all were.

At some tragic point, you shared what was inside your imagination out loud with someone and their response wasn't what you were expecting. They told you that it was weird. And they said it like it was a bad thing. They brushed it off, calling it idealistic, impractical, and foolish. And here's the crazy part: They were right. It was weird. It was foolish. And it was that way on purpose.

Dive deeper into those ancient scriptures I was first introduced to as a boy in Sunday school and you'll discover over and over again that God chooses the foolish things to confound those who think they know it all.iii

When we make believe as children do naturally, we're embracing our weirdness, or qodesh, tapping into what could be rather than endlessly striving for what should be. Perhaps this is why Christ says whoever refuses to see God's Kingdom like a child won't ever get in. When we abandon our weirdness, when we believe the lie that it's better to fit in than to stick out, we get further and further away from "on earth as it is in heaven." Creation stalls, evolution stops, and the status quo begins nestling comfortably for a long winter's nap.

But when we bravely decide to embrace our own weirdness, it lets others know they belong just as they are too. Our weirdness is contagious, viral, and generative.

Weird is what chose to spark the first fire, build the first bridge, fly the first plane, and capture the first film. Weird is what chose to stand up for the first injustices when no one else had the pluck to do so. Weird was what decided to turn classical instruments sideways, plug them into electrical sockets, and name it rock and roll.

Weird makes the world better. It's what moves it forward, pulling us along with it.

I have a younger friend who studied literature in college. We were at dinner one night and somehow Cervantes's Don Quixote came up. At the mention of the book, she launched into a speech praising what she thought to be the book's main theme: the absurdity of preserving traditions and ideals and how reality alone is the only thing worth trusting.

Maybe it's because I myself am a self-proclaimed hopeless idealist, but as I sat there listening to her go on about the book's message, I noticed my fists clenching up and my blood pressure rising, as if she were personally attacking a close friend of mine.

She was basically calling Don Quixote a loser.

I guess I'd never quite seen the story like that. Maybe she's right. But I also wonder if her literary professors simply disregarded Cervantes's nuance embedded between the lines of Don Quixote, this nonlinear, nonbinary idea that imagination and reality must somehow cohabit in order to produce a vibrant and sustainable culture. Sure, there's an idealism that robs us of contentment and acceptance, but there's also an imagination that ignites change, innovation, and movement, especially when it comes to how we view and treat each other as human beings.

Some might argue the risk isn't worth the reward, that Quixote's idealistic "madness" posed a threat to himself and others.

My friend Rob is a father of seven. He's committed his life to ending the trafficking and exploitation of children, traveling all around the world and putting himself in danger to combat one of the most horrific human rights abuses imaginable. He's one of my heroes. He once shared with me some of his favorite lines from Don Quixote: "When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams—this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness—and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!"

These words keep Rob moving, keep him fighting, keep him weird in a world that has settled for Same. Don Quixote isn't a complete loser. He's also a hero.

As the French-Lithuanian literary scientist Algirdas Julien Greimas once said in regards to Cervantes's protagonist: "Let's not be afraid to be Don Quixotes."iv

This is why we cry for Jimmy Stewart's character when we watch It's a Wonderful Life. It's why every other year, another Batman film comes out. It's why we hail Martin Luther King Jr. as a champion even when his outspokenness cost him his life. They're idealists, angry souls, dreamers with great expectations. And without them we'd be locked inside a prison of Same.

We need weirdness to keep the world moving, to help solve its problems, to change our minds and rattle our hearts. More specifically, we need your weirdness. Whether you're an artist, a teacher, a data processor, an engineer, or a mom, we need you to access and illuminate the qodesh, the Sacred Weird that rests deep within the corners of your soul—the ideas and passions you can't shake, the solutions you see that nobody else does, the one-of-a-kind history that only you carry, complete with all its crooked roads, cracks, and smudges.

Now, of course you may be reading this and feeling convinced that there's absolutely nothing weird about you. To you the very opposite seems true. Your life feels bland, mundane, almost painfully normal.

I once worked with a German woman who was absolutely convinced she wasn't creative because she was an administrator. In reality she was one of the more out-of-the-box thinkers I knew. The good news is, weirdness isn't something some people are born with and others aren't. Whether we like it or not, we are all weird, all misfits journeying together on the road to belonging. We all carry a unique set of stories and circumstances that not only shape us but shape others.

Your weirdness is your worth. It's the value you bring to this universe simply by breathing air with a set of lungs no one else has ever used before. You can't do anything to become weird, you must only acknowledge that you are weird, even when you don't feel like it—or when you would simply prefer to float gently in a giant sea of Same.

I'm guessing, however, that you picked up this book because somehow the word weird resonates with you. I'm guessing there's a world you imagine and long for that looks different from the one you currently belong to. I'm guessing at some point in your life you've been labeled an oddball, an outlaw, or an outsider. Perhaps you once possessed an active imagination, but it's become dormant in the wake of hard knocks and cold shoulders. Perhaps you've been told the strange way you look at the world isn't useful. Maybe you're unsure whether the things you long to create deep inside your soul have any value. Maybe you've been warned you ask too many questions. And because of that, maybe you're not convinced that your weirdness is there on purpose, that it's inside you for a reason, that's it's part of your qodesh, it's holy, it's sacred.

There's this scene at the end of Robin Hood


  • It's courageous and wildly creative, giving a voice to the misfit and make-believer in us all.—Richard Rohr
  • A soulful invitation to start imagining again and, along the way, rediscovering who we were actually created to be. What a gift!—Shauna and Aaron Niequist
  • Whip-smart and full of heart, it is a needed wake-up call, an inspiring invitation to be unusual . . . I can't wait to see all the goodness that's unleashed in the world because of this weird and wonderful book.
    Brad Montague, writer, director, and creator of Kid President
  • This soulful and practical gem of a book will kickstart your imagination and embolden your heart. While the message in GET WEIRD will stay with you forever, you'll for sure give your copy away to a fellow weirdo. Better buy two now.—Ian Morgan Cron, author of The Road Back to You
  • A gifted poet who believes in the soul, CJ and his inspiring book teaches us gradually about our own special gift of weirdness and how it can help minds change and communities heal. It's a huge gift to read his stories and walk with him as he discovers that being a square peg in a round hole keeps you from sinking. You will be blessed by this work.—Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms and Episcopal priest

On Sale
Sep 11, 2018
Page Count
240 pages

CJ Casciotta

About the Author

CJ Casciotta is a writer and serial media maker passionate about helping people discover and own their unique identity or in other words, what makes them weird. As a writer and communicator, he’s traveled all over the world inspiring communities like Lululemon, The Salvation Army, TEDx, and Charity:Water. As a media director and producer he’s collaborated on projects with MGM Studios, The United Nations Foundation, and more. He created the popular podcast, Sounds Like a Movement, which has hosted culture-shaping voices like Seth Godin, Shauna Neiquist, and Krista Tippett. In addition, CJ’s work has been featured by MTV, RELEVANT, Catalyst, and Q. A native New Yorker, he now lives in Nashville with his wife, Kelly, and his two kids, Selah and Mack.

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