Several years ago I was a professional scrapbooker. I know, it sounds like a made-up job, but during that time I made a very nice living art directing books and magazines. I also designed scrapbook layouts to put in those books and magazines to give inspiration to other scrapbookers.
At the time I was involved in the industry, it was run by *extremely* conservative LDS women. They published the books, were editors at the magazines, and decided who was heavily promoted and elevated to a “rock star” status and who wasn’t. They had the power to make or break your career.
As a mouthy liberal feminist lesbian, I had a hard time fitting into this world. Early on I had a layout of my wife and I accepted by a magazine, and I was *so* excited—but right before publication, the editor called me and said that the publisher was refusing to include it in the issue.
They felt it would upset their readers, who were not gay-friendly at all. (The understatement of the year award goes to…). Now, I’m not talking a topless shot from a Pride Parade—it was my now-wife and I at a birthday party with the headline “Who loves me true? My honey do!” Apparently it was just too radical.
I thought being “professional” was my only option
I wanted to be a part of the industry, so I changed who I was. I stopped cussing (in public—let’s get real, here). I kept my controversial opinions to myself. I stopped being outspoken. I started giving a shit about what other people thought. I played the game.
I spent half my life being someone I wasn’t. Not just someone I wasn’t, but someone I didn’t like. And it drove me to the brink of a nervous breakdown.
It took me a few years (and a lot of books by Brene Brown) after I left the industry to get back to who I authentically was. And I promised myself that I’d never be so untrue to myself that I felt like I was going to go well and truly batshit crazy ever again.
Being “professional” wasn’t worth it
At least, being the kind of professional I thought I had to be wasn’t. So I decided to just be me. The me that says “fuck” in the first five minutes of a WordCamp presentation. The me who is an unashamed feminist. The me who is willing to be unpopular if I truly believe in something.
Now, I try really hard not to be a dick about all of those things—but I’m sure sometimes I am. I’m not perfect. I know that it means not every client will want to work with me. But that’s ok, because if they don’t like who I really am, they’re going to hate working with me as much as I’m going to hate working with them.
No matter who you are, be them
Some of the most interesting people I
Twitter-stalk follow are just who they are, warts, vulgarity and all. Here are two of them who just are who they are:
Can you imagine if the above video was “Please, if you have a moment, can you send a check for the work we’ve completed?” instead of “Fuck You. Pay Me”? Do you think it would have gone viral? Would designers have responded in the way they did if the idea and the raw way it was presented hadn’t resonated with them so strongly?
I don’t think so. His words had impact. He tapped into that impotent frustration freelancers feel when they get screwed over at the end of a project. The whole reason it resonated with his audience was not only what he said, but how he said it.
And while yeah, he can be kind of dick on Twitter, I get the feeling that he’s probably the same guy in real life. He’s also funny as hell. He is who he is, and he doesn’t apologize for it. And his design agency kicks so much ass that it’s called Mule Design Studio.
Erika Napoletano makes “Good shit that helps you get shit done”. Her newsletter is called “The Bitchslap”. One of her bios says “When Forbes Magazine referred to Erika as a ‘redheaded, tattooed Tina Fey with a special weakness for four-letter words,’ she took it as a compliment and went to go get a taco”.
She’s been featured in Entrepreneur and Fast Company, given a TEDx talk and written an awesome book called “The Power of Unpopular“. She decided to do two things in her career: start being honest about who she is and what’s important to her, and stop apologizing for who she is.
It all boils down to finding your tribe
Like I told Chris Lema at last year’s Pressnomics, I get motivated when someone kicks my ass a little. It fires me up. It makes think “I’ll show *you*.” and work a little harder. It challenges me to do better and be better. That’s the personal brand both of these people project.
I’m their target audience. I identify with them and share their vision and values. I feel emotionally connected, and that makes me a passionate brand advocate. And a lot of other people feel the same way.
Now, I’m not saying everyone needs to get creative with vulgarity. Natalie MacLees is one of my favorite WordPress people ever, and I can’t *ever* imagine her using profanity. That’s one of the things I love about *her*. (I even *try* to keep my cussing to a minimum around her because I like her so much). But that’s because it’s who she is. Asking her to drop an f-bomb would be as out of character for her as asking me not to.
I love Natalie for being authentic enough to not curse as much as I love Erika for being authentic enough to say “fuck” a lot. They’re true to who they are. No apologies. So be true to who *you* are.
The people who like you for who you are will be drawn to you. The people who don’t—well, they weren’t the kind of clients you’d want to work with anyway, right?
P.S. The last layout I ever had published in a scrapbook magazine was one of my wife and I on the top of Whistler Mountain getting married. In the June Wedding issue, in a special “Destination Weddings” section. (Imagine me dropping a mic.)