Practically Crazy: How to turn your crazy into a career
We’re all crazy. Every one of us. But it’s a good crazy.
We all have our own strangle little quirks, our particular way of looking at the world, our special gifts, our unique desires and dreams. We’re all passionate about different things. We all notice and are affected by different things.
You are an exceptional, incomparable brand of crazy. No one sees the world like you do, no one can offer what you can offer. In a forest of a thousand trees, no two leaves are alike.
Your crazy is a singular, extraordinary expression of humanity at its finest. Your crazy, in all its rawness and weirdness and beauty, is your Authentic Purpose.
The challenge is this: Society is about obedience and conformity. Society is about rules, structure, order. Society is about submission to authority.
Society beats the crazy out of us in the name of “practicality.” Go to school, get good grades, get a college degree, get a good job in a stable corporation with benefits. Don’t stray from the pack. Don’t stand out.
We do this because we pit “practical” and “impractical” against each other on a mutually-exclusive scale with specific and opposing associations:
This binary construct leaves us with only one feasible option. By default, it suffocates our crazy and makes us afraid to ever stray outside the prescribed boundaries of practical.
And let’s be clear: There really is such a thing as impractical, unrealistic, unfeasible, unworkable. Dreams, however sincere, have no inherent guarantee of success.
But what if there were a third option? What if we didn’t have to sacrifice our crazy on the altar of practicality? What if we could preserve our brand of crazy while also manifesting it in such a way that it can make a difference for others and pay us well?
Introducing “Practically Crazy.”
The three realms of career choices
To understand Practically Crazy, we must first fully understand “practical” and “impractical” in terms of career choices.
1. The practical realm
In the practical realm, you buy into the assumptions of the existing order, and you live according to them. You do what has worked before. You sacrifice heart to head. You suppress your crazy and call it “silly.” You put your childhood dreams on the shelf and “grow up.”
The typical career path in the practical realm is the traditional one: high school to college to credentialed career. In rare cases, people who live in the practical realm can become entrepreneurs, but not in any unique or crazy way, and usually after years of technical experience (e.g., the experienced title officer who starts his own title business).
The fundamental choice in this realm is choosing money over passion. You get the money, but you feel empty and unfulfilled.
2. The impractical realm
In the impractical realm, you reject the existing order and attempt to live according to your own rules — but it doesn’t work.
You live in your own little bubble. More precisely, you live in the clouds while everyone else is down on the ground. You’re irrationally dedicated to your crazy in ways that are completely removed from anything anyone else understands or cares about. No one understands or appreciates you. You constantly feel misunderstood and like you don’t belong anywhere.
Another word for impractical is “idealistic.” Idealists who live in this realm have a singular vision of what “should be” and they refuse to compromise in order to live in the world of “what is.” (For example, it’s common for people in this realm to resist sales and marketing. Marketing feels “sleazy” to them. Or, they think their ideas are so self-evident that they don’t need to be “sold.”)
A common sentiment you’ll hear from people in this realm is, “But I’m right!” Thus, they constantly feel frustrated. They can never get traction or get anything off the ground.
The fundamental choice in this realm is choosing ideals and passion over money. But because of your myopic stubbornness, you neither make money nor do you feel fulfilled. None of your own ventures ever work, so you’re forced to work in jobs you don’t care about, miserable all the while.
3. The Practically Crazy realm
The realm of Practically Crazy is a fierce, uncompromising commitment to your crazy — combined with savviness and flexibility on how you manifest it.
In this realm, you refuse to compromise on your passion. But you figure out how to make other people care by creating value for them from your passion. You play the game of life according to your own rules. But you also understand the rules everyone else is playing with, and you work with them to get what you want.
In this realm, you may take the credentialed path to jump through hoops (e.g. becoming a chiropractor or accountant). But this is not because you’re buying into or succumbing to the existing order. You’re simply using it to get what you want.
People in the practical realm are pragmatic doers. People in the impractical realm are idealistic dreamers. People in the Practically Crazy realm are both dreamers and doers.
In the practical realm, you see everyone else playing football. You may not like football, but you join in and play their game.
In the impractical realm, everyone else is playing football and you’re playing cards. You refuse to play football and demand that everyone else come join you in cards — but no one does, and you spend your life complaining about it.
In the Practically Crazy realm, everyone else is playing football, but you want to play cards. So you figure out how to entice people to play cards with you.
In the practical realm, business plans get funded. In the impractical realm, business plans don’t get funded and they don’t work. In the Practically Crazy realm, business plans rarely get funded — because they’re, well, crazy. But they work.
Practically Crazy in practice
The easiest way to understand Practically Crazy is to look at concrete examples of people who live from this realm. Here are just a few:
- JP Sears: Emotional healing coach, teacher, and speaker most known for his satirical “Ultra Spiritual” videos. Check out his excellent TEDx talk, “Saying YES! to Your Weirdness.”
- Jessica Jackley: Microlending pioneer and founder of Kiva and author of CLAY WATER BRICK: Finding Inspiration from Entrepreneurs Who Do the Most with the Least.
- Chris Guillebeau: Traveler, writer, podcaster, host of the World Domination Summit, author of The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, Change the World. Check out his four-point philosophy for how to build a meaningful life and career.
- Matthew Inman: Cartoonist who created the wildly popular website The Oatmeal. According to Wikipedia, his website earns about $500,000 per year.
- Pat Flynn: Entrepreneur, podcaster, and creator of Smart Passive Income, a website that helps people create passive income online.
- Tim Ferris: Author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, a manifesto on breaking all the rules and earning a great living by working four hours a week or less.
- Ree Drummond: Creator of the Pioneer Woman blog that eventually expanded into her own cooking show on the Food Network.
- Leo Babauta: Creator of the popular Zen Habits blog.
- Markus Pierson: Artist and creator of the famous “Coyote” series. For years he worked odd jobs, then became an accountant. After a near-fatal bout with Crohn’s Disease, he “declared that the accountant was ‘dead’ and in his place was a man pursuing his dream of becoming a successful artist.” He taped these words to the wall above his desk: “No one works this hard and this smart — and has it come to nothing.” Within a year, he had commitments from 110 art galleries.
- Justine Ezarik: YouTube personality, host, actress and model. She is best known as iJustine, with over 775 million views across her YouTube channels since 2006.
It may seem as though people in this realm are all creative types: artists, writers, musicians, performers. But crazy takes infinite forms, many of which don’t seem all that crazy in comparison.
For example, your brand of crazy may be that you love working with numbers. In that case, a career in accounting may be a perfect fit for you. That doesn’t seem crazy to the world because it’s a standard career. But understand there’s a world of difference between becoming an accountant because you’re stifling your crazy and caving to practicality, or because it’s legitimately your brand of crazy.
As a great example of this, read this story of Jean, a data entry clerk living her crazy.
4 rules to turn your crazy into a well-paying career
Rule #1: Stay true to your crazy
First, you have to identify your brand of crazy. This comes easy to some of us who had that self-awareness from a young age (e.g. Mozart, Michelangelo, Tiger Woods).
For the rest of us, it can be difficult to see our crazy because it’s such a natural, intuitive part of us. But there’s a simple trick to it: You identify your crazy by identifying the things you see in society that are crazy to you.
It’s like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Your crazy is the thing that makes you look around wondering, “Is anyone else seeing this?”
For example, in high school I always thought it was so bizarre and stupid that everyone made fun of everyone else. My high school experience was like watching chickens peck each other to death.
In that, I discovered my brand of crazy, which is simply a heart for kindness and compassion. I haven’t always been true to that crazy, because it hurt. For years, I shut off my heart because living from the heart was too tender and painful for me.
I’ve had to learn, through years of mindfulness training, to come home to my heart. Now, I make a living as a coach by seeing people in their goodness, seeing their wounds and helping them heal.
Staying true to your crazy means proclaiming, “The Emperor has no clothes!” You call bullshit on the crazy things that everyone else thinks are normal.
Staying true to your crazy means never giving up on it. You may have to be pragmatic and work jobs you don’t like for years. But you always stay committed to your crazy. You never stop working towards manifesting it as a career.
Rule #2: Persist
If you can’t find an easy path to monetize your crazy, you simply have to persist in staying true to it. This may take years.
For example, the famous author Ray Bradbury wrote 1,000 words every day for ten years before he ever got published or paid to write. Sylvester Stallone turned down $375,000 for his script for Rocky because the studio wouldn’t allow him to star in it. They eventually caved and he became a star.
This is what Joseph Campbell called “following your blisters.”
In this phase, you need to find your medium, your tools, and mentors. In my case, my medium is writing and coaching. My tools include knowing how to publish and market online. I’ve had several mentors, including the legendary ad writer Roy H. Williams.
Also, the ideal here is to get paid to practice. For example, my goal has always been to be able to make a living publishing my own books. Until that’s a possibility, I ghostwrite for other people. For the past eleven years, I’ve been getting paid to practice.
If your goal is to become an artist, perhaps you can get paid to practice by doing graphic design. If you want to start a charitable foundation, you can work for another one until you’re in a position to start your own.
Rule #3: Create value for others
This is the secret sauce that makes Practically Crazy work. This is how you turn your crazy into a career, your passion into a paycheck.
Frederic Buechner said,
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
It’s not enough for you to be passionate about something. Other people have to care about it as well. The sweet spot of purpose is where your gifts and passion coincide with the pain and problems experienced by other people.
Finding this sweet spot requires accepting reality: Human beings are driven by self-interest. To put it bluntly, no one cares about you — they only care about themselves.
(People in the impractical realm struggle with this reality. They think people should be different and don’t want to accept people as they are.)
To monetize your crazy, you have to accept people as they are and give them what they want. JP Sears and Matthew Inman use their crazy to make people laugh. Pat Flynn and Tim Ferris use their crazy to help people achieve financial freedom. Leo Babauta uses his crazy to help people find greater inner peace.
How can you leverage your crazy to create value for others? What do other people want that you’re uniquely qualified to deliver? What problems and pain do you notice in the world? Go use your crazy to solve those problems and alleviate that pain.
Rule #4: Master your craft
Up until this point, you’ve probably been pursuing your passion part-time. With an economic engine in place, now you can afford to fully devote your life to your craft.
You become fanatically focused on manifesting your crazy in its fullest, most useful, most beautiful form. You experiment. You take risks. You push boundaries. You trust your inner voice over any other. You obsess over minute details.
The more you master your craft, the more unique your expression becomes, the more people demand your work, and therefore, the more money you make.
In his phenomenal book, Mastery, Robert Greene writes,
“In order to master a field, you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it. Your interest must transcend the field itself and border on the religious.”
This is your crazy. This is your truth. This is your Authentic Purpose.
Never abandon it. Feed it. Encourage it. Protect it. Persist in it so fiercely that you push beyond the limiting boundaries of “practical” and “impractical” and discover the realm of Practically Crazy.
Because the world desperately needs your brand of crazy.
*Special thanks to my friend Steve Barfuss for this article.