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Wax, Weirdness, and What Makes Us Wonderful

photoI confess – I’m a slob.


Well, maybe slob is too strong a word.  Maybe the word I’m looking for is messy.  Mildly… no, moderately messy.  Maybe there’s even a politically correct term for it.  Organizationally challenged?


All I know is that once I reached adulthood and no longer had parents to force me to clean my room, my surroundings have been a mess ever since.  Don’t get me wrong – I love the idea of organization.  I aspire to it.  I will carve out hours of my life to clean, declutter, file, lather, rinse, and repeat.  But within a matter of days, or sometimes even hours, my hard work unravels before my eyes.  The natural, comfortable tendency that I return to is mess.  Ugh.


Being an organizationally challenged individual makes it tough to do certain things in life.  Like pack a suitcase. When your stuff is everywhere and nowhere, it can take hours to track it down, pack it neatly, unpack, repack, and eventually, look away in embarrassment as the screening guards at the airport squint their eyes with confusion as they try to make sense of the disaster that is my carry-on bag. Even more disastrous is the process of arriving in another city, unpacking, and trying to find the things I need to exist for a few days away from home.


Like good walking shoes.  I had to dig hard to find those during my most recent trip to Washington DC.  I had spent an entire day wandering the city in clogs, only to arrive back at my hotel room with blisters on my feet.  I was determined to not spend the following day suffering from a poor choice in footwear, so with great effort, I unearthed my trusty Puma sneakers.  My second day in D.C. found me walking the busy city streets again, much more comfortably this time.  Those happy feet of mine walked me right into a tourist trap – Madame Trussaud’s Wax Museum.  There are several locations around the world, but the one in D.C. is the only one with a Hall of Presidents.  Every man who has ever held the office, from George Washington to Barack Obama, is memorialized in stunningly lifelike wax.  You can see them up close and personal in all their glory. 


And with all of their imperfections.


Like Franklin Delano Roosevelet in his homemade wheelchair and George Washington with his wooden false teeth.  Even more fun – once you pass through the Hall of Presidents, you’ll reach the celebrity wax figures.  There you’ll meet Johnny Depp, Al Roker, Jennifer Lopez, Oprah, and Stephen Colbert, to name a few.  With scars, facial asymmetry, signs of aging, and other noticeable features that our culture classifies as flaws.




Kind of like being messy. 


Earlier this year, I spoke at a conference where I had the privilege of meeting fellow presenter and author Dr. Dave Rendall. Dave’s popularly requested talk and his bestselling book, “The Freak Factory,” challenges our thinking about our quirks.  Dave’s two opening lines when he presents to an audience are:


What makes us weak is what makes us strong.

What makes us weird is what makes us wonderful.


That’s good news for me, the organizationally challenged one.


Dave goes on to explain that we all have inherent tendencies that manifest themselves in multiple aspects of our lives.  Usually, it’s a matter of context that defines how we choose to view our tendencies – as talents and gifts, or as undesirable quirks.   In my case, I have a brain that works like a pinball machine.  My mind rapidly skips around from one idea to another.  My thought processes and ideas are fluid and abstract.  I see the world in pieces and parts.  I struggle with being able to analyze and work with concrete details.  I often fail to see the big picture.


And I’ll struggle all my life with organization. 


But it’s that same chaotic, non-linear kind of thinking that gives me the ability to create. In ordinary, everyday situations, I can find bits of inspiration.  I can build connections between two seemingly random ideas.  I can find stories and songs and poetry in places where others don’t see it.  I love that I can do that, and wouldn’t trade it for the world.  Even if it meant that my desk at work and my closet at home were immaculately organized.  Even if it meant that I didn’t have to empty out the entire contents of my suitcase and root through them like a pirate digging for buried treasure to find my Pumas.


Dave suggests a paradigm shift in thinking.  Instead of trying to force ourselves and others into conformity, and instead of trying to ‘fix’ what our culture deems weaknesses and flaws, why not embrace them and recognize that they are what make us special?  After all, every President who shaped American history had some kind of quirk that was criticized or frowned upon, yet gave him the ability to be a great leader.  Every single celebrity on the red carpet has struggled with a trait or characteristic that was self-limiting in some way, yet gave rise to an incredible talent that put them in the spotlight.


When Madame Trussaud set out to preserve the celebrities and admired people of her era in wax, she shocked the world when she included their physical flaws and imperfections.  After all, being able to recreate a person’s likeness in wax was an amazing opportunity to shape an unflattering characteristic into something that the world recognized as beautiful or normal – why pass that up? 


Because she, like Dave Rendall, had discovered long before the rest of us that imperfection *is* beauty.  What the world recognizes as our flaws are in fact the very things that make us unique, memorable, and real.  Our quirks are what make it possible for us to contribute to the world in a way that only we as individuals can. The next time you’re in D.C., drop by Madame Trussaud’s and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.


Something else I hope you’ll check out is Dave Rendall’s amazing Ted Talk here:  I promise you it will change your thinking about how you view your own strengths and weaknesses. 


In the meantime, be weird.


Be wonderful.


It shouldn’t be too hard.  They’re one and the same.






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