Let’s face it. Most professionals are afraid to fly our freak flag. To clearly and baldly show our clients what makes us uniquely compelling. It feels safer and more comforting to be like everyone else.
But those who make a lasting impact in their field, who we remember fondly, are often those who are authentic, even if that makes them a bit of a character.
In the last week, we’ve lost two of these characters: Leslie Nielsen and Ron Santo. Consider what being authentically different—and taking some bold risks—won them.
Before breaking into comic actor status, Nielsen was a serious dramatic actor. He had the look, the bearing, the hair. Remember The Poseidon Adventure? He was a workhorse actor who probably would have quietly filled small dramatic character roles until retirement.
Instead, in his mid-fifties, he took a career-bending risk appearing in Airplane! Becoming “the Olivier of spoofs” gave him entrée to a whole new generation (and genre) of fans. Not to mention extending his career (and earnings power) by a good 20 years.
Which leads me to Ron Santo, the legendary 3rd baseman for the Chicago Cubs. Despite (because of?) battling Type I diabetes, he tended to live large and exuberantly. On the year leading up to the infamous black cat incident at Shea Stadium, this macho guy jumped and clicked his heels after every victory.
But it was his second career in the announcer’s booth where he let his freak flag fly. Santo regularly butchered names and let his attention stray strictly from the game. Hardly top credentials for a radio sports announcer. But his sheer delight in all things Cubs (he kept working through double leg amputations) won him a new set of fans who had never seen him play. He prolonged his career, and as he often professed, his life, through his extended Cubs affiliation.
So. What’s it gonna be? Dare you risk flying your freak flag?