by Tracy Johnson
Nobody wants to be average. Everyone wants to be normal. But everyone also wants to be unique. We want to stand out. But normal doesn’t stand out. It blends in. Radio personalities must be willing to be weird.
Willing to be weird means embracing quirks and flaws. That’s a key part of building a character brand. Talented people who identify what makes them stand out are on the way to success.
But that can be scary.
The story of how Lucille Ball became a Hollywood legend is a perfect example that could be the inspiration you need.
Hollywood legend Lucille Ball started out as a failure.
She embarked on a show business career at age 15 by going to Manhattan and enrolling in John Murray Anderson’s dramatic school. From the first, she was repeatedly told she had no talent and should return home.
She tried and failed to get into four Broadway chorus lines, so she became a model for commercial photographers.
She won national attention as the Chesterfield Cigarette Girl in 1933. This got her to Hollywood as a Goldwyn singer.
For the next two years she played anonymous bit roles in two dozen movies. She then spent seven years at RKO, where she got leading roles in low-budget movies, but was wrongly cast and mostly wasted in films.
But she didn’t give up. Lucy was down, but not out. Each rejection was a building block to what she to become.
In all, Lucille Ball appeared in 72 B-movies before she became too old to be credible as a female love interest. It’s not exactly an overnight success story.
Her career on the silver screen ended without fanfare in 1948.
So at the age of 37, Lucy left the movies, swallowed her pride and became an air personality. She was Liz Cooper on a live radio show called My Favorite Husband.
Jess Oppenheimer, her director, picks up the story:
I remember telling Lucy, “Let go. Act it out. Take your time.” She was simply afraid to try.
So one day, at rehearsal, I handed Lucy a couple of Jack Benny tickets. She looked at me blankly. “What are these for?” “I want you to go to school,” I told her. It did the trick.
When Lucy came into the studio for the next rehearsal, I could see she was excited. “Oh my God, Jess,” she gushed, “I didn’t realize! All this time, I’ve been trying to be someone else, when in reality those people just don’t give a damn.”
She just couldn’t wait to get started trying out the new, emancipated attitude she had discovered. On that week’s show Lucy really hammed it up, playing it much broader than she ever had before.
She coupled this with her newfound freedom of movement, and there were times I thought we’d have to catch her with a butterfly net to get her back to the microphone. The audience roared their approval, and Lucy loved it. So did I.
Released from her fear of being herself, Lucy embraced her quirks and Lucy Ricardo was born.
You’ve probably heard of her. She turned The Lucy Show into a fortune.
Breaking away from the pack is the way to spectacular failure, or tremendous success.
That’s why there is so little excellence in the world?
A weird person who succeeds is called eccentric. A weird person who fails is called a loser. Most people walk the middle path and wonder what might have been. They live in the Zone of Mediocrity.
At the end of your career, what will be be said about you? Did you play it safe, never took a chance and fell short of potential? Or will it say you gave it your all by being who you are?
Tom Peters gave excellent advice when he said,
Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre successes.
This post was inspired by Roy Williams in his Wizard of Ads blog. A brilliant article, and marketer.
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