Throughout our lives, we inherit the limitations of society's expectations and conform to its ideals until they weigh so heavily on us that we stop questioning their existence. When these unspoken rules are imposed for long enough, they become the unconscious scripts that dictate our lives and trap us in an invisible prison. We become so indoctrinated, it's as if we've been institutionalized. We forget that our life is what we make of it. Only when we have the audacity to question the status quo can we disrupt it.
We forget we're free to dismiss others' expectations any time we'd like.
Remember: the door is always wide open.
If you walk out that door and abandon all the expectations society has laid out for you, the truest expression of who you are emerges. You play with abandon, optimism, and curiosity—like you did as a child. You begin a quest for which only you are made, the passage that only you are destined to make.
You learn the art of being unmistakable. But this doesn't happen in one brief moment, one blog post, one work of art. It's not something you do. It's not a technique, methodology, or formula. It's something that becomes part of your DNA, a lens through which you view the world. And once you see the world this way, it will never look the same.
When I started learning how to surf, I'd always get in the water with fear and trepidation because I had no idea what I was doing, and my big blue foam surfboard was basically a symbol of the fact that I was a kook (surf lingo for incompetent). Every morning I would look at the surf report in hopes that the waves wouldn't be too big. One wave at a time, countless hours in the water, and seven years on, I'm still learning how to surf. Some days still intimidate me. You never really stop learning how to surf.
My trajectory of learning to surf has been much like that of an artist or creator. It's been a process of letting go of fear, doubt, expectations, and the need to be perfect. It's been a process of commitment, risk, and embracing the possibility of a wipeout. And every time I go slightly past the boundaries of my comfort
zone, my capacity for risk, for charging bigger waves with bravado, increases. Every small wave prepares me for a bigger one. I still wipe out on plenty of waves, but I've learned one essential lesson: the fear of wiping out never goes away until you've actually gone for a wave, and the fall is almost never as bad as you imagine it to be in your head.
Creating work that is unmistakable has been a process of letting go of all the masks that I've hidden behind my entire life. Every creation is like a wave, and with each piece of work I put out into the world I dare a bit more, I let the world see a bit more into the depth of who I am. I gradually increase my capacity for risk. I may say what other people are thinking but are afraid to say. I challenge the status quo or redefine it. I take bigger and bolder risks until I reach a new normal. I might fail. But as in going for a wave, the antidote to fear is to commit to the act of creating and to keep putting work out into the world.
Inevitably, surfing had to be the organizing principle of this book because the pursuit of waves has defined my life and my personal quest to become unmistakable. From standing onshore to paddling out, from riding the perfect wave to wiping out, surfing parallels any artistic, entrepreneurial, or ambitious endeavor. Whether you're yearning to change careers or start a business, drop out or go back to school, figure out your artistic medium or fine-tune your art, my hope is that these pages will help you become unmistakable.
Surfing led me to start what has become the Unmistakable Creative podcast. Since then, I've interviewed more than six hundred people I call Unmistakable Creatives about their work and life process for my podcast. They explain what they think being unmistakable means, what they do to foster and nurture their
creativity no matter what field they're in, and how they deal with the setbacks that come with the territory. They include best-selling authors such as Tim Ferriss and Seth Godin; inspiring practitioners like pastor and author Rob Bell, Basecamp cofounder David Heinemeier Hansson, and entrepreneur Danielle LaPorte; and geniuses you've never heard of, including a bank robber who became a talking head on the subject of the criminal justice system, a graffiti artist who writes business books, a painter who is completely blind, and world-class cartoonists who have become masters of their craft. I've synthesized their insights and observations together with my own lessons to offer you a springboard toward becoming unmistakable. I'm
not offering you a roadmap or even a guide, because only you can plot your own course.
It's also not the science, it's the art of being unmistakable. Art requires you to attempt what hasn't been proven to work, and as author Todd Henry said, you must "be decisive in the face of uncertainty." There's no formula or set of prescripted instructions. The most unmistakable elements of your art come from intuition and instinct.