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My guest today is Jason Kotecki, the whimsical artist, author, and speaker behind EscapeAdulthood.com. Jason and his wife Kim have made it their mission in life to help people and organizations break free from adult-itis, to build better lives, business and teams. Jason went from being a cartoonist to a speaker, and buried his art for a while, but now it’s bubbled up as something new. He’s now combining both his art and speaking work in new, interesting ways, which he shares on the show.
What you will learn in today’s episode:
• Jason’s journey from cartoonist to speaker and author
• Jason’s artistic style and where he finds inspiration
• How to escape adulthood
• Ways Jason’s community escape adulthood
• Why you should bring fun and childhood to business
Jason’s journey from cartoonist to speaker and author
Jason went to school to be an artist and then pursued an original comic strip for 7 years. It began as a shameless attempt to try and win over Kim, hence the title ‘Jason and Kim’. She’s now his wife, so it worked! A cross between Peanuts by Charles Shultz and Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Waterson, it was about how the children characters saw the world, so adults reading the comic strip could observe childhood and be reminded of traits they shared with the characters. Although the comic strip was in 20 newspapers, and Jason was also selling prints and greeting cards off the art, it wasn’t successful enough to make a living on.
It was successful enough for Jason to be invited by schools to do cartooning workshops with kids, which eventually led to speaking engagements for adults. When his speaking career began to take off, Jason’s wife Kim, a kindergarten teacher, was able to retire and work in the business with him. Jason started speaking about the things that were the background of the comic strip, which is being more child-like and bringing back that child-like sense of wonder and curiosity that we all had when we were younger. While his speaking career took off, he gave up art for a while, but about 4 years ago he began to be called to turn back to art. Now he merges his speaking, writing, and art together in the business with Kim, called Escape Adulthood.
In 2015, Jason got a book deal with a New York publisher, which included his writing and his art. It’s a full colour, hard-cover book including the thoughts and ideas he had on Adultitis and ‘rules that don’t exist’ and used his art as illustrations in the book. It was the first time everything Jason has done was combined into one project. It reflected a lot of the things he’d been speaking about for years, as well as his whimsical, creative art.
Jason’s artistic style and where he finds inspiration
After having done the comic strip for so long, Jason had a strong comic style. He took a big break and then when he got back into art 4 years ago, he gave himself permission to do whatever he wanted. He didn’t share his creations with anyone, and his new style started out quite derivative of other artists that he enjoyed. However, over time it developed to be his own style, full of the same whimsy, joy and colour of the comic, but more realistic. He posted the new stuff on Facebook and Instagram, and it started resonating with people.
Inspired by the author Seth Godin, who wrote Purple Cow and many other marketing books, Jason also likes learning how to tell stories from stand up comedians like Jim Gaffigan and Jerry Seinfeld. He also loves artists like Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl. He aspires to be the type of artist that creates whimsy for the sake of whimsy, but that also shares a message that is a little bit deeper.
He has a daily sketching habit and finds that idea just from doodling whatever comes to mind, ideas just pop out. Jason likes to look at food, or childhood toys, and to play with scale and context. He sometimes incorporates text too. He has a painting of macaroon spaceships and also one of an Ice-Cream Sandwich Stone Henge. There’s another one of a giant plastic monkey toy hanging on the Empire State Building, like an homage to King Kong. Jason finds making something really big or really small and out of its usual environment automatically creates the sense of whimsy that he strives for.
How to Escape Adulthood
Together Jason and Kim help fight Adultitis, a term they coined for when people lose their childlike side. The medical term ‘itis’ means swelling, so Adultitis is “a swelling of the adult”, which is exactly the problem: having too much adult in you and taking yourself way too seriously. When you do that you lose that creativity we all have within us and get stressed out and grumpy. We all struggle with that from time to time, but Escape Adulthood’s goal is to help people acknowledge it and figure out how to move past it. Jason’s first book is also called Escape Adulthood, about the philosophy that went into the comic strip and what adults need to learn from kids.
The first step is just to be aware of Adultitis. One of the ways not to be so adult-like that Jason speaks on is to become aware of where you’re following ‘rules that don’t exist.’ These are things that we do because we’ve always done them or because we’re in a habit, like always eating dessert after dinner or hating Monday. The first step is to open your eyes and look at the things you do automatically and question why you do them. A lot of times then you realise you’re stuck in a pattern or a rut that’s not really serving you, so you can break those “rules.”
Once you start looking around you see those rules that don’t exist more often. One common one is “Thou shalt be realistic.” Everyone wants to have dreams but no one wants to look like an idiot, so we tend to pare down our dreams when we share them with people because we don’t want people to laugh at us. However, shifting that perspective can have tremendous rewards. After all, if it weren’t for people dreaming unrealistic dreams in the past we wouldn’t have amazing things like airplanes!
Jason and Kim’s Escape Plan is another fight Adultitis. It’s 40 open-ended challenges that get you thinking and acting in a more childlike way. When they first started it, they did the challenges and posted about it on their website. They let people vote for which was more creative and childlike. It was lots of fun, people all over the world joined in and eventually, it was turned into a book so people could do the challenges themselves and record their adventures along the way.
Ways Jason’s community escape adulthood
Jason often gets feedback from his community about the different ways his readers and followers escape adulthood in their own lives. One reader has a tradition with her husband and son, making ugly cookies, breaking the “rule” that Christmas cookies have to look as beautiful as possible. Jason has shared the idea, and now people make ugly cookies and even ugly cakes. Another woman works in communications, and includes poems, funny graphics, and humor in her messages that could otherwise be serious, boring and dry. She’s doing her job, taking it to another level by adding fun to it. Another reader shared that the medical office she works in celebrates things like ‘Chocolate Cup Cake Day’ by giving cupcakes to their patients.
It’s not hard, you don’t need to spend a lot or have special permission. When people think of creativity and innovation, they often think that only certain people are creative or that you have to be special to be creative. But the truth is that if you’re a human being, you’re creative—that’s what sets us apart from animals. It’s more a question of whether or not you’re using your creativity. In this world where there is a lot of bad news day after day, the little acts of creative kindness and fun are more valuable now than ever.
Why you should bring fun and childhood to businesses
Jason finds that a lot of people think you can’t have fun in business, but the companies and businesses that figure out how to incorporate fun are at an advantage. It’s a well-known thing in sales that people like doing business with people they like, and people like being around people who are having fun. Fun is also an important stress reliever. Killing the fun and being too serious can kill the morale of a whole business. A guest at a speaking event once said to Jason, ‘I love what I do but I hate where I work.’That’s true for a lot of people: they don’t necessarily hate what they’re doing but the environment is not fun or welcoming.
There are examples of companies in every field where having fun and incorporating playfulness can be an advantage. But, people are afraid of it because they worry that people will slack off. True leaders understand that you can take work seriously without having to take yourself seriously. One business owner who has football-shirt Friday with his team has shared that it tends to be the most productive day because people are having fun and they’re engaged.