Johnny Weir knows a thing or two about standing up and standing out — both on the ice as a two-time Olympian and as a role model for anyone who just doesn't feel like they quite fit in. He's one of a kind — and proud of it.
This year, we got another dose of Weir's unique mix of style and substance in his second stint as a figure skating analyst for NBC's 2018 Olympics coverage in Pyeonchang. Along with his sidekick, Tara Lipinski, he brought a new and fresh sensibility to the usual play-by-play that felt less like inside baseball (er, skating) and more like sitting back on the couch with your best, albeit insanely knowledgeable, friend. And it's a role, that while fun for us to watch, is one Weir calls "a privilege to teach people about figure skating because it's sort of that strange, beautiful, little world that a lot of people don't know about from the inside out."
We caught up with a jet-lagged Weir in early March while doing press for Cool Sculpting, just days after leaving South Korea, to talk about the path that brought him to the Olympics and back, what it took to silence his critics and reach for his dreams and his best advice for finding — and embracing — your authentic self, whatever it may be.
This interview is edited for clarity.
BETTER: What gives you the confidence to break the mold in everything you do?
WEIR: I'm able to be myself and be confident because my parents raised me right. They always allowed me to do things that I felt were right. They allowed me to wear what I wanted. They allowed me to to be the person that I was supposed to be.
They never tried to restrict my movements. They never pushed me hard in one direction. I'm from the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. We don't have an ice rink. But when I said, "I want to try figure skating," they weren't shocked. They were just like, "Okay. Let's figure out how to do this." And the fact that my parents were so giving to me definitely helped me to believe in myself and to believe that the decisions that I make for myself are right. I think my sincerity and my ability to be myself definitely comes from my parents.
My belief is that to show your true colors is the best thing that you can do in life. And no matter if you are bullied, if somebody tells you that you're wrong or you're different or you're weird, everyone else is weird. Right?
I believe that no matter how weird you are, how different you are, how eccentric, how flamboyant, how whatever you are what you are, everyone else is just as weird as you are.
BETTER: What does that mean — to show your true colors?
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WEIR: I think showing your true colors is the most important thing that we can do in our lives. I believe that no matter how weird you are, how different you are, how eccentric, how flamboyant, how "whatever" you are what you are, everyone else is just as weird as you are. So, I think if you're scared of how you appear to the rest of the world, you'd be shocked at how little most people are actually thinking about you. So feel free to be yourself. Feel free to live uniquely. Feel free to be special because life's so short.
BETTER: How did having a goal affect the way you grew up?
WEIR: I think in sports, it's very common for people to set a goal and go after that one goal. You have a one-track mind. And it's very difficult to be swayed or distracted from that — from that direction that you're going. And I apply what I learned in sports, growing up in sports, even when I wasn't skating. I was skiing. I was a horseback rider. I was always involved in sports.
And that helped me have drive, determination, a belief in myself and to understand that you have to have a goal and shoot for it. Otherwise, you just get so distracted by everything in life. You have to head in one direction and achieve it.
I'm a very goal-oriented person. It's something that inspires me every day. If I've got something to look forward to and something to believe in, it makes living life a lot easier because you can enjoy the hard work. You can enjoy the process. If you're all over the place, then, you can't achieve very much at all.
BETTER: Back when you were competing in the Olympics, you said in an interview that you dealt with bullying as a kid by reminding yourself that those bullies would be washing your car someday.
WEIR: I dealt with a lot of bullying. I'm from a small town. I am pretty flamboyantly gay. And my last name is Weir which rhymes with a really bad word to call a gay person. I dealt with it all over the place: bullying me because I was a skater, bullying once I got into skating because I was from a little town in Pennsylvania — you know, bullying here and there and everywhere. It's a horrible part of human nature that we like to tear other people down to feel better about ourselves. So when I was young and was dealing with all that, I decided that the best thing I could ever be was my authentic self.
And I decided these people that are bullying me or making fun of me, they're going to end up washing my car one day. And that's what I believed. And that was my firm direction in life — that I'm going be better than you because you're forcing me to be better than you. And I chose to make bullying something that didn't torture me. I made it something that didn't tear me down as a human. I made myself better because of it.
BETTER: What are some things people can do to feel more comfortable in their skin?
WEIR: Whether you have a presentation or the Olympic games, it's all relative, right? So I think preparation is the key to feeling comfortable in front of a camera, in front of people ... in front of your high school at a dance. You have to prepare for that sort of thing.
You have to mentally prepare. You have to go through what that moment's going to feel like and be like. You have to physically prepare for whatever that moment will be. And you can be comfortable once you're there because you've done the work going into it.
BETTER: You talked about authentic self. What does it mean to be Johnny Weir's authentic self?
WEIR: I think it's really hard to find your authentic self. And I still don't know if I've completely found who I am. And I don't think anyone ever really does. And I think life is a beautiful journey. And we get to fall and rise and and succeed and fail. And it all goes into creating this ... this beautiful person. When you look in the mirror at night, who is that? Who is that to you?
And I think that's it — being able to look in the mirror — is finding your authentic self, being able to look at the person you see and be proud of them.
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