A recommended video from one of my Twitter friends has a bit of age on it but is definitely timeless in it’s message and has got me to thinking about my own journey to find who I am and how creativity influences what I do. Speaking at a TED (Technology, Entertainment & Design) Conference in 2006, Sir Ken Robinson laments on how modern educational systems are virtually destroying our children’s creative talents.
In a time where children are being taught more about what to think instead of how to think, it would seem his comment, “We don’t grow into creativity. We grow out of it or rather we get educated out of it.” is even more profound.
I enjoy what I do. It’s sort of funny that to get where I am now I went through several turbulent times where I found having to reinvent myself was required just to remain employed. The very skills that my clients value are many of the areas where my former employers were frustrated with me. Just asking the question, “Why do we do it that way?” often led to looks of dismay and even suggestions that I mind my own business. Asking a client that same question can often lead to whole new avenues of possibilities. Should one day I find myself hiring my own employees that will be one of the things I hang on the wall, “Ask questions and if you have a better idea, please share it!”
I left college knowing my degree did not mean I knew it all but that I had a strong foundation which could be built upon once in a professional environment. Looking back, my major was chosen for the sole strategic purpose of getting a good job. Even my minor was chosen to pursue that end. That I liked working on computers and writing/communicating just made my choices more of a obvious choice. The music that I had always loved was relegated to an elective and later dropped as there seemed a systemic segregation between those in the arts and those taking academic subjects. Music is now a private passion rather than a vocation but it is a major aspect of who I am.
The irony is that all of these years later I find I was more attuned to what I liked doing than I realized.
Sure, it was a rush to be the one to swoop in and save the day by getting the computer system back online after a catastrophic failure. In an abstract way, it was like fixing a giant jigsaw puzzle that had been dumped off a table – most of the pieces were still in place but it was finding out which ones were missing that was the real challenge. But, then again, teaching someone how to use that same system gave me a much more long-lasting satisfaction.
As the computing systems I was an “expert” in became obsolete, I found myself having to come up with a whole new skill set and morph into someone else. As I learned how to run newer computing systems, I continued to feel like I was somehow in the wrong place. At the time, I think I blamed my internal conflict on the broken foot that left me on crutches for almost a year.
Perhaps, I didn’t recognize it for what it was, but looking back, I can almost be thankful for the series of layoffs that brought me to where I am today. (Not thankful for the broken foot that still causes untold problems but it appears to have had its own role to play in me finding my place.)
During one of those periods of unemployment I suffered through in the 90’s, I found the need to reinvent myself yet again. I reviewed what I liked on the various jobs I had held. I liked the creative bits! I liked the writing, I liked learning and I liked the teaching. And, I even liked when I had to “sell” projects and often the very job I held. I also liked the more creative programming work of building something new from nothing.
In a bit of serendipity, the same weekend I realized I was a writer hidden underneath my BA and MS in computing and decided to reinvent myself as a technical writer, a local company advertised for one.
While undergoing my own personal discovery, I landed a job where my bosses weren’t entirely sure what a “technical writer” did either. They admitted that someone in the “know” told them they needed one. How exciting that turned out to be!
The job turned into an amalgam of mostly self-assigned responsibilities. In learning how the new enterprise computing system worked, I learned more about the toy business and business in general than I could have ever hoped for. I got to create, I got to teach and I found myself becoming the one person who was finally succeeding in bringing everyone in the company together and building an excitement for a project that had only previously led to division.
Sadly for everyone, it was too late to save a once vibrant company. Thankfully for me, it was the beginning of the realization that way back in college I was on the trail of the perfect combination of professional activities to make a satisfying career for myself.
For me, my passion is the blending of the most creative aspects of computing and the construction of meaningful writing often used to sell something. Kinda ironic, that it was while working for a toy company that I would find where I belonged. Perhaps being surrounded by toys helped to remind me where my true creativity and joy lies.
Those periods of frantic job searches and abject fear of yet another layoff were all preparing me for who I am today. As I work with clients, there’s more than a bit of truth to my claim that I have either worked for or with a company like theirs or their target customers. It is so very exciting to rediscover with my clients the passion that led them to what they do and often renew that passion. “Why do you do it that way?” is but one of the many questions I ask that lead to new marketing ideas and on more than one occasion more product offerings for my clients.
Building websites and developing a sales message is so much more than what is book learned – it’s about finding the bravery to be creative and try something new. It’s about blending practical expertise with my imagination. It’s what I do! It’s who I am! And I love it!
I’ll end this bit of self-indulged, self-reflection with another quotation from Sir Ken Robinson, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Perhaps in my case it could be changed a bit to “If you’re not prepared to honestly evaluate and perhaps even reinvent yourself, you might never discover your greatest talents.”
How did you find what you were meant to do? Or are you still looking for it?
BTW, I recommend watching the video. Sir Robinson will make you laugh, he’ll make you think and perhaps he might inspire you.