When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It’s a wonder
I can think at all
~Paul Simon, Kodachrome
By an accident of birth depositing me in middle class America, I am blessed with a high quality education, a blessing not available to many in my country. I am the beneficiary of parents that valued children as individuals, valued education, and were willing to sacrifice to make quality schooling possible. They gave me the gift of private elementary and high schools placing a strong emphasis on the three Rs (reading, writing, ‘rithmetic) preparing me for eventual success in Engineering School.
Looking back with the clarity of an educated person, I see a chasm in my learning, a chasm completely untouched by 20 years of formal education. Offered the chance to fill the fissure, my young mind would not have embraced what I would have viewed as folly. I have felt the impact of the gap over the years on my ability to be successful.
School measured our ability to regurgitate information the way a mother bird hacks up prechewed food for her chicks. The better we were at parroting the thoughts of our educators the higher our grades. Completely missing from the entire process was any focus on creativity, on individuality. Even art classes judged our efforts on how accurately we followed directions contrary to true art which seeks to provoke, to challenge, to elicit an emotional reaction, to arouse feelings, and, most importantly, to put something brand new into the world. Not a replica. Not a duplicate.
The education I received in the 1970s was geared toward creating automatons better suited for factory life than the dynamic world where creativity is key to ongoing success, key to personal satisfaction in the work we do, the hobbies we pursue, the lives we lead. I don’t blame the system. They taught what they knew, what our society expected, those precepts society believed would be our keys to success. That the success they were shooting for was 20 years in the past instead of 20 years in the future is an unfortunate result of short term thinking, of a system riddled with personal interests instead of focused on kid needs, of a system devoid of effective leadership.
Am I successful?
Yes. Partly because I have a solid foundation in the three Rs but more and more so because I immersed myself in creative endeavors beginning from the day I walked out of University with degree in hand and partly because I continue to make creativity a cornerstone of my ongoing development. At first, the choice was unconscious later becoming planned pursuit. No one pointed me toward creative endeavors. It was more a hunger in a soul starving for sustenance, a spirit drawn to beauty in art. Nature abhors a vacuum. My soul could not have thrived without creativity.
I grew my creative muscles on my own through the pursuit of photography to the point I consider myself a digital artist, through the pursuit of scribing words to the point I consider myself a writer, through the pursuit of arranging pigment on canvas to the point…well, I’m not a painter yet having not touched a brush in over 25 years. The desire to create paintings is still rumbling beneath the surface so I recently purchased some horsehairs and acrylics believing painter is on the not too distant horizon. I find each of these creative paths complement the others, help my creative muscles bulge and pop.
These continued creative pursuits have helped me make a living. Not directly. Not in a medium considered fine arts or even art where I birth a finished work into the world for profit. My primary medium is humanity. My most developed art, the place where I exercise individual creativity to the greatest degree, is in leadership, in helping people realize their full self.
Early in my career, I was a people manager followed by becoming a project manager. Initially, I was a poor people manager, a slightly better project manager. The problem was I viewed people as replaceable cogs rather than unique entities. I got things done, sometimes at the expense of people, rarely with their longer term interests in mind.
How does a manager become a leader?
Sprinkle the manager with liberal doses of fairy dust, the kind that changes them into a person that intentionally adds value to people, and a leader has the opportunity to emerge. Seeing with the eyes of an artist maximizes the effectiveness of the fairy dust.
Where I saw cogs in a machine, I now understand each person is a unique canvas, a unique individual who can bless the world in a way no one else can. I tailor my leadership to the needs of each unique person which, more often than not, requires me to creatively adjust my approach to work with the contours of their personality.
I seek to ennoble people, coach their skills, coach their confidence. I seek to coach them in a way that great things can happen in their souls. I lead to empower them to unleash themselves. I lead them with a focus on helping them become who they are not who I think they should be. Thus, my education comes full circle unifying with the three ‘Rs, and creativity with a solid foundation in humanity.
The foundation was my education from the example my parents established as they raised me and my siblings. My parents valued all their six kids as individuals helping us become who we are without imposing their ideas of who we should be. We are teachers, police officers, homemakers, grocery store clerks, and engineers. They constructed a framework to guide us but, within those boundaries, pretty much allowed us complete freedom to express our individuality. This is much more ennobling than putting a ring in our noses and pulling us into a destiny that would likely have destroyed our souls. And it is the basis on which I lead people today.