Tuesday, May 29, 2012

When We Grow Up

I recently gave a talk about my artwork and shared how it had grown out of my interest in family history. Afterwards I received an interesting question. Do you consider yourself more a genealogist or an artist? I replied that I have a set of skills that cuts across all of the areas that capture my interest...I tell stories and solve puzzles. Those skills are used in my artwork, my genealogy research and even my financial work.

I've thought about that question since and have a bit of a "top of the stairs" response, you know, one of those answers that occurs to you after the fact. So much of our life is about what will we be when we grow up and we are expected to select one option. For me the list of options ran something like this: artist, book illustrator, interior designer, writer, librarian, anthropologist, archeologist, industrial engineer, psychologist, lawyer, nonprofit director, banker, investment manager, treasurer, genealogist, historian, storyteller. Each thing I did opened me up to new possibilities. As a child I loved books and art so I decided a book illustrator might combine the two. My grade school librarian was one of my early role models so librarian made it on the list and I spent my college years working in libraries. A college anthropology class combined with a childhood love of mythology caused me to consider exploring ancient stories and cultures. A stint typing papers in the IE department caused ergonomics to intrigue me, designing things to fit the human body. I actually read and thought about what I typed. When options became realized I found that nonprofit management offered a test tube environment. I could take an idea and make it happen. Financial careers came later in my life as I concluded they offered a way to have control over one's life as well as an opportunity to solve puzzles.

I used to observe people around me who seemed so much more directed on their career path, they WERE an accountant, a lawyer, a money manager. I on the other hand was merely masquerading and had a hard time taking it all as seriously as they seemed to. I didn't have a single-minded drive to be that one particular thing. I was just passing through exploring along the way. I used to counsel people who worked for me that work should be entertaining and that was what it was to me. It was an exploration of things that intrigued me, puzzles to solve, no different than a game of Scrabble except they paid me to play it. That didn't mean I liked everything I did, but I always found enough that I did like to find enjoyment in my career. And even though I didn't bring a single-minded focus on one career, I found success in each of my careers by finding the enjoyment in them. That made me good at what I did which led to some of the success that those more single-minded people were seeking so intently.

So artist or genealogist or for that matter any of the careers that I've explored? I've spent much of my life pushing back on the walls when people tried to put me in one box. Work places have a way of doing that. I still find new disciplines that intrigue me, but even more I find the linkages between different disciplines. Thus my interest in genealogy leads me to the events of world history that affected my family's lives. In turn my artwork becomes a vehicle to tell the stories of family and cultural history. When you are your own boss, choosing your projects based on your interests, you find a more meandering path, but also one that takes you into many disciplines. And if creativity is the melding of disparate disciplines perhaps this approach best allows it to bloom.

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