People introduced as speakers or teachers wow me with their accomplishments—they’ve traveled the world, they are teaching celebrities, their work appears in books, TV shows, magazines. Sure, I’ve traveled a lot, too—I’ve been to China and Australia, Europe and Africa, Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong. I’ve taught a lot of classes—writing and speaking, paper arts and beading. But the most powerful experience of my life was failing. I had a good job and benefits in a company whose name you would recognize. You might, as have others, raise your eyebrows and ask, “Why did you give that up?” The long answer is complicated. The short answer is I re-defined success for a better fit.
I’d been with the company about a year when I realized that almost every day I had to adjust my goals, my ideas, my way of thinking. Being a part of a successful team was so important to me that I constantly suppressed my own values—what I considered important in life. My values were hazardous to my career. Those colorful, intricate, vivid analogies and metaphors made no sense to my team members and were completely irrelevant for the company’s mission statement.
To the company’s credit, they sent me to leadership school. It was wonderful. The people in my group were vibrant and alive with interesting stories and possibilities. We all had something in common: at work we felt like outsiders, forever on the cold side of the big window, looking in at the warm fireplace. We didn’t care if we didn’t win as long as our solutions were original and well-planned. On the last day, my group was separated from the rest, and told we were not leadership material. We could be “individual contributors” but never leaders.
I was taken into a small conference room with a psychological counselor who shook her head and said, “You don’t belong in the corporate world. Write down what I say to you.” It was a brilliant move, because I couldn’t hear anything except the collapse of my ambition. Until I read the notes later, all I knew is that I had failed. “You will never be happy in the corporate world. You are a risk-taker, you are an adventurer, you are a writer and artist, and the world needs you. Open your own company. People who succeed in corporations are those who never push themselves enough to fail and learn. They are the ones who stay safe and use safety as a weapon.” I can put it in quotes because I wrote it down. Of course, I didn’t believe her. I was not a risk-taker or an adventurer. I was the supporter of my family.
It was another five years before I saw how wise the counselor words were. Had I been a scientist or an engineer there might have been more room for exploration; had I been in a small development company . . . well, it doesn’t matter. Because one day, as if struck by lightning, I suddenly knew that my search for meaning in life was useless. We make meaning in life. And we do it through creative work. That was the beginning of my definition of success: making meaning in life. Making a difference.
Being a full-time artist and writer was good, but a tight fit. I went back to school and became a life coach, then continued and became a certified creativity coach. I’m not a therapist; I’m someone who understands how hard it is to be creative, to make art, to make sense of the world. Artists walk rocky paths in life, and I walk along over familiar terrain.The gatherings I find myself in are not so much classes as they are a recognition of each person’s private quest and sharing of information and stories.
And that’s what I’ll do here. Share information and stories, wisdom from the people who’ve told me about making meaning, a few ideas of my own. If you want to tell me a story that helped you make meaning, write me at QuinnCreative@yahoo.com You can also reach me through my website: QuinnCreative.com I’d love to hear from you.
Read Quinn’s Contributing Editor Profile here.
Listen to a podcast with Quinn and Ricë Freeman-Zachery here.
Learn more about Quinn’s upcoming book Raw Art Journaling here.