Not What You Do, But Who You Are

It’s amazing, really. I’ve been an artist all my life, and there is no end to what I still need to learn. Sometimes I feel as dumb as a box of warm rocks. Sometimes I love that I don’t know enough. A person who knows everything has nothing else to learn. I’d be bored.

Change is Inevitable by GollyGForce, licensed through Creative Commons.

Creative Lessons Arrive From Weird Sources
Life essons come from any creative source. And many people in our lives are hugely creative–we just don’t notice it because we don’t look for creativity in everyone.

As I forge ahead to writing the next book proposal,  I am meeting all sorts of stumbling blocks–negative self-talk, time sucked up by paying jobs, and lots of questions about art from people who know me as a corporate trainer.

The one that amazes me the most is, “What does art DO? What good is it?” We have created an interesting culture. Every item in our reach must be practical, nothing can exist without a goal, a purpose, an objective. Art can’t be for beauty, art has to be competitive and functional. “My art not only does X, but it does it fast!” Could someone please apply this demand to television? We’d be watching blank screens by next week.

Growing into Art
We no longer go to school and learn music, philosophy, art. All that is considered a waste of time. Yet it is from mythology and art we learn about ourselves, our values, our ideas. But school is now about reaching a goal–a job. Most universities are no more than Trade Schools for careers. Yesterday I heard that the public schools in my state want 14-year olds to declare a ‘major’ and then learn that trade. We are back in the 13th century, when 12 to 14 year old boys chose a Guild, signed on as an apprentice for seven years, and learned a trade.

I changed my mind about what I wanted to be many times. I started out as a writer, switched to being a science teacher, editor, copywriter, silversmith. . .and kept adding skills well into middle age.

A different kind of change.

That switching privilege is important for creative growth. Schools are spending a lot of time training us to DO something instead of to BE someone. I  learned a lot from teaching, making silver jewelry and handmade paper, but over time, I knew that returning to my roots of mixing images, colors, textures and words was where my artistic truth is.

Life IS Art, Life is AN Art
If I had been sent to school for what I wanted to be at 14, I’d be a horseback-riding ballerina. Why rush children through the only childhood they will have to live in a career they don’t like when they are 25?

Most of my life coaching and creativity coaching clients are on their second or third career. Creativity can’t be pointed out and beat into shape at age 14. Creativity grows with us our whole life.

Think back just a few years–your cell phone had an antenna you had to pull up before you answered it, it didn’t have a camera, and the software you are using today didn’t exist. The best skill to learn in school is how to deal with change and critical thinking, both of which are truly useful your whole life.

It’s OK not to know what you want for the rest of your life  at 7, at 14, and at 55. Because not knowing is the only sure way to knowing. And once you know, you also know what you don’t know. It is not the endgame, it’s the path. It may be the biggest “Ah-HA!” I’ve had in years.

–For more information on life coaching, creativity coaching, and the words-and-images work of one artist, visitQuinn McDonald’s website.

8 thoughts on “Not What You Do, But Who You Are

  1. You’ve echoed my thoughts here so perfectly. Especially the ‘not-knowing’ the only real ‘knowing’ that there is. Thanks for this. It’s affirming to hear my thoughts articulated like this.

  2. Quinn, my husband and I moved around the world because of his job and I chose to join him. For me it meant that I could not work for in most countries spouses were not allowed to work. In many official occasions I was asked the question “what do you do for a living ” and in the beginning I felt the need to explain this and that, but at a certain moment I felt so annoyed for I felt nobody wanted to know who I really was… So at some moment in time I decided to answer the same-over-and-over- question with the answer “nothing” and then for some reason I have had the most interesting conversations…
    This post reminds me of those days 🙂

    • That was a very brave answer, at least from and American standpoint, where we often determine a person’s value by what they “do.” It’s one of the characteristics that made me crazy about living in D.C.–people asked the question to see how you fit into their hierarchy of needs. Troublesome. I can imagine you did a wonderful job of conversation starting, though. I’d love to hear some of those stories.

  3. I have been reflecting on education, school and learning, and love your line;
    “The best skill to learn in school is how to deal with change and critical thinking, both of which are truly useful your whole life.”
    I wish the education system could take this on board. I have an intelligent, creative, emotionally sensitive, literate six year old, who is just miserable at school. His teacher thinks he has concentration difficulties, because he doesn’t concentrate on his handwriting. Of course he doesn’t!. There are thousands of things to learn about and to do, forming your letters perfectly doesn’t seem relevant to him. I wish I could share your words with all the “educators” out there who are stuck in getting information and technical skills into our wonderful young people.

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