In November I had the opportunity to visit Stanford University and be a guest speaker to two groups of students. The first was to the Designing Your Life class of 70 open to all Jrs and Srs. The second was 12-15 senior hopeful designers in Product Design (the Designer’s Voice). Their professor, Dave Evans, had purchased two wall pieces from me at Open Studios and thought that my story would be a great fit for these classes. I was one of several real life examples of people who used the art of creativity throughout their daily lives to create success (and what was a “successful” was measured in many different ways they learned.) I’d gone from writing accounting software at Apple in the 80’s to making pots and I considered myself quite successful even if my annual salary was about a tenth of what it was at Apple. They were an amazing group of young people filled with thought provoking questions. Here is my summary of what we talked about.
Pink’s Keys to Success
- Learn the rules, follow the rules, break the rules. I poke fun at myself for being a good little “doobee” (from Romper Room…jeez I am from the stone age!) for getting straight A’s in high school and being the one that all the teachers loved because I was such a good rule follower. But it served me so well! It’s now a knee jerk reaction to learn the rules and practice them until I have the proper “muscle memory” of how things are supposed to work. This gives me insight as to where I might insert a left turn, a right turn, or a zig zag in version 2.0. The iterative process of making pots in series demands this or the work gets stale and the consumer knows it. It’s so much easier to thumb your nose at the rules when you know them inside and out.
- Sit with the discomfort. I don’t mean seek the pain, just don’t run from it when you start to feel it. For conflict phobes our natural reaction is to try to “fix it” somehow so instead of dealing with the emotions which are creating the conflict we tend to squelch them somehow by distracting ourselves with activity. I’ve learned that if I can sit with that place of anger, confusion, disappointment without running off to tidy the kitchen or eat a bag of M&M’s I will inevitably learn something from it. I continue to make pots that don’t come out as expected, do art shows that don’t provide the hoped for sales, and have interactions with family members that don’t go as lovingly as I’d hoped. But as with most things that you practice on a regular basis it gets easier with time. So don’t run, sit and stay awhile.
- Do what you need to do to fill yourself back up. When I had children I initially felt guilty for taking them to child care two or three days a week. I had a mental image of what “the good mother” would do and that didn’t include dropping my kids off to be cared for and influenced by someone other than ME. But inside I knew I couldn’t be mentally healthy if I couldn’t do the very thing that I considered my dream job. So I explored options and, lo and behold, there was child care right down the road from me. My kids loved going to Lizzie’s to be with their friends and be loved and encouraged by Lizzie. At the end of the day I picked them up with eager anticipation of playing with them as I’d had an interesting day in my studio.
- Allow yourself to experiment without the need for an end product. As a working artist there is the perpetual list of what I must make to keep my inventory stocked at Many Hands Gallery in Capitola and for doing art shows. If I limit myself to sticking to that list I may eventually perfect a form which is tremendously satisfying but I miss the chance to find new material. So occasionally I do something that’s not on the list just to see what happens. It may lead nowhere or to a great big mess. More often it’s pay dirt.
- Forgive yourself (and others) and move on. Tell the voice in your head to “Shut the F up,” as you’re going to make mistakes. More than you can even imagine. Get over it. Say “I’m Sorry,” while you look into their eyes (or in the mirror) and mean it. Mind your manners. Having good manners shows that you care about the other person. Can you tell I’m a mom?
- Make a connection every day. Smile at a stranger as you catch their eye. I do this in the grocery store (I buy a LOT of food as I have 12 and 14 year old boys) or at the kids’ school. It opens your heart and the receiver’s heart which sends blood flowing to the brain like a shot of wheat grass juice. I used to march through my day accomplishing tasks looking at the ground so I could maintain focus. Several years ago I made the conscious decision to just look up while I walked. Then I started looking at others. It’s uncomfortable at first but it gets easier with practice. Now I alternate looking up and looking down because I don’t want to miss quality detritus that I may squish into the clay.
- Take risks but create a safety net. When I quit my job at Apple I had loads of cash in the bank, enough to live on for over a year. I also gave my employer 6 months (no, not weeks) notice so that I could train my replacement. I left very gracefully so that the door would be left open for my return if and when I ran out of money. This could be viewed as overkill by some but it’s what I needed for me to feel comfortable to take the first step.
- Develop a support network. For several years I maintained connections with my friends/associates at Apple when I left but I also embraced my new circle of ceramic artist friends and colleagues. I moved to Santa Cruz two years after I left Apple to buy a house and build a studio with my then future husband, Chris. I juried into the Open Studios Art Tour put on by the Cultural Council within a month of living there. Potters seemed to come out of the woodwork to meet me. I’d fallen into a close-knit supportive group just by taking the risk of showing my work to the jurors. I made life- long friends as a result of that first Open Studios Tour. They noticed my weird socks and came out to show me theirs. In the end I lost touch with the Apple folks largely because I moved over the hill. Those Santa Cruzans just never want to leave paradise. And my values gradually changed over time. I connected with people who were creative, curious, intellectually stimulating and committed to making a life that’s profoundly rich in experience if not in the all mighty dollar.
- Laugh daily. I proactively seek out and make things to crack myself up. I wear tie dye underwear so I can smile at myself every time I take a pee. Why miss the chance? Belly laugh = open heart = blood to the brain. I download Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and listen to it in my studio along with many episodes of Fresh Air, Stuff You Should Know, and Science Friday so I can hear about the outside world and stay current and laugh.
- Touch soft animals, children, and old people. Our family shares a dork of a dog, three cats, and a rat so there’s an abundance of comedy relief from doggie walkies, purring fuzziness, and stupid pet tricks. And that’s before the REAL animals get home from school. Hang out with a little person or an old person and they say the wisest funniest things sometimes. Plus they give great hugs or they need great hugs.
- Give back. You won’t really know your stuff until you teach it or share it. And then it comes back tenfold.
- I wouldn’t change a thing if I got in the time machine and went back to my 25 year old self. My art work, my relationships, my life wouldn’t be as rich as it is without all the angst along the way. I’ve found I’m really good at helping people who are “stuck” in a process weather it’s ceramic or mathematical. Empathy creates compassion which creates connection and you have a deeper empathy from having lived through a similar experience. With empathy comes authenticity.
- I still love money but it seems that our family usually has enough. We are rich beyond measure in the lives we’ve created for ourselves.