I’ve had the privilege of talking with several creative people of all disciplines: visual artists, writers, filmmakers, designers, musicians, and composers. The work I do affords me access to so many brilliant minds, and the one question I always want to ask (and often do ask) is, “When did you know this is what you were going to do?”
It seems like an obvious question, I know. The answer often starts with, “Well, when I was little…” and goes forward from there. For me, however, it is an Origin Question. My own creative energy has been stewing and brewing for most of my life, but I didn’t know how to harness that energy to propel myself into an artist’s life. So when I’m asking, I’m looking for a roadmap for others to follow. Others in the room may hear the answer and have their “a-ha!” moment and realize that key element they’ve been missing. To be honest, I ask the question for my own benefit — but as the respondent begins to formulate an answer, I am convinced that I am not the only one being rewarded with the answer.
I will try to explain, by sharing one of my most recent encounters with the Origin Question. In the marketing office where I spend my days, there is a young woman working as a freelancer on a short term contract. Turns out that she left her successful career in Marketing and PR about 6 months ago and ended up working with us after being recommended. For our story, we’ll call her P.R. P.R. is in transition, as she awaits acceptance into law school. She is outgoing, talented, very smart — and really good as a marketer. So I asked her about her “a-ha!” moment, that moment when she realized she wanted to be a lawyer. I watched and listened as her face washed over with nostalgia; she took me back to her childhood when, at the age of 8, she told a favorite aunt that she wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up. Her aunt, a lawyer, discouraged her from that path saying it wasn’t for her and said something about having to argue all the time. She was dissuaded and, as she grew and moved through her primary education she was encouraged in her inherent creative abilities. She took graphic arts and photography classes and was rewarded for her talents. Naturally, she pursued a creative career, achieved a degree in Marketing and Communications, and dreamt of a future of owning her own PR Firm someday. After an successful internship, P.R. received a full time position in a well-respected firm and was well on her way to realizing her dreams.
Except that, as this talented young graduate moved forward toward her future, P.R. began to discover that, for her, the work was not rewarding or fulfilling in any meaningful way. She wasn’t challenged; as she so succinctly put it: “How many ways are there tell people about brunch?”
At happy hours after work, she joked about becoming a lawyer instead; she told that joke so often that she began to wonder about it herself. As she mentions this to me, I see her eyebrows rise into a look of surprise and discovery. She’s reliving the storyline as she recounts the details. Finally, through speaking candidly with an old family friend, she realized this was not a joke but a longstanding desire and dream.
Skip ahead to today and after resigning from her PR position, studying for the LSAT (and rocking it!), P.R. is deciding which law school to attend — and has been accepted to her dream school. After coming to the realization and owning it, 6 months later she is on a new path, excited to pursue a new career — the one she wanted as an 8 year old.
While she is telling me her story, I point out the irony. Most kids are told to abandon their artistic pursuits for a “more reasonable career.” Her experience was the complete opposite! She was encouraged to choose a career in creativity but in the end, she found the work to be repetitive and unsatisfying. Her higher calling buried itself in her psyche and found a window to call out from when defenses were down.
It makes me wonder at the drive and confidence of P.R. as she embarks on her new path toward a forgotten dream. I wonder about my own Origin Story and think back to when I was a 20-something, figuring things out. Only, I didn’t really choose a path or point myself in any one direction. I knew from an early age that I was an artist, but never really figured out what that looked like professionally. Instead, I took odd jobs that lead to administrative jobs that lead to hotel jobs. 25 years later, I’m finally using my creative skills and sensibilities in a marketing position at a luxury hotel (one of the best, even if I do say so myself!) Over the years, I’ve studied and taught myself to live a creative life and with the help of supportive mentors and friends I’ve crafted a life that makes sense to me. At the fresh and innocent age of 48, my Origin Story is still being developed.
Which is probably what makes for a rich and interesting life after all. Our Origin Story is an ongoing story, with a beginning followed by a middle part, but then followed by a new beginning. By asking people the question, I’m given the opportunity to listen to a fascinating beginning — and the storyteller is given the opportunity to find their next, new beginning.
So, I pose the question to you, my reader: When did YOU know? What’s your Origin Story? I’d love to know in the comments below.