Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Profitable Process for Winning, Advancement, and Success

The Universal Game © Adriana Díaz 2005

            As a life coach, a writer, and a visual artist, I crossover many professional and intellectual borders. So, as I sit down to write a post in my blog, ThisCreativeLife, I ask myself: What is the difference between writing for my blog, or writing a post for LinkedIn? My conclusion: language. I recognize that I make an assumption (right or wrong) that LinkedIn readers are looking for nouns like success and advancement, and adjectives such as profitable and winning. Readers for my blog, I reason, are looking for nouns such as creativity and imagination, adjectives like expansive and self-emancipating. I see business energy pushing forward and upward; I see creativity emanating outward and inward.
            Well, it seems the first paragraph provides a psychological profile about my baggage regarding the aims of business, and the goals of creativity. There’s an interesting story beneath that profile, it is painfully self-revealing, but I am choosing to recount it. It begins with a confession: I started my college life as a Business Major. (The people who know me best are probably shocked.) I imagined myself going into advertising, marketing, customer service, or public relations. Without giving my age too directly, the story requires the awareness of the times: women, in nearly every field started as a typist or receptionist and fought her way into more challenging and accomplished positions. (Think Mad Men.) Being an optimist, I harbored my fantasies of PR and advertising until my first encounter with a professor from the Business Department. It was supposed to be an initial guidance meeting. Picture me: I was 18 years old, only months after my high school graduation. I was so excited by the whole prospect of entering the world of academia that I began college courses immediately that summer (Sociology I and Art History). I was an enthusiastic and diligent student because I loved learning. But in fifteen minutes that Business professor stripped the excitement right out of me, and with it, he took as much dignity as he could grab. Whether it was my race, my gender, or my low entrance exam score that heated his bitterness, I do not know. I only know that he made me feel lucky to have been allowed entrance into his office, and I had even been so bold as to sit in a chair. “You know,” I remember him saying, “we’re not going to let you people in here any more.”
            I should probably explain that my family had not allowed me to take normal college prep courses in high school because classes like Shorthand, Business Machines, and General Business were obviously more useful for a girl than Trigonometry (what was that, anyway?), Chemistry, and Anatomy and Physiology. The practical thinking of my parents told them that a girl didn’t need those subjects for anything. And, they were certain that I did not need to go to college, either. What would I do with that? Their expectation was that I’d get a “nice little job” like a bank clerk, secretary, or receptionist before I found the right fellow, quit work, and have children. (We were well past the 1950’s, but I think Latino families will drag their old world opinions about women into outer space one day.)
            What does any of this have to do with A Profitable Process for Winning, Advancement, and Success? Well, the story is about a pivotal moment in a young person’s life when one bad teacher pulled the lever that shifted her direction for a lifetime. Want to know what the pivotal question was? “How much math have you had?”
            Did my lack of trigonometry mean that I could never become a creative advertising executive? Did it mean that I couldn’t have written award-winning copy, or bring in great profits as a result of my imaginative designs? This professor would have needed some of that imagination to even ponder such possibilities, and I doubt he used that noun very often. What qualities had earned him the position as head of the department, I wonder? His limited personal character and biases certainly played a part in the job he did that day. How would an evaluation have looked like, if I’d been able to submit one? The man failed, the professor failed, and the system failed. F, F, and F. Unfortunately, the professor had all the power, and the only witness was a deep internal part of the student, a part that would speak out decades later after a long career as a teacher.
That professor stood at the door of the business world like a bouncer at a Hollywood club. He looked down his bigoted, sexist nose, didn’t even have to check the list, he knew that little brown-skinned girls were not allowed in his club. They were just husband hunting, as far as he was concerned. He failed to see academic potential because his intention had nothing to do with education or with business, his intention was to burn me, to barbecue my spirit until I would withdraw not just from the Business Department of Cal State Hayward, but from the entire college. How did I ever get in there, anyway? I was certain the word wetback was tucked inside him, carefully sequestered from his venomous tongue.

            At the core of this story is that question of language: What attracts a reader in LinkedIn and what attracts a reader to This Creative Life? Language has the power to draw us together, and it has the power to alienate and separate us.
            A reader looking for the experience of creative freedom, may turn away from an article about Profitability and Career Advancement. While someone who sees him or herself climbing the proverbial ladder of success, doesn’t have time for an article titled Expanding Visual and Spiritual Perspectives. Words are directional indicators, just like signs steering us along highways and city streets. We read them, and comply quickly to some (No Smoking, One Way Street, Do Not Enter) but others are not for the common good, rather they further agendas of power: Whites Only. No Women Allowed. 

            Looking back, decades removed from that defining moment, I see a world that recognizes the importance of working from both sides of the human brain in all spheres of endeavor: business, science, and the arts. We see now more interdisciplinary collaboration than ever before. And it is not by accident that this world is also more racially integrated than it was on that summer afternoon when I walked away like a young zombie wondering what could be salvaged of her life. The Civil Rights Movement, and the Women’s Movement which were making so much noise in those days, actually did change the world. (I wonder if that professor was still teaching at CSUH when they established a Chicano Studies program on campus.) To get to where we are, young women have fought their way past an entire army of academic and business world bouncers. There have been small individual battles and huge nation-wide battles.
            In the end, I seem to have written a post that is appropriate to LinkedIn and to my ThisCreativeLife blog. What I want to say is, when you see a word that has meaning to you, take ownership of it, and be responsible for what you make of it and how you use it. Winning, advancement, success, imagination, profit, expansion and self-emancipation: Shine your own light onto each one of these words and determine what they mean for you. Then, read a blog or an article in the Wall Street Journal that you think is not something you can relate to. Try on words that don’t speak to you, and find some connection. If we don’t do this, we wind up living in a divided world: all the MBAs have lunch together, all the poets speak only to each other. Study something that seems unrelated to your overall vision, and make it relate. If you have a sense of where you’re going, start walking, and chart your own course. I am reminded of a quote from the great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado:
“Travelers, there is no path, paths are made by walking.”