A little while ago, I whipped up an essay exploring whether or not creativity can be taught for a speaking engagement with a bunch of high school students that were about to graduate. The challenge was to calm their nerves and let them know it is okay to make mistakes. In fact, it is very important for them to make mistakes.
In high school, I was drawn to the arts, no pun intended. Anything to do with making stuff up, creative writing, drawing, occasional creative math solutions, I was all in.
Of course, I never got credit for the creative math answers.
I decided to try my hand at art and went off to a perfectly good art school in the middle of nowhere in New York State.
Here is where I made my first mistake: I knew, deep inside, that I needed to learn how to make money so I could afford to move out. Some jobs were fairly easy to come by but I needed to make more than I was making as a paperboy (does that job still exist?) in order to meet my goals.
I also wanted to be creative. It seems like a school that was all about being creative and artsy was the place to learn. I chose a school that was all about the creative. Unfortunately, and here is the mistake, I chose a school that taught me nothing about how to make a living being creative.
I learned quite a bit about art, a bit more about social interactions. But, mostly I learned about consequences. I got frustrated because no one was talking about what to do with your art when you were done with it. No one talked about how to get more funding to create the next new piece. Or, pay rent. Or, pay for lunch, for that matter.
Here was mistake number 2: Instead of pausing and looking at the situation, I kept on going. I was afraid to make another mistake by admitting I made the first mistake, choosing to be there.
Eventually, I was asked to take a leave of absence to rethink my priorities. The powers that be took the decision away from me. Which, in hindsight, was the kick I needed to get myself moving.
On to mistake number 3: My next step was to go subconsciously as far away from creativity as I could. I got me an associates degree in hospitality and went and worked for the Man. Only the Man was actually a 6 foot tall mouse. If you ever want to see factory work done outside of manufacturing, go look at Disney World behind the scenes. The SOP book for the little job I had as a front desk clerk was held in 4″ binders -plural.
It was a great job for making a paycheck. It was a fun job for the perks. It was perfect if you wanted to conform to the Disney version of the all American norm. But, may the fairy god mother help you if you wanted to change something. And, I wasn’t ready to wait 10 years to get into management.
Seriously, am I the guy to tell you how to succeed and get to the next level in life?
I don’t know. Slightly better than average in high school. Dabbled in sports. Played in theater a bit. Got solid B’s and sung in the choir. (the ratio of girls to boys was two to one. I wasn’t a math genius but I could figure the odds. How many girls on the football team in my day?). But I did have a passion for art.
Went to art school. Failed out of art school. Experimented with other schools, got an associates degree in the hospitality field. Worked as a shift manager in fast food, interned in a hotel in Disney world, came back and decided to give art a try again.
I spent some time working with various photographers in my area. Here were people who were working in a creative field, actually making money by creating art. I worked on everything from commercial industrial projects to weddings. Sometimes, the definition of art was stretched a bit, but I certainly started to see the connection between creation and making a living. And, that is when I made the decision to go back to school. This time with a plan, a mission and a goal.
My college career spanned 5 schools, 2 states, 4 cars and 10 years before I finally got a BFA from The Rochester Institute of Technology.
Looking back on it, I made a lot of mistakes. Some were quite expensive. But.
I also learned from every one of them.
The biggest lesson was that, aside from being in art, I had no idea what I wanted. But, that was okay. Every choice I made was part of that search. It had its ups and downs and, each time, I could take a way a lesson about life and apply it to future choices.
There is only one mistake that I came across that would have really been bad. That would have been to not make any mistakes at all!