In an earlier post, I chided:
“So you have big plans? No matter how big your dreams, you have to begin marching toward them, one step at a time. Each small step gets you that much closer. With each step, there is the the opportunity to learn something new, to re-evaluate, to meet new people, to try something different. Keep taking those steps, and eventually you’ll arrive some place interesting. It may not be where you intended to go (as I’ll describe in an upcoming post).”
Well, this is that post.
It can be very safe, warm and comfortable in that little box that we sometimes create for ourselves. To better realize our creative self, sometimes its necessary to break out so that we can can grow, and face new challenges.
Several times in my life I have broken out of that box, sometimes by choice, and other times by circumstances.
After working in New Orleans in the Film and Television industry, I realized that I had become pigeonholed in the jobs that were being offered to me. I was in a comfortable place. The money was not great, but I was making a living. I had my regular employers who would call me, so I was doing less of the uncomfortable cold calling that is required to gain a foothold. But I realized I had hit a ceiling. As I saw others around me seemingly doing better, more interesting and creative things, I realized I needed to break out.
Eventually, I found my chance. While working on a film shoot for a local TV producer, I found myself on Donald Trump’s airplane (this was back in the 90′s when he had a Boeing 727). We were covering the National Business Aircraft Association convention, and The Donald was trying to sell his plane, so we were invited aboard to shoot some video.
During that shoot, I was approached by a man who invited us to preview a new air-to-ground telephone system developed by a company in Chicago. It sounded interesting, so off we went to interview the CEO.
To make a long story short, I was fascinated by what this man was doing. He had an incredible track record, having founded a major telecommunications company. This air-to-ground phone system was his latest innovation.
That night as we were editing the tape, I listened to him describe his vision for the future and I bought into it. Knowing this company was small and in startup-mode, I made a copy of the tape and mailed it to him along with my resume. I told him how I was thinking of moving to Chicago, and I wondered if there might be a place for a creative media guy in his company. I quickly received a letter (before anyone actually used email or IM) inviting me to an interview when I got to Chicago.
I hadn’t actually had plans to move to Chicago, but off I went. I was in a place in my life where I could take a risk. Leaving my girlfriend behind (yes, there’s a future story there, too), I packed all of my belongings into my car and drove to Chicago, where I was fortunate to take up residence on a friend’s living room sofa. There I would sleep for the next two months.
Immediately I contacted the company to ask for that promised interview, but nothing happened. The founder’s secretary referred me to his daughter, who was the company president. Unfortunately, she was in Saudi Arabia on business for the rest of the month. I kept calling and writing but got nowhere.
Christmas was fast approaching, and I was feeling the oppression of the season. There I was, in my 20′s, sleep on a sofa, living out of my suitcase,my friend beginning to tire of my fixed presence in his living room, beginning to miss my girl friend, missing the privacy of my own apartment, no job, money and time fast running out.
What did I do? I decided to read the Grapes of Wrath to distract myself while I waited. I held firm to my goal: I wanted to go to work for THIS company.
Day time phone calls to the company were getting me no where. Finally one night, about 9 pm, I decided to call over to the company. The founder answered the phone. He was a a large, gruff speaking man, who at times would literally work 48 hours at a stretch.
This night he was alone in the office, and answering phone calls (I would learn later that he hated the sound of ringing phones — each unanswered phone call in his mind was money lost).
When he answered, I explained who I was, and he hired me on the spot, sort of. He asked, “So when are you going to start work?” I took the opening and said, “I was planning to start tomorrow.” “See you then,” he said.
The next day, I dressed in my best clothes and prepared to go to work. I showed up at 9 am. Unfortunately, the founder had not told anyone I had been hired, and early that morning he had boarded his private Cessna jet for Dallas, TX.
Nobody in the office knew what to do with me, so they put me in a conference room, where I stayed alone for three hours. Finally, just as I was getting ready to try to go searching for a sandwich (although I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure they would let me back in) the secretary for the President of the company (the founder’s daughter) came in with a smile on her face.
She said she had just spoken with her boss in Saudi Arabia, who confirmed that I was not just a nutcase off the street who had wandered into their business. So I was invited back to the core of the office space, where they gave me an office filled with boxes. They scrounged up a computer (they gave me the lone Mac computer because nobody else knew how to use it). I spent the day arranging the boxes and trying to create a workable space.
The next day, it was up to me to find something to do. So I gave myself the title of Director of Corporate Communications and PR, because I decided there were lots of Vice Presidents in this small company already.
When the secretary came in to ask me what my title was so that she could order my business cars, I hard coded that title for the next four years. In retrospect, I should have made myself a VP, but that’s another story.
I spent the rest of that second day trolling the office hallway, introducing myself to other 20 or so employees, and soliciting work. The VP of Sales needed help with a presentation, a job I threw myself into with gusto.
So what does all of this have to do with creativity? The essence of my story is that by putting myself in motion and taking a chance, I was able to create a situation where I would be able to be inspired, learn, connect with others, and exercise my creative abilities.
It is difficult to create if you do not have the tools, are uninspired, do not have a direction, a purpose, a focus, something to say, or motivation.
If you are stagnating, consider all of the possibilities: What might happen if you actually put yourself in motion? Can you conceive of a future without the constraints that are holding you back?
If I had not taken bold steps all those years ago, my life would be tremendously different than it is today. Perhaps it would be better, perhaps worse, but certainly different.
Each day there is the ability to take a different path. Most of us stay on the straight and narrow path because it is familiar, and possibly perceived to be ‘safe.’ Are you trading your future for safety and security?