How to Embrace Your Clark Kent Disguise

 
 on my way to work

on my way to work

 renewing my soul at my art desk at home

renewing my soul at my art desk at home

If you'll lean in closer, I'll share a secret with you:  I'm not a full-time artist. 

When I'm not in my studio, I actually work as a Human Resources Manager for a local company.  I'm also on the Leadership Team.  At my 9-5 job, I enjoy the people side of business.  I enjoy developing our values and coaching our team.  I especially love learning about negotiations and resolving conflict.  ***Nerd Alert: one of my favorite books of all time is Chris Voss' Never Split the Difference.  He's a former FBI hostage negotiator.  I highly recommend the read!***

Because of my desire to learn more about negotiations at work, my boss invited me to go to a full week, all-expense paid training at Harvard Law School back in December.  My heart skipped a beat.  I immediately accepted the offer.  

While at the training, I learned from Peace Negotiator and founder of Harvard's Negotiation Program, William Ury, Harvard Law School professor Gabriella Blum, and Harvard's Guhan Subramanian.  I got to meet CEOs from around the world, foreign diplomats and dignitaries, whip-smart attorneys and entrepreneurs who came to learn with me as well.  It was humbling to be in a room with so many talented and driven people.

 Dr. William Ury

Dr. William Ury

 Guhan Subramanian

Guhan Subramanian

 Harvard's Memorial Hall

Harvard's Memorial Hall

 me

me

 

As much as it was an honor, I realized that while I was there, I felt really out of place.  Who was I to belong there with all of these successful professionals who were out conquering the world when all I wanted to do was to create things from my cozy studio and illustrate journals and children's books?

I felt like I had to pretend to be someone I was not and act excited about things, that --- while interesting --- didn't light up my heart like art does:   "Oh yes... business is booming.  Revenues are high.  How have your recent corporate decisions affected your shareholders?" 

Shortly after this amazing trip, I started to sink into depression. (No shame here.  You can read more about the link between Creativity, Intelligence, and Depression in this article.)   I fell into a mucky-stuck rut with my art.  If I can pin-point when an "identity crises" type of thing occurred, it was probably after this trip.

Why?   Because the more successful I became at my job, the more I felt pulled away from my calling.  Each day as I went off to work, I felt like I was stepping into a disguise and leaving my true self buried under spreadsheets and business clothes.  I felt lost and sad.  To be frank, I felt pity for myself.  Why couldn't I just be me 100% of the time?   

My poor-me and self-destructive thoughts made me feel paralyzed.  Who was I becoming?   Is my life a fake?  Was I leaving my artist-self behind?  What is the point in me continuing with my art anymore?

And then I began thinking of Superman and Clark Kent.  If you're not familiar with the DC comic, Superman was an alien with super-human qualities.  He was found as an infant and adopted by human parents.  To assimilate into society, Superman took on the identity of nerdy, awkward Clark Kent who worked as a reporter for a local newspaper.  It was his way of surviving in a world where he didn't belong.

clark-kent.jpg

Thanks to Superman, I realized, No.  I was not leaving me behind.  I was protecting my true identity.

The realization helped me embrace my Clark Kent/Human Resources disguise, which has freed me from feeling stuck and sorry for myself. 

If you're feeling down and stuck because you're not where you feel most alive, I want to share 4 things that have helped me:

1.  Recognize the opportunities your disguise affords. (aka, Be Thankful).

Being a professional allows me to grow in ways I would have never otherwise experienced.  Had I not shown an interest in negotiation or had the boss that I have now, I would have never gone to Harvard.  (For a girl who was a teen mom, this was an incredible blessing for me.)  Had it not been for my full-time job, I wouldn't have made the connections that I have, nor would I have grown into the person I am today.

2.  Remember the safety your disguise provides.

My "disguise" allows me to pay the bills and live in a nice, comfortable home.  It has given me experiences that cannot be taken from me, experiences that will most definitely help me in my future.  If Superman were Superman all of the time, I'm sure he'd be tired and exhausted from having to constantly look over his shoulder, wondering when the next threat will come.  My job gives me a lot of security.

3.  Be sure to take off your disguise from time to time. 

Do the things that make you feel most heroic and alive.   It was in Superman's blood to be super strong.  He used those powers for good.  Had he stayed hidden in his disguise, I'm sure he'd feel lost, frustrated, and out of place more often than not.  And where would the world be without Superman to save the day?  Go out and kick some butt with your true, God-given talent.

4.  Surround yourself with people who remind you of your true self.

Just like Superman had a few people in his life who knew his true identity (his adoptive parents and his love, Lois Lane), it's important to have people in your life who remind you of your true self.  For me, these people are my husband, sister, and best friends. These people encourage me when I'm feeling lost and down and out of place.

"A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words." 

- author unknown

 where I feel like I most belong

where I feel like I most belong

So, how about you?

  • What does your disguise look like?

  • In what ways does your disguise help you?

  • When are you your truest self? What are your super powers?

  • How can you go out and save the world?

On Being "Stuck"

Jennifer Frith, Artist

Hi. 👋   I've not created anything new in the past couple of months. ...Boredom, ennui, creative block ... I don't know what the heck to call it. 

But instead of continuing to resist it or worry that I'll be stuck in this paralyzing dark hole of "the creative blahs" forever, I'm going to just relax and ride it out.  That's what you're supposed to do when you're stuck in quicksand, after all.

Sometimes when we label ourselves as "creators" or makers or artists or moms or workers or whatever, we can really mess ourselves up in the head when we fall short of the expectations we put on ourselves.

But I'm more than "what I do", and you are too. ✌

And sometimes resting, stepping back, and looking at ourselves as whole people instead of just a role we fill is one of the healthiest things we can do.

And that's all I have to say about that. 🎨  I'll be back to making art soon.

What do YOU do when you're stuck in the deep dark muck of creative despair?

Jennifer Frith, Artist

Originally posted on my Instagram account.  To all of those who replied there, thank you! 

Meet the Maker - Jane Ammon

A few weeks ago I introduced you to one of my best friends, Leah Kilcup.  I also want to introduce a woman and friend who inspires me, Jane Ammon.

Before you meet Jane, you might be asking, "Why are you doing these interviews, Jenny?"

My why behind these interviews is to inspire creative individuals like yourself to see and know that your work matters even if you are not a full-time professional artist.  Especially if you are not a full-time professional artist.  

You, my friend, are still an artist.

You might be a full-time mama who steals away your creative time before the sun comes up.  You might be a full-time business woman who pours herself into her work, comes home at the end of a busy day, drops her briefcase on the floor, jumps into her sweatpants, and takes a few minutes to paint at night from her kitchen table.  Our, you might be a full time retiree whose kids are now grown and the house is now empty, and you want to explore creativity with your new-found free time.  

I believe that no matter what our role, it's important that we answer the call to create because art has the magical ability to make us feel alive.  I'm inspired by women who make the time to honor that.  I want you to have the opportunity to meet these makers too.

So who is Jane Ammon?

Jane is a photographer, writer, and teacher who lives in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania.  I met her a few years ago after being hired by her husband, Erik Ammon, to illustrate his 2 childrens' books, The Rabbit Who Wished He Could Fly and The Lost Squirrel.   Through a series of 1 on 1 coaching calls, she helped me find my own creative "why" of encouragement.  (You can read more about that here.)   

One thing I admire most about Jane is that she emanates authenticity and light in her work.  She speaks from her soul and listens intently to others.

She creates and listens.  You can't help but want to do the same. 

I hope you'll give her a listen below.

Interview with writer and photographer, Jane Ammon

Hi Jane!  Let's get started.  How would you describe *you*?

Whew, a loaded question, huh?  Well I’m devoted, quirky, natural, and full of mercy.  I’m a listener, a creator created by our creator, and I’m madly in love with being alive.

What does a typical 9-5 look like for you?

Well it depends on the day!  During the college semester, on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday I’m up on campus doing what I love:  teaching future teachers about how to educate students with special needs.  On Mondays and Wednesdays I’m in my home office working on writing, creating or allowing myself to rest.  Weekends are spent being a Mom taxi, reading books, playing games with my family or photographing amazing families!

Interview with writer and photographer, Jane Ammon

What is your favorite way to unwind?

A cup of coffee with one or more of my people...at a table, or in the living room, or at a coffee shop or outside on my patio.  My best unwinding happens when I get deep and real with my people or in prayer/meditation.

What about photography makes you feel alive?

When I make people feel heard.

Interview with writer and photographer, Jane Ammon
Interview with writer and photographer, Jane Ammon

When did you first pick up photography?

I picked up a camera for the first time in 2004/2005 after our son was born.  I started my photography business in 2009 after we came home from China with our daughter!

Your creative outlet seems to be primarily focused on photography, but do you have other creative outlets that you enjoy?

I love to write, especially letters to others...sometimes in actual handwritten letters and many times as blog posts to my community.  I always write with the intention of sharing my heart.  I also love to paint my “gratitude monsters.”  I make them into notecards to send letters to people!  Basically making notecards of any form makes me happy!  Knitting also ebbs and flows in my life as well.

How do you keep your creativity flowing?  Do you have any favorite creative books or podcasts you could recommend?

I keep it going through reading and podcasts as well as talking to other artists.  I love the book “Crossroads between Should and Must” by Elle Luna.  I am also a die hard Brene Brown fan, so all of her books keep me grounded and inspired.  My favorite podcast is “On Being” with Krista Tippet.

You’ve mentioned to me how important it is to have a supportive family in your creative corner.  Can you elaborate?  Who are "your people"?

My people are the backbone of my creativity.  My husband, Erik, is my number one fan and he is always encouraging my creative work.  I also rely on my dearest friend Lisa.  She and I talk 3-5 times a week about life and making art.  Our children, Connor and Maddie, continue to be my deepest inspiration as they are always interested in how my creative process works.  And my wonderful gaggle of friends (artists and not artists) are my constant flow of strength.

What creative work, pieces of art, or photographs are you most proud of?

I’m the most proud of my personal projects.  The first one “The Clothes They Came to Us In” was my first gallery show and that was life transformative as it taught me that I am, indeed, a writer and a poet.

The second personal project that went to a gallery show “Into The Light” is another of my proud creations because it gave me the opportunity to tell the stories of brave women I admire.

I’m also really proud of my current personal project which is a series of self portraits I’m working on through the year.  I’ve created a group of women (anyone can still join!) and I send them prompts of self portraits to make every two weeks and then I make one too with them. It’s been balm for my soul this year.

Interview with photographer and writer, Jane Ammon
Interview with photographer and writer, Jane Ammon

What tips would you have for anyone wanting to carve out creative time for themselves?

I think it’s the best gift we can give ourselves, to create something everyday.  Creativity is not about art.  I firmly believe all of us create something each day.  Opening the door for a stranger and making eye contact creates connection.  Singing loudly in the shower creates joy for you.  Writing in your journal creates a release.  Holding space for someone in struggle creates peace.  Do any of these and you are a creator.

You offer photography courses and creative classes.  Tell us a little bit more about them.

I do!  It varies, sometimes I have Intro to your Camera classes in my home and sometimes I have journaling classes online, it really varies from season to season for me.  Right now what I’m focusing on is 1:1 mentorship for women who are in the beginning of their creative business, to help them find a solid place to start.

I hope to turn my self portrait prompts into a class or a book within the next year!

Interview with photographer, Jane Ammon

 

Where can people connect with you?

Jane, thank you for taking the time to do this interview.  You kindle a creative spark within others, including me.  xoxox

. . . 

Be sure to follow Jane on one the channels above, and let me know in the comments below how Jane inspires you!