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.
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... our business is thriving. 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.
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
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?