A few weeks ago I spoke to six (count ’em 6!) classes at a local high school. I was asked to speak to a variety of classes about how I use technology in my business because apparently just as we used to say, “why do I have to know how to use a slide rule?” they are saying “why do I have to know how a spread sheet works?” Yeah, I know.
So I put together a talk about how even though I draw pictures and talk to people for a living my business if no different from say, Boeing or Target or Hostess Twinkies except they are super large and I am super tiny. We still have to deal with things like Sales, Marketing, Finance, Customer Service and Production (that’s the picture drawing part). Those big guys have entire departments to manage those things but I just have little old me (and little old Jim) to pay attention to each aspect of the business. I explained to them that in order to handle those things I use technology for keeping track of customers and money, to make the production side easier (you know, like Photoshop?) and word processing so that me can write pretty some day (stole that line from David Sedaris).
And for the most part they listened and nodded and asked me really good questions—except the students in the 7 am hour because—7 am. I like speaking at these kinds of events because I want the students to see a couple of things.
- You can indeed have a career essentially doing the same thing you did in third grade.
- You can do it no matter how damn old you are.
I also love these kids because it brings me back to that simpler/confusing/horrific place called high school and how it feels to be figuring out what your eventual place will be in this world.
But this is a long way to tell you a sweet story.
You know how whenever someone has a hugely horrible thing happen to them or a horrendous illness or they dangled over a cliff for two days holding on by their shoe lace and they say, “Well, if I can just help one person then it was all worth it”? That’s how I feel about appearing in a classroom at 7 o’clock in the morning. I know, I’m a giver.
I don’t know when the last time you were in a high school, but some of the ninth graders look like they still get a sucker at the doctor’s office while the seniors could be substitute wrestlers at the most recent WWF match.
As one of the classes got themselves organized, I chatted with 2 boys who showed me what they were working on in Photoshop. They told me all kinds of things that were completely over my head while I smiled sweetly and pretended that they weren’t 4,286 steps ahead of me in the Photoshop learning curve.
I proceeded to give my talk and then, as the class reorganized themselves for the next session, one of these boys quietly asked me a question. Now picture this. He’s one of those tiny ninth graders, holding an enormous stuffed to the gills backpack on his lap. He peered over the backpack and quietly said, “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure”, I responded.
“Where do you get your ideas?”
“Ah, good question!” I answered. That would have been a good question to be asked in front of the whole classroom, but of course in the emotional quagmire which is high school, there was no way this kid could have asked his question out loud since he would have not been able to predict if his simple inquiry would set off a chain reaction of humiliating interactions for years to come.
But I told him this: Every time you are starting a new project or get stuck on a particular part of a project ask yourself “What if…?”
What if this is bigger? What if this is smaller? What if it’s red? What if it’s black? What if I market to a new audience? What if I find a new client? What if I develop my own products? And if that doesn’t help you move forward, you can do what I told this kid to do.
Open a folder on your computer and name it “I don’t know where I’m going with this” (yes, I have one of these folders). And the next time you find yourself looking for ideas, look in that folder first and you may see those ideas in a different light. He smiled and thanked me and then hoisted that giant backpack on his back and off he went to his next class. I hope I helped him, both creatively and of course metaphorically (because I am deep that way).
Oddly, time and distance help us see the path more clearly sometimes. And that’s when you grow from that little kid peeking over your backpack to the professional wrestler you were meant to be.
Ronnie Walter is an artist, writer and art business coach. She has mostly recovered from high school.