Harness your strengths to change your world and be your brilliant self.
My son, George, is 12. Like most kids his age he likes Xbox and playing rugby. But most of all he loves art. He spends hours drawing and creating, lost in a world of imagination with no pressure or purpose other than the love of putting pencil to paper. As a Designer, I take a little pride in perhaps my genes contributing to his emerging talent and I love that we have a shared interest. He's becoming more talented every day and possesses a gift that I know many people would love to have (even if I say so as his mum).
Last September he started High School, which has led to the start of the inevitable thinking a little deeper about his future career. (Is it me or does this seem to start earlier and earlier in life?). So, you can imagine my horror when a few evenings ago he said:
“Mum, I don’t know if I should do art when I’m older. Artists don’t change the world, only scientist and mathematicians do that”.
When I’d picked my heart up from the floor I explained how, from Neanderthals painting on the walls of their caves to Banksy spraying the walls of our cities, art has forever been key to persuading, enlightening , inspiring and making people think about life and the world around them.
The work of Banksy
To set him straight I shared with him countless examples of artist, designers and creatives who, through their depictions of social commentary, influenced the culture and state of the world around them. They brought visual messages to life and changed the mindsets and prevailing winds of the world around them. But it got me thinking... Why is art and creativity still seen as a softer, less important topic when compared to more ‘serious’ subjects?
Pamphlet by Willem Sandberg
As a typographer myself Willem Sandberg (1897-1984) has long been an inspiration to me in how art can be used to change the world. He was a designer and printer who became active in the Dutch resistance movement in the Second World War. The Gestapo put a price on Sandberg’s head, forcing him to go into hiding because he had turned his skills as a typographer to forging documents for Jewish people to avoid capture. His work was so accurate that the Nazis found them extremely hard to detect, making his work a lifeline for those he helped. During his isolation he made hand-made booklets, with the tools he had available, in which he collected inspirational ideas and quotes, each one had a definite typographic character and were presented in a style that was visionary for its times. In doing so, Sandberg brought focus to great questions which were being forgotten in the chaos of the world outside. It was an act of resistance, emerging from hiding and inspiring an audience to think outside the war.
What is it that brings you joy?
Art and design are always inextricably linked to the issues of the culture and political climate from which they’re born. As the awful events unfold in Ukraine, mark making expressing anger, hurt and incomprehension floods social media, just as Sandberg and countless other's pre-digital expression would have pervaded in the preceding centuries.
L: Artwork by @saschalobe echoing the words of 13 Ukrainian border guards.
R: Artwork by @oknocreative
Both available on @peopleofprint – profits to British Red Cross & the UN Refugee Agency
I felt so impassioned about my son’s words that I sparked a debate with my fellow FizzPopBANGers. They shared their own influences; the artists, designers, or creators that changed their own worlds. I wanted to show George how it matters to people on an individual level, not just across entire cultures. And anyway, he changed my world from the day he was born so he’s made a good start already!
We created a Miro board of our thoughts which you can access here if you’d like to explore and even add to it.
Once I’d given my best shot to countering this thought of George's I then asked myself:
“Where would he get that idea? Why are some strengths held up as a gold standard and some less so?”
My own experiences reflect this; I have a first-class degree but as it’s in Typography & Graphic Communication it’s sometimes perceived as ‘easy’. You’d have to wonder why everyone doesn’t have one?! Or chatting with some friends about which subjects they'd booked for their children's teacher conferences at parents' evening, my friend announced:
“I booked Maths, English, and Science… and Art… just because Ollie loves art but it’s only ever going to be a hobby”.
But here’s the thing:
“Ollie loves art”.
...it brings him joy, he’s good at it, why then would he not do the thing he has passion and energy around for a career?
Embracing your passions and being your brilliant self every day
Imagine being your brilliant self every day. When you’re brave and follow your dreams and that energy is expressed in the work that you do. Or, like Sandberg, you use whatever tools you have, to create, innovate and inspire others. It’s authentic, courageous and expresses an innate confidence.
A culture where everyone has to follow a traditional career path is not only out-dated, but also, in a world where new industries and careers are being created all the time, it is also short sited. We not only need to give permission to others, and especially our children, to carve their own paths, we need to actively encourage them. No role is exactly as it seems – you only need to look to Einstein's creative approach to science or Leonardo's mathematical approach to art to know that throughout history the lines between the two, the magic that happens when we use both sides of our brains, demonstrates just how important it is to not narrow ourselves to one type of discipline. Instead, we should see richness in learning that plays to our strengths and allows as much room for art and creativity as other more traditional vocation. You only need to look around any room, or across any environment to realise how essential artists are to our experience of the world.
Strengths, follow strengths. Even at his young age George has identified his strengths, his super powers that he has burning energy around. So I’ll encourage him to follow that path wherever it takes him, whether he changes the entire world or just his own.
So I’ll leave you with one of our favourite quotes that captures exactly what finding your own brilliant self looks like…whether it be in the arts or science (or any other form of talent that makes you happy):
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?..... Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do… It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Do you play to your strengths and be your brilliant self every day?
Come to our next Learning Collective event to explore what that means to you. Tickets (UK & Europe session)