At the core

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Funny how you can work for your entire adult life and not realize what you’re actually good at.

Lately I’ve experienced a slow-moving epiphany. A career, calling, and vocational revelation.

It started a couple years ago at the going-away party for those of us departing NCS. There was an open mike and one of our friends got up and said, “You challenged me to grow as a person. Thank you. I didn’t realize I had grown stagnant.”

At the time, the comment surprised me.  I’m used to rattling around in the minds of people, asking questions or provoking ideas. It’s kind of what I do.  That feature might have been present in me before I entered the classroom, but teaching honed it to an edge.

And honestly I think my job as a teacher slowed my perception of my own skill set.  Of course teachers provoke their students to grow and develop and think — it’s what the word education means at its core. (e+ducere: from the Latin, to lead out).  And leading young minds to connect dots, challenge assumptions, question a situation, explore a text — that was my daily bread.

Arriving at my current job in marketing, I knew I had a range of skills that overlapped with higher ed. After all, I had 10 years experience with the student-side perspective on the college search process.  I can write copy (when needed); I can hack my way through a photo edit or the basics of a design; I can wrangle details of scheduling and trafficking to keep the projects flowing. But it still didn’t feel like a snug “fit.” The tailoring was off….

Last December, my office folks worked through an online tool to determine how we fit into the flow of work.  In a Design Thinking approach to work, some people identify as Ideators — they generate lots of ideas, play with them, kick off projects. They love the starting line more than the finish line.   At the other end are Implementers. Man, every office needs a few good people who roll up sleeves and take pride in actually getting things done.  Developers pick up an idea and hone it so it works. They start connecting dots and setting up systems — I have a dose of that in me for sure.

But my profile identified me as a Clarifier. Someone who digs in, asks questions, wrestles ideas, makes sure things are right before we take next steps. Uh, yeah. lol   I ask more questions than a 4 year old on a KoolAid high. I’ve been like that for as long as I can remember (no exaggeration). (Remind me to tell you the story of my 3 year old self following around the stone masons working on our house, asking an incessant stream of questions…)

As I fell into a messy soup of work this winter, especially projects related to our Admissions office, I found that the best way forward usually arose when I took the time to write a creative brief before plunging into a project.  We’re a small shop, so sometimes I generate an idea, assign it to myself, get some feedback, write a creative brief, create the copy, and run it past my boss. Then I pitch it out to one of our freelance designers to create, while I oversee the process much like an art director would.  Finally, as the project begins to take its final shape, I start gathering feedback from people to hone the design.  The process is too lone-wolf; hopefully we can retool our workflow.  

But I learned through this deluge of work that, actually, I really enjoy the process of writing a creative brief and providing art direction for our talented designers.

Because I get to watch them grow, to develop as artists and designers.

That’s when I finally figured it out — literally a week or two ago — that what’s been consistently beloved about my various careers is my love for developing people’s minds or skills, or for tending an idea or project or institution as it grows.  

To watch someone grow — to see their souls and talents and gifts open up like flowers before the sun.  That is something I love, and I fall toward those moments like moth to flame.

I really don’t know why it took so long for me to figure this out. But it’s nice to have found where I best contribute.

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