I once coached a young lawyer who preferred to be a writer. His father, a renowned physician, planted a belief within his mind in his youth that only medicine and law are respectable career pursuits. Dad implied that anyone who pursued “right-brained” work activities was actually “no-brained.”
After my client had successfully completed his law education and degree at one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, his mother, an unfulfilled artist, told him she would not consider helping him pursue his art passion. “You had your chance before and you didn’t take it,” his mother told him, referring to a time in high school when he almost pursued an art scholarship.
My client also claims he became a lawyer as well to fulfill his grandfather’s deathbed request. Granddad lamented his own mistake at never pursuing his dream of a law career. My client believed he was posthumously pleasing his grandfather with his career choice. Trouble is pleasing his family and not himself has already taken a toll on his young life.
So here he is not quite 30 years old, feeling confused about who he is and what he wants. On the one hand, he’s a lawyer who was fired from his last job and failed the bar exam in a state he moved to with his fiancé. On the other hand, he would love to pursue his art, but suffers from the fear that it won’t provide him the comfortable living and life style he imagines for himself. He’s in the “no-man’s land” between his heart’s desire and his head’s logic. It’s my job as his coach to help him reclaim himself and find a path out of his dilemma.
While his situation is extreme, most of us suffer from the issue of being pigeonholed in one way or another. We have far more talent than can be expressed through the limited means we’ve chosen as our vocations.
What’s our way out of this mess?
A book by Donald Friedman, The Writer’s Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture by Writers, inspired a CBS Sunday Morning segment focusing on this very issue. Friedman, it seems, aspired to be a writer himself. Like other artists, his family discouraged his creative endeavors and steered him into a more “pragmatic” career as a lawyer. After 30 years in a successful law career, Friedman returned to his love of writing, earning a number of awards along the way. As a man who traversed multiple career fields, it was natural for him to explore the topic in his book that profiles more than 200 famous writers who created art in other mediums.
In the CBS segment, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, author of A Coney Island of the Mind, laments how in this country we are pigeonholed (boxed in) according to our singular talents, “…you couldn’t be a serious painter too – (this) must be something he does on Sunday.” When asked which medium he prefers, writing or painting, he said both at once. It’s the same urge he claims. They are just different mediums of expression. He also believes that painting is poetry and poetry is painting.
Novelist Susan Minot, author of Evening, agrees likewise: her painting influences her writing and her writing influences her painting. She sees her painting, however, more like playing and turns to it as an outlet when she reaches an impasse in her writing.
Kurt Vonnegut who was as prolific an artist as a painter in his lifetime claimed that painting is known “to make a soul grow.”
Apparently writers paint for as many different reasons as they write. They explode with so much creativity that no one medium can contain it.
What of the rest of us? How are we pigeonholed?
Marianne Williamson, author of Return to Love, radio show host on Oprah and Friends, and the international speaker whose inspiring quote about our becoming all we can be has mistakenly been attributed to Nelson Mandela, suggests in one of her audio programs that if we ask a group of kindergarteners how many of them are singers everyone of them will raise their hands. By the time this group reaches third grade, only one or two of them will still claim this skill. It behooves us she says all to allow ourselves to express through multiple channels.
I often ask boxed in, multi-talented clients to consider what would have happened if some adult had warned young Benjamin Franklin to stop fooling around with electricity, his ambassadorship to France, pursuit of entrepreneur endeavors such as starting the Saturday Evening Post (previously the Pennsylvania Gazette) and more. My clients find this ridiculous. Put in such perspective, they realize asking Ben to pursue one avenue of talent would have indeed limited him and would limit them as well.
My recommendation to all of us would be to read books like those by Friedman. Read also biographies of people who have successfully pursued their own dreams.
Also be sure to “Google” writers who paint and painters who write. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn. You’ll certainly be inspired!
We live in an age in which many more means are available for greater expression. It’s time for us to claim a range of opportunities to pursue our talents. Let’s leave the holes to the pigeons!