One Friday, in response to my company’s Summer Education challenge, I logged into their web portal to peruse the classes offered. A taped SkillSoft seminar entitled, “Unthink: Rediscover Your Creative Genius,” presented by Erik Wahl piqued my interest and I decided to give it a listen. (Mr. Wahl has written a book by the same name, which I think is worth checking out.) The seminar addressed reawakening the imagination and passion we possessed as children until, first school and then life constricted our creativity into “logic” and, in some cases, caused us to simply fold our wings and refuse to fly.
It certainly applied in my case. I never wanted to be cooped up in an office, but the competition’s fierce, regardless of your chosen profession. Self-employment proves especially tough, which is why I took the “safer” route writing computer code instead of fantasy. Thirty years ago, “data processing” was the up and coming thing. Computers still posed something of a mystery and required specialized teams to maintain them. They were locked away in sophistically air-conditioned rooms because the machinery put out so much heat that, without a cooling system, you’d suffer major damage or even a fire. I still remember my first visit to the computer center of a local trucking company while enrolled in an introductory computer class. The computer itself was the length of the wall and sounded like an idling tractor. Four people manned keypunch machines (this was in the 1970’s) while others walked around carrying big trays of cards. Tape drives lined another wall, two big printers hammered out reports, and another machine trimmed the perforated edges off the fruit-striped paper the reports had printed on. The flurry of programmers and technicians surrounding this beast made me think of worker bees attending the queen.
Yes, computers were the Next Big Thing and should provide a steady paycheck. Programming, however, demands LOGIC and holds no tolerance for anyone who colors the sun red, the sky yellow, and the grass blue (as I did back in the first grade). I had to grind down the corners and rough edges of my thinking in order to cram myself, a square peg, into the round hole known as “business logic.” It took a lot of work, but I somehow succeeded. My creativity, however, suffered and thus I was eager to hear what Mr. Wahl had to say. While these are not his words exactly, I think I caught the gist of what he said:
1) Don’t be afraid to take a risk and don’t be afraid to fail. To illustrate, he asked his audience how many could draw. A few hesitant hands went up. Mr. Wahl noted that, were he to ask a group of first-graders that question, every hand in the room would shoot up. Instead of thinking, Oh, I can’t even draw a decent stick figure, children are eager to show what they can do. But by adulthood we have suffered failures and encountered people whose abilities surpass ours. In our eyes we pale by comparison, and so we’re embarrassed to display what we perceive to be pathetic or even ridiculous efforts.
2) Become engaged. Why do children pick up new languages faster than adults? Many adults try to translate word for word, while children simply think in the new language and don’t realize how difficult it is. Children adapt more easily than adults. I have been especially constrained in this area. My profession changed radically over the last thirty years. We used to be “data processing.” Now we are “information technology.” As an IBM midrange programmer I worked on a “dumb terminal” until 1997, when I took a job at a company that interfaced its IBM midrange with windows servers. Talk about culture shock! But I had to adapt, and even attempted to learn “object oriented” languages, which is when I discovered what a migraine headache was. These languages do not even resemble RPG. Frustrated, I gave up and thus did not engage.
Neither had I embraced social media which, given what I want to accomplish, is absolutely necessary. Writers need to network. They need to market. Social media enables both. Facebook. . .Twitter. . .Pinterest. . .to me they look complicated and so I balk. However, I must adapt in order to one day break out of programming and into full-time writing. I must learn how to use the powerful tools available to me. An honest assessment reveals that my lack of engagement stems partly from intimidation and partly from laziness. This week, therefore, I resolve to sit down one evening, take a deep breath, and then log on and take the time to acquaint myself with at least one of these tools, after which I will dive in and set up an account. In other words, stop thinking about how hard it looks and just do it!
Fear: False evidence that appears real. Fear kills performance. Mr. Wahl made that point loud and clear. We’ve all heard the story of the whipped puppy tied up in the back yard who, even after a rescuer unties him, continues to sit, cowering, too paralyzed with fear to move. I think a lot of us get that way. We hate our situation but, even when presented with the means to break free, don’t use them because we have settled into a dead-end rut that became our comfort zone. Freedom requires change, and change makes us uncomfortable. But did you ever notice that those who embrace change flourish? They’re the folks who go places! They’re the folks who soar!
Personally, I believe that a life without risks is never fully lived. Engaging change involves risk, and while at first it seems disquieting—even frightening—change can also prove exciting and open the door to a vibrant, fulfilling life. So. . .to quote a famous starship captain: Engage!
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