After graduate school I did something pretty expected for a UK-based arts person. I went to London. I didn’t know it then, but basically I wanted to “professionalize” myself. I wrote my skills on my Linkedin page. I went to networking events. I searched obsessively for opportunities and tried to squeeze myself into the boxes that were out there. It was normal stuff but it was painful, and it was not at all what I imagined. When I got to my wits end, and embraced failure I took another path. And then another. All these paths began to look like a pattern and I despaired. Then motherhood intervened and I had some time to think.
So when I saw this video of designer Milton Glaser talking about fear of failure, I was wowed. Glaser says personal development is antithetical to professional development. And the only way to do the dance between the two is to embrace failure. It’s like there are two lines and as one, the professional, goes up, the other, the personal, goes down. My question now is, how can the two lines go up together?
Like all mothers, nothing compares to the personal growth of this journey. But there’s a professional cost. At least that’s how it looks from where I am now. Maybe all the paths taken and not taken are not defeat but an ebb and flow of personal development. At its worse, it can feel like paying attention to the personal hurts the professional, and paying attention to the professional, hurts the personal. In my case, I haven’t specialized. I haven’t made myself into a “brand”. And now I’m outside the cut-and-thrust of professional life, but I’ve got a bubbling-over desire to share what I’ve learned personally, I’m wondering how to put Glaser’s advice into practice.
In our hopes and dreams we acknowledge that we want something different, and that we are willing to put ourselves out there to get it. I really, really hope that it’s possible to live a life in which personal development and professional life are not at odds. For me the fear of failure is what keeps my dreams rattling around in my head. So what do I hope now? I hope I can take “professionalization” a bit more lightly, that I can specialize in some things and not others, that having stepped out of the world, I can then step back in. But of course implied in my hopes is its siamese-twin, failure.