Grace and the Artful Professional

Yummy delights – Sue’s samples of her Grace-filled life pastry will satisfy your literary sweet tooth!  Read her whole chapter in Scrappy Women in Business. – Kimberly

My professional story has taken me from one extreme to the other—from an uber-left-brain career to an uber-right-brain one—and back again to center. Looking back, I see that my whole brain has been at work all along, bringing first a human emotionality to the computer world, and later a software engineer’s logic to the emotional world. I ultimately found myself in the unofficial but artful profession of “innovation advocacy,” a role I have naturally played all along.

In my story, I am accompanied by a very scrappy ally, a Princess of Good Fortune. I call her “Grace.” Grace sometimes appears in the recognizable forms of health, wealth, love and success. At other times, she comes disguised as pain, sorrow, loss and confusion. Always, she is my friend. I hope that my story tugs at yours, and reveals the presence of Grace at work in your life, too.

Scrappy Story, Full of Grace

When I was young I was a strong student of math and science, but could in no way picture myself working in a lab or a hospital. Squeamish and klutzy, I could only imagine myself in an office, “being helpful in some way.” Secretary, I guess! This limited aspiration was not cool with my advisors and teachers, or with my very scrappy mother, or even with me. But what other career was there for a klutzy science girl? Enter the new field of “computer science,” a mysterious subject one of my female cousins had taken up. Math? Check. Science? Check. Office? Check! Knowing nothing else about this emerging field, Grace gave me a decision and a future. It was 1977.

In college, at a progressive Catholic university named Clarke, I learned to program computers using punched cards. Clumsily modern, this process taught me to think carefully and get things right the first time, as the opportunity for programming experiments came at a rate of only one chance per day! (Imagine forgetting an “end-if” and having it slip your schedule by 24 hours!) Thoroughness of thought continues to be a gift, though a sometimes pesky obstacle to my more creative side. My first computer job came to me through a tried and true method—an introduction by my mother. I was frightened to begin my first serious job, but my mother insisted, “Just pretend you can, until you can.” This proved to be excellent advice! In fact, I’ve learned, it is how all creative acts are accomplished. After a series of more educational degrees and jobs, and a few lucky breaks, I found myself in the San Francisco Bay Area – Silicon Valley.

In Silicon Valley, Tandem Computers and I embraced each other, and I began my career as a technology manager. Ostensibly, I guided network software development projects and helped facilitate the development of new and improved networking standards. Actually, I was there to empathize with people through their triumphs and frustrations, help get things in line when things got out of whack, and enjoy frequent, informal opportunities to teach. I had the good fortune to work with some very creative people. A keenly perceptive and progressive manager told me I had a well-developed connection between my “left” and “right” brain. It was a new concept to me, and apparently somewhat uncommon in the computer engineering world. He appreciated my ability to bridge the technical and human sides of work.

Continuing on through a dizzying series of life experiences, lurching forward time and again with Grace, I have recently started a new business and launched several collaborative initiatives in the service of evolving innovation. This latest hero’s journey will be aided by many gifted allies who have often personified Grace to me. The journey will require me to be very scrappy, and very artful, to be sure. I can’t wait to begin!

There is no map for the Hero’s Journey—every one of us must walk their own unique path. But here are a few guidelines I’ve collected during my own adventure that I hope will light your way, and a poem to light your heart. Although the road seems at times to wind uphill all the way, it’s a journey I wouldn’t have missed!

Scrappy Practices

– Pretend you can, until you can.

– Listen to those who see your potential.

– Say “Yes” when you can. Say “No” when you must.

– Always believe in yourself.

– During a “fall,” be gentle with yourself, and listen carefully.

– As you get older, begin to embrace your “inferior functions.”

– Study with great teachers whenever you can.

– Celebrate every success, however small.

– When you fall in love, ask yourself, who does this person represent in me?

– Embrace “downtime” that comes your way. Create some from time to time.

– If stuck, change your structure. This will allow something new to happen.

– During times of struggle, create a credible and inspiring story that will keep you going. Make it up out of thin air if you have to!

– Every Hero’s Journey depends on allies to achieve success. Be always on the lookout for well-aligned and trustworthy allies. Be always on the lookout to be a well-aligned and trustworthy ally.

Artful Practices

– Recognize Grace when she appears, even if she’s wearing one of her unattractive disguises.

– Do not fear the unknown.

– Embrace what insists on emerging.

– Be thoughtful, forward-thinking, and prepared. Then, surrender and improvise.

– Listen to “little birds.”

– When destruction is all around, be creative.

– Don’t miss your opportunity to relish the children in your life.

– If real life isn’t making sense, look for the archetype or metaphor—much may be revealed.

– Whatever you do, notice what you are really doing.

Notice any story you may inadvertently find yourself in, and discover what character you are playing. Play it graciously, or seek a new role for yourself.

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One Comment

  1. Loved your post and could related to it a lot.. Your life story seemed pretty similar to my life story where I am still struggling to find my place.. Would be honored if I can have you as a mentor.

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