Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fear and Change: My Story: Burnley and Beyond (Part 4 of 4)

illustration of people around a meeting table, three are seated and one is standing
Read Time: 3 minutes

College was exciting and energizing for me at first — I felt like I was in the right place for me. But my sense of security was new — without external change and challenge, I created my own opportunity to fail. I survived, and learned from the experience. Read more in the final chapter, below.

Read parts one, two and three of Fear and Change: My Story.

Arrogance Leads to New Fear

At Burnley, I felt like a star. I quickly saw that I fit in and often excelled. I now know that half of them were dyslexic like me and most of the rest had attention deficit issues or “ants in their pants.” These were my people.

In my first year, I sweated blood on every assignment and really tried to be best. I was on fire. I also still held down my part-time job cleaning at Sears, working after school and on Saturdays. I made enough money to have a car and buy my own clothes.

At the end of the first year, I won a scholarship covering the next year’s tuition. I continued to work hard the second year, but I developed a bit of an attitude. The acclaim went right to my head and I thought I was hot stuff. Toward the end of the second year, I thought I was good enough to launch my professional career. “Who needs three years of this?” I thought. So I made an appointment to show my book to one of Seattle’s hottest talents, the creative director at Eddie Bauer, a soon-to-go-national retailer.

I remember the meeting with agonizing detail even now. Lloyd Pierce was his name. He critiqued every piece I showed. He’d ask a question about audience, intent or purpose, and I’d attempt to invent an answer on the spot, not knowing what to say. He’d carefully explain why my work didn’t measure up then move on to the next piece. I left with tears in my eyes and walked back to Burnley — my head down, hoping no one could see that I was crying.

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I was afraid again. Maybe my Burnley effort wasn’t enough. Maybe my dream of success was not going to come true. I knew what I needed to do. Get my head back to the humble, striving artist that Frank Fujii showed me how to be.

Mostly Okay Now

I spent the third and last year at Burnley learning how to answer the Eddie Bauer creative director’s questions, and graduated. After a series of design jobs, I started my own design business.

I married (twice), raised three sons, and worked all over the world. I still have issues that date from those early days, but I’m mostly fine now.

Today I write, coach and teach creatives how to negotiate. And I’ve learned to thank the Leonhardts for giving me a great name and parenting me as best they could in spite of the struggles they faced.

I’ve also learned that creativity is not inherited — that many creative, successful people have sprung from difficult childhoods. In fact, a very creative friend of mine who also had a difficult childhood, just reminded me of the choice we all have: “We can either be a victim of our adversity, or we can be powered by it.”

I have my past to thank for being a creative, resilient survivor. You can too. Do you have a story to share about how your experiences formed who you are? What has happened to you that’s caused you to change for the better? Were you powered by adversity, or inspired by external challenges?

Take a few minutes to think about your own story. If you have time, share it with me — either in the comments, or send me an email to ted (at) tedleonhardt (dot) com.

No matter what, remember your stories. They will help you understand and use your experiences and those of others to be creative and resilient. And to soar.

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5 Comments

  • Bruce Hale says:

    Hello Ted, What year were you at Burnley? I was there for a semester in 1969, if my memory serves me well. About 16 years ago Jess Cauthorn became my neighbor, living nearly next door until his passing in 2005.

    • Hi Bruce, I was at Burnley from the fall of 1964 through the spring of 67. I’ve regretted that I didn’t thank Jess more. His little school was the making of me. Does Colleen still live next door?

  • Larry Asher says:

    Beautifully told story, Ted. You are courageous to share such vulnerable moments in your life. Your tale should be a great reassurance to anyone who has stumbled or suffered at the hand of a bad fate, that this needn’t be a career or life-killer, but quite the opposite.

    • Thanks, Larry, In my case and in yours, if I remember correctly, resilience was the result. And my reading on the subject says that this is not an uncommon story, but one that can help others realize that stacks can make one stronger.

  • Rosa says:

    Thanks for sharing your story! It is inspiring to see how you took all the challenges and grew as a fantastic artist and mentor now. I will send you my story by email.

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