Square Peg in a Round Hole - Being a Creative Artist in the Corporate World

Carolyn McFann

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Those of us who are highly creative and artistic employees know how we can be looked at differently by those who operate from the other side of the brain in the corporate world. It can be hard to fit in to conservative work environments at times for those of us who are free-thinking and artistically expressive. The creative mind is cut from a very different cloth than many. Speaking for myself, it takes adapting a free-spirited and detail oriented mind to a different world - where logic, analytical minds and strict rules usually apply.

Sitting behind a desk for forty hours is a hard thing to do

Before becoming a home agent for my company, I spent a year in-house, sitting in a cubicle and obeying strict rules. It was, as usual, a bit torturous to have to take breaks at assigned times, and be under the constant scrutiny of bosses. Having worked as a freelance artist most of my adult life, it was important for me to put aside my usual carefree lifestyle and adapt to being corporate. My superiors had some adjusting to get used to me, as well. Eventually, getting up at the crack of dawn and going into work, then staying all day in one place became routine. It took much practise and adaptation, but in the end, it wasn't all that bad.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. . . the best you can, anyways

Being an independent soul, my creativeness could really get on my supervisor's nerves from time to time. I was adapting to corporate life, but was still an obviously free spirit, who didn't fall for the normal corporate means of controls. Many companies have policies that if bent, they promise that the offending employee will be punished harshly. Or, at least that is what they say. My motto has always been, “Rules are always meant to be bent. " Staying within legal boundaries, I worked incredibly hard, but tended to do my own thing at times.

A new and very high-strung supervisor I once had took total offense to everything I did and tried to call me on every little thing. She made the mistake of assuming that because my ways of thinking were different than most, that I must be a simpleton, and not very smart. Wrong. Having some of the highest sales stats in the company, that were earned honorably, my coming back from the restroom a little late or getting coffee on non-scheduled times were hardly crimes. It was a battle of the wits. She kept trying to get me in trouble, and nothing ever happened. All her threats, insults and rudness fell on deaf ears. I ignored it all and so did everyone else. Her bosses understood that I needed to get up and walk, and get away to regroup when stressed, so they ignored her endless rants. She lasted about six months then left suddenly, finally worn out from the tug-of-war. My next supervisor and I got along fine. He knew it wasn't worth the endless effort to get on my back for every little thing. And, he was aware that I wasn't about to just do whatever I was told all the time, but stayed within the legalities and boundaries of my position. My sales went through the roof, and everyone was happy. In fact, my sales were high on a consistent basis, so later, they promoted me. All that hard work paid off.

Getting ahead

Work is something you choose to go to everyday. They pay you, but they don't own you. If you aren't happy, you can leave and never come back. Many people who work corporate jobs are accustomed to thinking as a group and lose sight of this fact. To cope, we make friends, do our work and try to make as few waves as possible. In the end, it's all about how good you are at you do. If you are honest, hard-working, and do a good job, you can get ahead. Despite my introverted and creative ways, I kept my individuality but proved to those that matter that I take my work seriously and do it well. When I was promoted, it was actually hard to say goodbye to fellow co-workers and go work at my home office. After adapting to corporate life, it was a surprise to me that even I would miss the structured world of cubicle living.

Two years after my promotion, I'm still working at home. No dressing in drab office attire, sitting in uncomfortable office chairs and driving to work for me. There's a whole pot of coffee nearby so the “no drinking coffee in your cubicle" rule no longer applies. Still, I look back affectionately at the time spent at the company headquarters. Once a year I go in there, to attend additional training on computers or other things. Though everyone knows I am a creative and “different" person, people who know me have respect because I use my creativity to make my job better. And, I create pretty pictures, too.

Being creative is a double-edged sword. People can look at me as a non-conformist, but I am fully professional and my job is done right. . but with a creative flair. Using a combination of empathy, voice inflection and timing to sell my customers on our products has worked for me. Co-workers who have seen my artwork have asked me “What are you doing here?" but the truth is, my job has made life much more comfortable than being an artist alone. My agent handles the art assignments, and I do them in my spare time. The sacrifice of some of my freedom has been worth it.

If you're a misunderstood creative, hang in there and be your own person. Your job is to work harder to prove that you may be a free-spirit or independent, but you are no less capable than anyone else. You may be more capable. If you encounter jealousy from those who are threatened by your success, ignore them. They will fall away, as you keep your cool and continue to prove to everyone how valuable an employee you actually are. Being different is ok, and the corporate thinkers may even learn a thing or two from you in the end.

Carolyn McFann is a scientific and nature illustrator, who owns Two Purring Cats Design Studio, which can be seen at: http://www.cafepress.com/twopurringcats . Educated at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, Carolyn is a seasoned, well-traveled artist, writer and photographer. Besides handling numerous assignments in the US, she has lived and worked in Cancun, Mexico. Clients include nature parks, museums, scientists, corporations and private owners. She has been the subject of tv interviews, articles for newspapers and other popular media venues.


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