"How Full Is Your Bucket?" - An Encounter with Timely Encouragement

Before art had re-emerged as a passion and viable option for my next career, I was very interested in becoming a management consultant.  In some ways, what I do now in financial services is very much like internal consulting - finding ways to make departments within the firm more efficient by reducing costs and increasing scalability.   What my role lacks, however, is the human element that attracted me to consulting when I first became aware of the field in college.  Identifying opportunities for process improvement is important, you would be hard pressed to find anyone post the 2008 market crash who would say its not, but what about the people who manage those processes?  Are their roles aligned with their individual skill-sets?  What motivates him?  What inspires her?

When I was at Tennessee State, I became aware of a company called the Gallup Organization which had built a niche in the consulting world answering those same kinds of questions.   Many people are familiar with Gallup's famous StrengthsFinder assessment.  During my senior year at TSU, I had the opportunity to attend a conference that featured a key note speaker from Gallup.  Every attendee received a book entitled "How Full Is Your Bucket?"  The book was pretty light and the cover was colorful - both very Dan-friendly qualities.  I read it later that summer before starting to work full time and the main concepts have stayed with me ever since.  Occasionally, I am reminded of how true they are, especially when my "bucket" is profoundly "filled into" or "dipped from" - like it was last week...

The main concept of "How Full Is Your Bucket" is simple - "Each of us has an invisible bucket.  It is constantly emptied or filled, depending on what others say or do to us.  When our bucket is full, we feel great.  When it's empty we feel awful... Even the briefest interactions affect [our] relationships, productivity, health, and longevity."  The concept of being affected by positive or negative people around you is by no means a new concept, but when you consider the substance inside of you (or your bucket) which keeps you motivated and inspired as a finite quantity - it does change the way you look at your interactions.

I've spent most of my personal time in 2016 getting to know the art world, which admittedly, I am very new to.  I am an artist, yes, but as with any industry there are hidden rules to learn and politics to navigate (ask Kanye about the world of fashion).  Going in I thought nothing could be worse than finance people, whose favorite questions are: "Where did you get your MBA? Where in Manhattan do you live? Do you know [insert name of random partner who works at your firm]?" To which my answers are always: "I don't have an MBA; I live in Brooklyn - Bed-Stuy at that; and no I don't know him."  My answers usually earn me a forced smile and a quick departure.  But art people are creatives - they must be allergic to this kind of behavior, right?  Wrong.  Just change the questions a bit and you have the art world: "Where did you get your MFA? Where is your gallery? Do you know [insert name of random curator who works at a major museum]?"  To which my answers are: "I didn't go to school for art; I'm not in a gallery; and no I don't know her."  The forced smile is the same, only beneath circular black-framed glasses, and the departure is just as hasty.  Are you surprised?  I was.  But maybe I shouldn't have been.  Artists are people too.  Maybe this is just human nature - we find ways to differentiate ourselves and imply value through exclusion.  I wonder how Kanye's doing with the whole fashion thing...

In the last couple of years, I've been extremely blessed to garner a lot of interest in my art.  I have more commission requests than I have time to do.  When I'm asked to show a stranger my work and reluctantly oblige, the response is always overwhelmingly positive.  Yet, when I show my work to other artists much more established than me, it is not uncommon for me to get a very dismissive, nose turned-up response, with unsolicited critiques and advice to "keep my day job."  They comment on all of the things my work is lacking, but when I look at their work, I rarely see these esoteric artistic qualities that they speak of with such conviction.  Don't get me wrong, I welcome critique and am constantly trying to learn new things, but the lack of support from those who have "made it" is definitely disappointing. Confidence has never been a big issue for me, but I'd be lying if I said it's not discouraging.  In a new world, that I'm honestly not very comfortable in yet, it causes me to question myself more than I normally would.  Am I missing something?  Do I actually have what it takes to be a successful artist?

This past Saturday I posted "The Prodigal Son", the second piece from the God's Trombones' series and a stylistic departure from what I normally paint, given it does not contain any figurative images.  Shortly after posting, I received a Facebook message from someone whom I don't recall ever meeting in-person.  The message said that the piece had brought her to tears on first sight, though she never thought that would happen, and when she went to my blog to read the poem which inspired the work, she then knew why.  My bucket was filled in that moment.  It was a reminder that my art is not about me.  I am simply a vessel designed to be used and filled by God.  When I use my gift, I am in my purpose, and that is what matters.  Regardless of who likes or does not like my work, if one person is touched, encouraged, motivated, or filled by my work that is all that matters.  I have a responsibility to refine and strengthen my craft, but only for the purpose of having greater impact, not for broader approval - DH.