November 1st, 2010

What exactly is integrity? I suppose this is something we must all answer for ourselves as we go through life. It seems to be the main focus for me in all that I do in the last few years as I try to align my values with my work (and everyday life). What sparks this thinking today?

I have reached an amazing but also challenging place in my career where I am being approached by a wide swath of people/companies asking me to work with them on specific projects. My personality is such that I want to try everything and I find myself so very flattered that people find what I do of value. Often I am amazed by it, and I become mesmerized in a deer in the headlights kind of way. It takes sometime for me to step back and really look at what sits in front of me. I have to ask myself some important questions. What is this really about? Does this fit into my own vision as an artist/human? Is this in line with my values? Am I at risk of compromising my vision in lieu of trying to “get out there” more?

This is where it becomes necessary to really be clear about what is important to me. And while I have never had a problem knowing where my work boundaries lie, I do sometimes find myself in a situation where I am overwhelmed, and maybe not always making the best decisions.

And so what do I do when I am faced with this? How do I measure whether a project is in line with my values/ideas? What of the grey areas, the ones where you can’t really know? And doesn’t everyone have contradictions in life and work?

These issues become heightened when you are trying to teach students the importance of integrity in your work, (because this is something I talk about often with my class, figuring out what is of importance for you and finding work that reflects this.) In one class we did a bit of a personal thought experiment, “what if you received an extremely high paying gig from a company who’s product you didn’t believe in?” Considering these things ahead of time helps you to figure out where your boundaries lie. Are you ready to really stand up for what you believe in, even if it might compromise your career in the short term? In my own experience I believe I have always been rewarded greatly (in a variety of unexpected ways) when I say no to jobs I don’t believe in, (though it is often challenging in the moment).

I will share with you a little exercise that I do that I have found helps me when these situations arise. While it does not solve the problem in a direct manner, it really helps me to see what are the places where I need to set boundaries.

Exercise: Ideal World

Answer the following questions in as much detail as possible to create your own personal idea world:

What kind of world do I want to live in? If I had the power to create a society in my own vision, what would that look like? What kinds of activities would be at the forefront of culture? How would people treat each other? In what manner would business be conducted (if at all)? In what areas would the most energy be focused (i.e. education, health, etc.), write a list in order of importance? What kind of role models would be best for your ideal world (list some historical figures)? How does the society treat it’s children (i.e. what does it teach them about the world, what are they encouraged to partake in)? (Continue to add your own questions to this list).

After creating a vivid picture of your ideal world, take immediate pressing questions (i.e. should I participate in this project) and see if it would exist/fit into your world.

*I know this is an incredible over-simplification of life in many ways, but it is an exercise designed to help you determine what is important for you. In that sense you can try and have fun with it and let your imagination run wild in your invented world. I love the idea of creating my own currency and reinventing the whole system of finance. What about designing a completely different way of conducting “business” entirely. Where would you focus the energy of the world?

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