Minneapolis, MN—June 2006
So the saying goes, “Don’t quit your day job,” but what if you’re laid off?
I packed everything from my desk at Peace Coffee into a box, still a little stunned, recalling the conversation from the previous hour. After a grueling few months of late nights, the year-end closing, and reconciliations, I had been laid off with a week’s notice. I wasn’t sure what to do next, other than head home. I gathered the last of my things.
One of the board members met me in the hallway on my way out and gave me a big, empathetic hug.
“You’ll be fine,” she said, “and everything will work out, you’ll see.” And then she said, as though somehow this would help explain the situation, “You’re not an accountant, you’re an artist.”
I won’t get into the complications of that layoff here. What I want to talk about is that last line.
Not an accountant, an artist.
I had long prided myself on organization. While I would not consider myself perfect, I do try to be tidy and hardworking. I was trained by the best accountant I know, and I was a math-lete in high school! My mother was an accountant, as well. So I thought—wasn’t this, like, in my blood? The nuances of this situation combined with my own confidence in my work plagued me for some time.
As the years passed, I have been more objectively able to reflect on what I do and don’t know. I read more. I learn more. I continue to try to grow my skill set, because I think we can always improve and learn new things. I bolstered my budgeting skills. As I reconciled bank statements I also reconciled those words: not an accountant, an artist. As I continued in the workforce I saw how my creativity and my organization were skills that complemented each other.72
Over time, I gained confidence in seeing my creative side as an asset rather than a liability. I began to look at new ways of organizing boards and offices. Even my combined college degree of philosophy and art, I realized, was itself a balance and blend of the rational and the creative.
Entire books have been written on the celebration of the creative mind. Nowadays, the celebration of innovators and creative thinkers is more common. In the past two decades we have seen a pretty dynamic shift, and one for which I’m grateful. To tackle the world’s problems we’ll need both hardworking, organized folks and creative, innovative thinkers. It is recognized that those qualities can be found in the same people simultaneously without as much surprise as in years past. The old way of thinking, that a person could only be one or the other but never both, is categorically false. I and so many of my colleagues are proof!
Oh, and about my accounting skills now? I’ve since learned much more, particularly for nonprofit organizations. And while still not perfect, my skills are much improved—ask my board or check out my shiny spreadsheets! I’ll bet you didn’t know income and expense statements could be so exciting.
I think, regardless of the job, it’s important to work hard and improve. I also think it’s important to exit gracefully if at all possible—even when it’s challenging. That goes for jobs, layoffs, internships, volunteer positions. You never know if you’ll work with certain people again (and in the Twin Cities, you probably will)
This post is adapted from It’s Never Going To Work: A Tale of Art and Nonprofits in the Minneapolis Community with illustrations by Athena Currier. Post graphics by Jamie Schumacher. ©2018 Jamie Schumacher.
It’s Never Going To Work is a light-hearted, illustrated book that offers real-life insights on founding a community space and nonprofit. It provides tools, tips, resources, and camaraderie to community organizers and anybody attempting something new.