Dixie Darr

Archive for August, 2007|Monthly archive page

In creativity, self-employment, work on August 21, 2007 at 9:47 am

The Entrepreneurship Boom

“The biggest temptation is . . . to settle for too little.” Thomas Merton

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the ranks of the self-employed aged 55 to 65 rose 33 percent in 2006, while the number of self-employed 25- to 35-year-olds fell 2 percent.

In a related quarterly survey by outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas of its clients — mostly managers and executives — the number starting firms or turning to self-employment rose 29 percent in the first quarter of 2007 over the first three months of 2006. Of those, a staggering 88 percent were 40 and older.

A number of reasons might account for these statistics. Older people have a harder time finding a new job when they leave an old one, so some people may turn to self-employment as their last choice. Workers in their 50s and 60s may have lower living expenses, with a paid-off mortgage and grown, independent children. They may qualify for early retirement pensions that give them more financial freedom. All of these situations leave them freer to explore things they may have always wanted to do, but found impractical or impossible at an earlier age.

Articles about this phenomenon always refer to “aging baby boomers,” and while it is true we are getting older, I’d like to point out that everyone on the planet is aging, not just the baby boom generation. The possibility of starting a small business is one more reason to look forward to our later years.

© Copyright 2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved


In creativity on August 15, 2007 at 8:15 am

Other People’s Problems

“There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” Gore Vidal

Here’s an exercise I do in my classes. During a segment on time management or other problem areas, I break the class into teams of about 4 people each and give them sheets from a Post-It flipchart and colored markers. On the paper, they write one problem each person has regarding the topic.

Then they trade papers, so Team A has the list of problems from Team B and vice versa, and brainstorm possible solutions. Trading lists accomplishes a couple of things:

  1. Participants must state their problems clearly and succinctly. They do not have the opportunity to explain or give background information or tell their entire life history, as many want to do. They have to focus.
  2. During the brainstorming session, the person with the problem is not participating and therefore, cannot argue with the solutions by saying things like, “I already tried that” or “That will never work and here’s why.”
  3. If you are like me, you are frequently brilliant at solving other peoples’ problems. For your own problems, not so much.

Try it on your own by emailing a concisely stated problem to a group of four friends and asking for solutions. You may be surprised by the results.

© Copyright 2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In creativity, work on August 6, 2007 at 7:56 am


“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Robert A. Heinlein, The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

After my experience at Cirque du Soleil last week, I have re-immersed myself in learning all I can about the French-Canadian circus company, visiting their website, checking out a few DVDs and rereading the novel The Spark, the book tells a fictitious story of a sports agent who reignites his creativity by visiting Cirque du Soleil.

One of the things that intrigues me is the way the main character and all the Cirque performers have the freedom to learn new skills, try out new interests. What an extraordinary idea. When I was working as a community college administrator, the thing that made me the most crazy (and that drove me away) was that nobody was allowed to try new things. Ever. You were hired to do a job because you had experience and education in doing that job and you were expected to continue doing it until the person ahead of you quit or died.

I’m the kind of person who gets bored doing the same thing in the same way over and over again. I like teaching because, even if I teach the same subject many times, each time is different and I have the flexibility to bring in new information and present it in new ways. Writing allows me the same variety.

My goal now is not to run away and join the circus, but to use inspiration from the circus to reinvent the work I already do. What can I learn from Cirque? To push myself beyond my self-imposed limits. To try things that scare me. To collaborate with other creative people. To quit thinking so much and just do it.

© Copyright 2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved

In creativity, work on August 2, 2007 at 9:12 am


Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever. Italian Proverb

Two years ago, Mia Michaels lost her father to lung cancer. She grieved, I suppose, as any loving daughter would, but Mia Michaels is not just any loving daughter. She’s a gifted and renowned choreographer. Last night on the TV show, So You Think You Can Dance, she paid tribute to her father, Joe Michaels, who was also her first dance teacher, in a remarkable piece where she imagined getting the chance to see him one more time. The dancers, the judges and most of the audience were too choked up to talk.

One thing I’ve noticed in watching this show in its third season is that the dances tell a story. More and more I am coming to realize that what we do as human beings is tell stories and the stories come out in different ways. Choreographers tell them through dance.

I first started paying attention to our need for story when I ready Daniel H. Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, where he identifies the ability to tell stories as one of the necessary skills for the 21st century. Once I started paying attention, I noticed stories everywhere. I noticed especially how telling stories can elevate just about any situation. What made Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo more than just a collection of circus acts was the storyline of the performance. Not surprisingly, Mia Michaels was tapped to choreograph the Cirque du Soleil show, Delirium.

We all tell stories and, as author Natalie Goldberg said, “Your first job is to get your own story straight.“ How you tell it is up to you. There’s a famous story about a man passing by a construction site. He stopped and asked one of the tradesmen what he was doing. The worker replied gruffly, “I’m laying bricks, can’t you see that?” The man watched a while longer and then asked another worker what he was doing. “I’m just earning a living,” he replied. A third time the man asked a worker and the response was much different, “I’m building a cathedral.”

Using our work to tell our stories is a way of putting heart and soul and love into our work. It makes the difference between laying bricks and building a cathedral. Mia Michaels is building a cathedral.

© Copyright 2007 Dixie Darr. All rights reserved