It was 1995, and I was fresh out of high school. I had been a busboy, a bag boy, worked construction on and off as a mason’s assistant and labored in a fire sprinkler shop. It was time for me to buckle down and get a real job. I applied anywhere and everywhere. I wanted to be a graphic designer, and that's what I was studying in college, but I didn't have the experience.
Eventually, I was hired at the Florida Spine Institute as a medical transcriptionist. A family member must have pulled some strings as a favor. My words per minute wasn't the most impressive, but I managed to land the gig. My interviews went well, I had filled out my W-2 forms, I was placed in the system and told to report to work on Monday. I was all set to go.
It was my first day on the job when I sat in front of a computer screen, received a pair of headphones and began to drown in a stream of surgical dictation.
It wasn't long before my eyes began to sting and my brain began to slow down. I choked on the flood of foreign, multisyllabic words coming through the headset. So, I paused the recording and took a break.
Next to the computer sat a blank yellow legal pad and a blue ballpoint pen. I had been doodling on that yellow legal pad for no more than 5 minutes (probably a skull, unicorn, dragon or something) when the supervisor walked up behind me. She came to a full stop, cleared her throat, and asked to see me in her office.
Being caught doodling was a horrible feeling. The shame and remorse ran through my body.
I was sure that I was to be reprimanded for the doodling. I was convinced that I would be scolded and asked to focus and promise not to do it again and put back out on the floor.
But that's not what happened.
The venetian blinds in the supervisor’s office were drawn, giving her a slight silhouette. She sat in an overstuffed leather chair at a huge wooden desk. On the desk was one of those green banker’s lamps. It was the first time I’d seen one of those in real life.
She said, “We don't pay you to draw.”
Then she took a deep breath and said that it wasn't “going to work out.”
I was fired on the spot. And, it was baffling to me at the time. Part of me was shocked that there would be no second chance. Another part of me started to think that this was the way “grown-ups” in the “real world” operated. I feared this was the way adults did things – and that I wasn't ready for a real job.
I began to think that there would never be a place for me in the workforce unless I stifled my creative side; that my creativity might be my handicap.
Some people don’t recover from a soul-crushing brush with white collar corporate America. Some people allow the criticism of others to extinguish their spark. But, I knew that if I was to be successful and remain in integrity, I would need to either find a box to fit in that looked more like me or find a way to create my own. I vowed to find my tribe among creatives.
I worked in music and PR and spent over a decade in media as a Marketing Director at a scrappy alternative news-weekly. Eventually, I landed a gig working for a consultant as a Graphic Recorder. I was paid to actually doodle in business meetings.
At the consultancy, I was surrounded by people who harnessed creativity and play to drive business outcomes. We made a living by thinking outside the box. We sketched, doodled, mind mapped, and built analog prototypes using scissors and glue. We filled every bit of blank space on the walls with Post-its.
Today, I own my own consultancy and have trained many facilitators to do what I do. At Illustrious, we enable the art of visual thinking and innovation. And no one gets fired for doodling.
ABOUT THE Author
Joran Slane Oppelt is an international speaker, author and consultant with certifications in coaching, storytelling, design thinking and virtual facilitation.