What Would It Be to Create Your Own "License" to Fulfillment?

Do you wish you had a career that let you take risks, experiment, and feel creative fulfillment?

Do you wish that work for you was as fascinating as play is for a child?

If so, you'll be intrigued as I was by a recent post from my colleague, Linda Graham, MFT— "Orville Wright Didn't Have a Pilot's License"— that gives another perspective on the groundbreaking work of Orville and Wilbur Wright, inventors of "the first fixed-wing powered aircraft." Their professional expertise was manufacturing and selling bicycles. Their hobby and passion was creating flying machines.

In other words, they had no experience flying planes, no credentials, and no pilot's license because there was no plane available to them to fly until they invented their own. The world of flight and transportation was revolutionized by the Wright brothers' vision, persistence, and willingness to risk their lives in a creative venture few could imagine at the time.

What would it be like to give yourself your own license to connect with your creative juice on your authentic life path? Give yourself your own license to fly? Anywhere? Anyhow?

I was reminded of the career trajectory of Dana Gioia— currently California's Poet Laureate and former director of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)— in reading a recent San Francisco Chronicle article, "Poetry for the People."  Dana created his own "license" as a poet the other way around. First, he got his degrees, including an MBA at Stanford's School of Business and an MA in Comparative Literature at Harvard. Only afterward did he find and follow his professional path as a writer, translator, and purveyor of poetry to the people.

How did this happen?

I met Dana at a poetry reading at Stanford University when he was a business school graduate student. He stood out because he was dressed in a suit— not the usual attire for students who came to poetry readings. When I spoke with him, it was clear that he was dedicated to writing poetry, yet he was going back east to work for General Foods Corp.

How, I wondered, could Dana hold that seeming dichotomy— mixing a corporate business career with a passion for creative writing? As it turned out, he balanced his work at General Foods by writing poetry after hours and having a family. At a certain level, it was a happy time in his life— until the sudden death of his infant son.

Deeply in grief, Dana found himself in a profound life transition. His formal degrees helped him in certain ways professionally. However, it was this shattering, life-altering experience that freed him to give himself his own "license" to come out in the world as a poet and a champion of poetry for people. It was then he realized that "what really mattered to me was my family, my writing and my sense of my life as a spiritual journey."

Whatever had taken him into corporate work (perhaps a good, steady income), was no longer important to him. The vision he had for the next phase of his life became radically different. He bowed out of the corporate world and into a new, creative beginning.

Going back to his Chicano, Sicilian, and Mexican working-class family roots and love of poetry, Dana wrote a seminal article, "Can Poetry Matter?" that critiqued mainstream poetry for acting as a closed door that left out most people. This led down the line to his becoming chairman of the NEA, in which he developed the popular program Poetry Out Loud and campaigned to make NEA grants available in every congressional district in the US. Now, as California Poet Laureate, Dana feels that "the challenge of the arts in the 21st century is to discover how to create a cultural conversation that is as inclusive as possible."

I'm looking at the photo of Dana Gioia's smiling face as he stands in front of the tangled boughs of a live oak tree in northern California, where he lives with his family. Clearly, he's found true fulfillment, personally and professionally, in giving himself the "license" to return to the creative touchstone he knew for so long was right for him.

What is something you feel passionate about that you'd like to bring into the center of your work and your life?

What do you need to free inside yourself to make this happen?

What would it feel like to create your own "license" to fulfillment?