The Art of Giving Yourself Away

It’s been 13 years since I’ve been in a high school. Some things were the same: You know that smell of fresh paint mixed with smelly teenagers and an overdose of cologne? That was still very present as I walked halls. And there were students walking with purpose, on a mission. I realized it was because school was over for the day. Back when I was in school, my steps became more focused once classes were over, too. Soon, I was surrounded by a group of students. It was one of those moments that you can’t quite express in words, you just feel inspired. Here was a group of students, staying after school because they want to devote themselves to something that has purpose and gives their days meaning. They wanted to hear and be inspired by a professional artist, hoping to hear something that could help them on their own artistic paths. 

These art students escorted artist Dakoro Edwards and myself to their happy place downstairs, and it felt like a refuge of beauty and creativity. I began to see more and more students; all giving themselves tirelessly, yet without hesitation, to their sketch work, their painting, their sculpting. They were creating something out of nothing, with only the use of their imagination and their hands. I was supposed to be there to teach and inspire them, but all I could comprehend was how they were inspiring me! As Lauren, the art teacher, introduced Dakoro and myself to the students, I was speechless. All eyes in the room shifted to me as they looked for me to inspire them to live out their passions and do the work they desire to do. So I began to talk to them about the role of the artist. What does it mean to be an artist? What does it have to do with leadership? 

Back in March, Leadercast launched Discover, to engage the next generations of leaders in a new way. The inaugural event was held at Dakoro’s art gallery in Atlanta, and the attendees explored doing your work for the sake of the audience; whether that be art, performance, sales, finance, marketing, or anything in between. Once you learn about yourself — who you are, what gifts and talents you have — then you give those gifts and talents away for the sake of your audience. Your audience could be your family or your colleagues or your employees. But that is how you make a difference in the world around you. That is how you live the “little p purpose” everyday, to use the terminology of Daniel Pink at our recent Leadercast Live event. Then, at the end of the Discover event, every attendee got a chance to put a piece of themselves on a blank canvas, with the hope of giving themselves away to future leaders at North Springs High School, where Dakoro and I would eventually visit. 

At North Springs, I talked for a few minutes about giving yourself away for the sake of your audience. Then Dakoro and I presented the now full and beautiful canvas to these art students. Our hope is that this act of giving ourselves away will help lead them to discover who they are, what uniqueness they have, and then give it away for the sake of their audience. 

As we were leaving, we explained to the students that there was room left on the canvas for them. Once they discover who they are, and begin to understand their gifts and talents, they should put that on the canvas for future art students at their school. We want to see them give themselves away and make a difference through their creativity!

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Zane Stephens

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