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Etch-A-Sketch to Oil Paintings--Where Do You Need To Take A Stand?


Maybe can be a great place. It’s full of possibility, it can feel like there’s an escape hatch available at all times. Maybe can also be what holds us back the most.

Take the Etch A Sketch, for example. One of my favorite childhood toys. Full of temporary satisfaction, and a great place to play with maybe. Sometimes we get stuck in the Etch A Sketch place in our lives, carefully keeping one eye on the exit. Etch A Sketch life is a great place to try things on: dating without commitment; temping at a job; renting instead of buying; testing a business instead of truly owning it; dabbling at being leader without claiming it. It can be a valuable place—a testing ground on which to get a sense of what it might be like.

There are deeper Etch A Sketch places, too.

I often hear from clients that their number-one frustration is that they feel as though they’re not making an impact—or at least that impact isn’t palpable. They feel as though they’re in the soup in their jobs and lives and that there’s no distinct footprint they’re leaving behind. They are in the Etch A Sketch place of making daily transitory impressions, but nothing long lasting—there’s no momentum of purpose.

And they’re hungry for it.

Next comes the oil painting stage. What’s scarier (and more exciting) than standing in front of a big white canvas with a tube of oil paint and a brush? You can’t shake a canvas and make the picture disappear. It’s there in three-dimensional color—beauty, imperfection, ugliness, permanence. There’s boldness in putting oil on canvas. There is a place of taking a stand.

It’s visible. It claims space. No matter what is depicted on the canvas, painting is bold.

What’s the place in your life that has been Etch A Sketch too long? Where are you ready to switch to oils?

Here are some examples I’ve seen:

A bright, energetic, hard-working account executive feeling as though there were no options for her at her large company after eight years of slow progress. Frustrated and ready to quit.

A successful, highly compensated advertising professional who couldn’t care less about the field after six years. Bored and ready to quit.

Both had carefully preserved the land of maybe. They were not committed to their current jobs, although they continued to do good work. But they were not committed to finding the better path, either. They were going to work every morning and writing in the Etch A Sketch of life. Shaking it blank and leaving to go home every night.

What does oil painting look like to them?

The bright, energetic account executive decided to quit dabbling in leadership and really claim it. She started carrying herself differently in meetings—speaking up more and taking risks about what she said. She became aware of her body language—she took up space instead of being invisible in the hallways and in groups. She started treating the people at the level above her as peers, rather than being deferential and quiet. She set up ongoing dialogues with the principal of her firm and developed a relationship with him. She voiced a vision about where her department could go and was clear about how she wanted to play a leadership role in that vision.

She took a stand. She voiced what she wanted and stood ready to step into it. She was courageous. The result: She became seen and heard by her company and they created a new position for her. She got more money, more prestige, more opportunities. She was even asked to sit on an industry advisory board.

She’s flexing her leadership muscle and loving it. She’s painting in oils.

The highly compensated ad man also started taking risks. He wanted to claim the space of risk-taking. He bought a small business franchise in Chicago and gave notice to his employer. He traded in short-term security and cash for a longer-term vision. He intends to do many things, including starting a training and resource center for low-income people who want to start small businesses. He wants his day-to-day life to be rich with quality, fun, learning, and adventure.

He took a stand and claimed faith in himself. Faith in his ability to navigate ambiguous waters. He’s painting in oils and loving it.

For these two, taking a stand evolved over different lengths of time. The account executive took five months to claim her leadership. The advertising pro spent nearly two years taking small steps at various levels of the process. For some, a big leap of dramatic, death-defying proportions is the only way to wake up. It’s move or die. For others, purposefully moving forward can be a dance slowly increasing in tempo...a cha cha from Etch A Sketch to oils.

Which is comfortable for you?

If you’re already painting in oils in one part of your life, what’s the next part that’s ready?

Where are you ready to take a stand?

—Elizabeth McAloon, CPCC

About the Author

Elizabeth McAloon is principal and founder of The McAloon Group--an executive coaching and consulting group dedicated to career and leadership issues.


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