If I had to sum up my pandemic year, I might say it was the year I got to spend each day of an entire summer with my daughter. It was also the year that I significantly altered my career path by taking the brilliant advice of my coach: to lead with my values (keep it real with myself) when exploring a new professional role.
The concept was foreign, I was to start by distilling down all my interests and passions into a handful of non-negotiable, core values. Then, I was to research and vet companies (small, large, start-up, non-profit, for-profit) who appeared to hold at least some of those same core values. I had spent fourteen years in creative and management roles in the museum world, and now, rather than seeking out specific job titles, I was to actively pursue opportunities at these core-value-matching companies — regardless of the industry.
From a young age, I have gravitated towards art for its ability to spark curiosity, evoke emotions, encourage dialogue, and inspire positive change in the world. I’m motivated by visionaries like Kara Walker and Olafur Eliasson who draw from history and science in order to raise awareness about, and then reimagine, the present and the future.
For the first half of my career, my role as a museum curator was to develop engaging and educational, visual art exhibitions. In essence, curators are storytellers, and I took the responsibility of developing meaningful narratives for the public to consume and learn from very seriously. It was by design that the stories I gathered and chose to present were about impact — about creating a more sustainable, equitable, and harmonious future.
Little did I anticipate, that by leaning into this propensity for impact, I’d open myself up to a new and fitting professional opportunity. And, in realizing that storytelling was available to me in other career paths, I was able to get excited about these other potential opportunities while networking.
Looking back, it’s no surprise that I ended up landing a consulting role at Thought Ensemble (or TE). From drawing parallels between its company values and my own, to reading thought-provoking articles written by the TE team, to completing several zoom interviews with bright and down to earth people — I was able to report back to my coach that I wanted this job because, throughout the somewhat intense recruiting process, I was effortlessly keeping it real with myself.
Now, I know this article is about me and my experience, and thank you for humoring me as I illustrate the journey that brought me here, but now I have something for you too. You see, I learned a really important lesson through this process: that even the most seemingly drastic career transitions don’t have to equate to “starting over.”
The truth is, we’re all curators of our own unique narratives, experiences, and lessons learned. The real art is in illuminating the themes revealed by each professional venture and building upon them in each new chapter. I challenge you to think about your career transitions (past, present, or future) and focus on how you can weave your personal values together with your foundational skills to the benefit of your new team.
Here are the values and skills I employed as a museum curator that now benefit me as a management consultant:
Curators make an impact by creating exhibits that move or inspire people. As a curator, I monitored the societal zeitgeist — observing what the community was asking questions about, was excited about, and was worried about — in order to develop exhibits that reflected back those themes and, ideally, responded to them.
Management consultants make an impact by helping clients achieve meaningful and tangible improvements to their businesses. We listen and observe carefully, read between the lines, and analyze our findings in order to reflect back what we’ve observed and then collaboratively develop ideas and create opportunities to make positive change toward our client’s desired future state.
As I said, curators are storytellers. They gather artwork for an exhibit and then script an accompanying story — often literally written on the walls for visitors to read as they go through. For most visitors, the story not only moves them through the exhibit but also provides context for the work and answers the “why?” of the exhibit, so it’s up to the curator to make sure the narrative is interesting and compelling.
Consultants are also storytellers. We collaboratively pull together and analyze data, artifacts, and interview materials to present a cohesive story that guides our client through our assessment. That story becomes the basis for our client’s go-forward strategy, so it’s up to us consultants to ensure the story is accurate, comprehensive, and answers to the client’s needs and goals.
3. Creative Vision
Curators utilize creative vision in designing exhibits. They get to decide the title of the exhibit, analyze why and how the art will be displayed, which pieces will be paired together, what font to use for the text panels, and more. They arrange, edit down, analyze, and rearrange the art as part of the creative process of presenting their vision for the exhibit.
The creative vision I’ve witnessed since joining Thought Ensemble must be emphasized. The deliverables I’ve seen, and helped create, for clients can absolutely be characterized as artwork. I’ve witnessed the creative process of simplifying and bringing to life complex ideas and concepts through an array of visual presentation tools. And just like curators, consultants are painstaking when it comes to finalizing the display of the story’s visual and textual components.
No doubt this list of examples will grow as I continue to delve deeper into the world of management consulting, but as you can see, the values and skills that were important to me as a curator, are also central to my work as a consultant. Rather than start over, I get to further develop my propensity for impact and love of analysis and storytelling in a brand-new way. So, I suggest that you too can write your own new chapters by leading with your values (keeping it real) when considering where you want to take your story next.