Career Changing As a Life Journey
by Lucia Capacchione, Ph.D., A.T.R.
Author's Preface From The Talent Workbook
I was raised in Los Angeles, capitol of the movie and television industries that employed my parents. My father, Frank Capacchione, was a film editor on classic M.G.M. forties musicals starring Judy Garland, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. He later became a pioneer in television, editing The Lone Ranger, Gilligan's Island, The Brady Bunch and Wild, Wild West among others. My mother, an expert seamstress, worked in wardrobe at MGM and then had her own business sewing and altering expensive clothes for affluent women.
Talent was honored and taken seriously in our household. We went to the opera, concerts, theater, movies and art museums. My father worked every day with some of the world's greatest talent: directors like Vicente Minnelli and the teams at MGM in the 30s and 40s known as "more stars than there are in the firmament." A great storyteller in his own right, Dad came home with great behind-the-scenes tales about the creative process. Sometimes I went to work with him to see the stars in action on the set or casually dining in the commissary.
A natural extrovert, as a kid I talked to people wherever I went. The word shy was not part of my vocabulary. I was an only child and learned to amuse myself early in life. I remember as a toddler sitting in the backyard of my paternal grandmother Lucia and playing with my favorite toy: plastic discs in rainbow colors strung on a very large key chain. I spent long periods of time handling each disc, fascinated with the bright colors. My mother saved this toy and I still have it today. I can't help but think that my fascination with those colored discs influenced my early interest in art and eventual work as a toy designer. But more on that later.
Another very early memory is of the old wooden radio in the kitchen of my maternal grandmother, Graziela, and listening to the Saturday broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. For us Italians, the opera was our "pop" music and attending the opera was like going to the movies only wearing fancier clothes. Watching opera performances instilled a love of music, pageantry, drama, costumes and set design. Fortunately, there were lots of opportunities to play around on the pianos at both grandmothers' homes. When I was about eight, I asked for piano lessons and received them. By age nine, I was composing music, playing the organ in church and singing in a Gregorian chant choir. Although I was only a C+ student in parochial school, the Sisters told my parents how important it was to nurture my talents in the arts. For that I am deeply grateful.
Early exposure to the arts and entertainment inspired a deep interest in collaborative theatrical projects. From about age nine the neighborhood kids and I put on plays and musical reviews in our garage. In good summer stock tradition, we all did everything. This gave me a chance to act, direct, paint backdrops, create costumes and make-up, design programs and advertise to the neighbors. It all seemed like the most natural thing in the world. In looking back, I also see how my talent for entrepreneurship was being developed. I have been self-employed almost all of my adult life.
With the dawn of adolescence, art took hold in my heart. Saturday painting classes at Otis Art Institute throughout high school were followed by four years at Immaculate Heart College where I studied with Sister Mary Corita (later known as Corita Kent). Corita became a famous graphic artist while I was studying with her. She became even more well-known during the pop art and op art periods of the 60's and 70's. Since her passing there has been a renewed interest in her poster art. She was best known for a U.S. postal stamp featuring rainbow strokes of color and the word LOVE.
Armed with a degree in Liberal Arts, (Art major, English minor) my first job was working for the world-renowned furniture designer/filmmaker, Charles Eames. That led to a later career as a freelance artist and creator of a mass-produced "Poetry Poster" line, greeting cards, banners for Hallmark and toys for Mattel. My graphic art was characterized by bright colors. One toy that I developed for Mattel, The Talking Pictures School House, taught pre-school children to name colors with discs (miniature records) that inserted into a little playback machine. Those plastic discs in my first and favorite toy had morphed into a more technologically sophisticated product.
During Bible Study in parochial school I heard the parable of the talents, in which a master gives one servant ten talents (coins or units of trade), while another servant receives one talent. The man with ten talents buries them, but the man with one talent uses it and multiplies it ten fold. (Matthew 25: 14-30). The man who buried his talents was cast out (fired); the one who multiplied his was rewarded. In my young mind, I understood the word "talent" to mean abilities or gifts. And that is metaphorically what the tale is all about: resources, opportunities, gifts and talents. This story had the ring of truth to it and the weight of divine proclamation. I took it very seriously. The lesson: talents are to be cultivated, multiplied and shared, not ignored or frittered away. I have lived my life by this rule and it has served me well. It is the foundation of my book The Talent Workbook. It is also the basis of the career counseling I have done for over thirty years as a Visioning® Coach.
The unfolding of innate talent never ends. Developing one usually leads to others. During my successful first career in art and design, I discovered a new set of gifts: people skills, the ability to design and teach curriculum and a talent for administration and motivating others. These talents may never have surfaced if I hadn't given birth to two girls born fifteen months apart. I was so fascinated watching Celia and Aleta grow from infants to toddlers, that I sought deeper understanding of how children develop and learn. Immersing myself in the writings of Dr. Maria Montessori, I was consumed by a passion for infant development and later trained in her method of early childhood education. While reading The Montessori Method, Spontaneous Activity in Education, The Absorbent Mind and The Discovery of the Child, I had no idea I was headed for a new career. All I did was listen to my heart.
As an at-home mom and a freelance artist, I created art in our home studio during the children's naps and after their bedtime. I observed my toddlers' growth with a sense of awe, which inadvertently planted the seeds for a new career in early education.
After training as a Montessori teacher in the school where my children were enrolled, I accepted a position as a child development supervisor with the newly formed federally funded Head Start pre-school program. I supervised and fifty employees in twelve classes and found that my organizational talents came to fruition. This was all happening within months after the 1965 Watts Riots. These were the worst race riots in the history of Los Angeles. Helping these war torn communities in the inner city was a deeply rewarding experience.
After a few years, I began consulting for other Head Start programs and pre-schools and teaching Tom Gordon's Parent Effectiveness Training Method (P.E.T.). I found that my design background could be integrated into my educational career when I received a call from Mattel to design pre-school talking toys for teaching colors and other basic skills. Later, I became an instructor of Child Development at Santa Monica College. My classes included Art for Teachers of Young Children and Child, Family and Community.
A Third Career
While struggling with a life-threatening illness in the wake of a divorce in my mid-thirties, I began pouring my feelings and dreams out on the pages of my artist's sketchpads. That is how I discovered the healing power of art and writing. This eventually became my third career. I was using images and words to heal myself before realizing there was a field of psychology called art therapy. When I told my friend Sarah what I was doing and showed her my journal, filled with drawings and writings from my inner most self, she urged me to consider art therapy as a career choice. I went to an art therapist for a few months to find out more about it as a client and realized my friend was right. I then got a Master's in Psychology and supervision in clinical work as an art therapist.
Becoming an Art Therapist Registered in private practice turned out to be a perfect blend of my two careers in art and child development. At that time the field of writing for personal growth was just beginning to take shape. I became one of the pioneers in journal therapy, introducing my Creative Journal method in classes at the Santa Monica YWCA and Los Angeles City College.
Meanwhile, in private practice as an art therapist, I originated a unique method of Inner Child/Inner Family work. Using the Creative Journal method, my clients drew and wrote with their non-dominant hand revealing their Inner Child as a real life aspect of their personalities. They discovered what I had learned through my journal work. It is our Inner Child who puts us in touch with our physical needs, our emotions, our creativity, our innate talent and our spiritual sensibilities.
As my clients resolved personal life issues and uncovered buried creativity, they asked about my many occupations and unusual career path. I suddenly found myself mentoring women and men of all ages and stages of life: young people starting out, single parents and empty-nest moms entering the job market, men in career transitions, successful professionals suffering from burnout and retirees looking for hobbies or part-time work. My clients and students wanted to know how to do what I had done. I told them:
It's simple. Listen to your heart. Listen to the voice of talent within. Find your natural abilities and interests. Ask yourself what you love doing the most and then figure out how to make a living doing it.
In the case of retirees, making money was often not an issue. But in some cases it was, as retirement income often needed to be supplemented. Before long, I was receiving lots of referrals for creative career counseling using art therapy, Creative Journaling techniques and my collage method of life design, now known as Visioning®.
A few years into my private practice, my first book was published: The Creative Journal: The Art of Finding Yourself (Ohio U/Swallow Press, 1979). That book eventually led me right into the heart of talent development work in corporations and my friendship and collaboration with the late Peggy Van Pelt. When Peggy called me after reading and doing all the activities in The Creative Journal in one long weekend, the fun really began. As a Disney artist turned Talent Development Coordinator at the company's Imagineering Division (in those days called WED), Peggy was responsible for hiring consultants and seminar leaders to work with their theme park designers and support staff. She brought me in to conduct a lecture about my brain research and careers that favor one side of the brain or the other. This was a company composed of workers divided into two distinct groups: the bean counters and the creative types. These groups do not think alike and do not speak the same language.
After my lecture which was very well received, Peggy explained they were downsizing due to the completion of two big theme park projects: Tokyo Disneyland and EPCOT in Florida. The company had contracted with a job outplacement firm to help employees find work. Peggy asked if I was interested in being part of the outplacement team. They needed someone who knew the art and design field to work with artists, designers, architects and others in the Creative Division being laid off. Basically I would help with resumé writing, networking skills and portfolio and interview preparation. I jumped at the chance and was hired by the outplacement firm, helping them adapt their career transition program to the entertainment and theme park industries.
Working with the creative personnel from Disney was a perfect fit. After all, I had walked in their shoes. As a former freelance designer, I knew about marketing art and design. Most of them would have to become entrepreneurs like myself, since there were absolutely no jobs in the theme park industry in the mid 80's. They knew I was one of them so they trusted me. My background in psychology along with my professional contacts in the design world had prepared me for this job. We had a very high rate of success: 95% placement. Our Disney folks found jobs, created start-up businesses or embarked on full-time freelance work. Many eventually created the "themed city" we now know as Las Vegas, Nevada.
After the outplacement program ended, I saw a need for some morale building and team development seminars for those still working at Disney. I proposed a six-week series of team building (two hours per session) with a small group of the company's most pro-active leaders. Much to my amazement, this gig led to ten years of regular Friday in-service management and staff trainings. I called it "job in-placement consulting" as opposed to "job outplacement" counseling. Over the years, Peggy and I collaborated in developing new programs based on constantly changing needs. We served multi-talented employees who wanted to keep working within the company (no small task in a project-to-project industry). They shifted roles and job descriptions as the need arose: developing the flexibility required to reinvent themselves. This enabled them to network into different departments and newly forming projects. It was the summer stock concept borrowed from theater.
Recycling talent solved many personnel problems and helped build stronger theme park design and administrative teams. We saved the company a lot of money and time that would have gone into recruiting new employees. I am eternally grateful for the honor of having worked with the extraordinary talent pool at Walt Disney Imagineering, especially Peggy Van Pelt. And none of this would have been possible without the full support of their very enlightened president at the time, Marty Sklar.
After working together for ten years in corporate settings, Peggy and I decided to gather our collective knowledge and wisdom and write it down. We both found that talent had driven our careers in art and career development. When we co-authored the book, Putting Your Talent to Work: Identifying, Cultivating and Marketing Your Natural Talents (Health Communications, 1996), we were forecasting a work style that would be the way of the new millennium: a talent-based career approach rooted in self-management, personal responsibility and coming from the heart can spell survival in difficult times. This is what is most needed these days.
Traditional job security and confidence in employers is now a thing of the past. Big companies are closing at a rapid speed. Jobs are disappearing in huge numbers. Workers have to develop more flexible talent-based careers. The way to go about doing this is to find out what you enjoy most, what you are naturally good at and how you can make a living doing it. This is a strategy for survival as well as fulfillment. For even if you do not have to "make a living," as in the case of retirees, talent wants expression. In my experience as a therapist I can say this without hesitation: Working one's talent can lead to improved health, happiness and a longer life. Think Grandma Moses.
It is clear that following one's heart and one's talent has gained greater acceptance in the past two decades. Visit the business and/or psychology section of any bookstore. There are countless publications reflecting the changing business climate. More and more titles are proclaiming that career-seekers need to "work with passion," "do what they love," "find meaningful work." A couple of generations ago, finding a JOB was the issue; finding meaning in one's work was rarely discussed. My audio CD, Meaningful Work, discusses this trend and offers practical guidance.
Acceptance of the notion that one can and should love one's work and have fun doing it encourages creativity, entrepreneurship and a whole new way of looking at life. Putting love at the center of one's career considerations and letting innate talent be the motivating force puts us in the driver's seat. Making career choices based on our uniqueness, our special talents and unusual combination of skills opens the way to creating a job rather than waiting for one to come along.
When my career-seeking clients ask me to help them find a job "out there" I tell them they are looking in the wrong place. I point to their heart and say: We are going to find the job in THERE. Once you find it there, it will come to you from outside.
My own career history, outlined above, is proof of this principle. My career path is the story of allowing new talents to surface because of new passions and paying close attention to those new talents. Then I matched talents to needs in the outer world. In some cases old talents were revisited. As new life situations arose, I combined and recombined talents in order to fill new needs, both inner and outer. Today I use ALL my talents and skills, as an author, trainer, speaker, workshop leader, therapist, artist, personal coach, consultant, gallery owner and administrator of a training program. My life and work are a constant adventure – filled with surprises, opportunities and dreams come true. I love what I do and, better yet, I get paid for it. That is the "bottom line." What a blessing!
The Talent Workbook shows you how to do what I have done: find your talent and put it to work. It isn't everything I know about the subject. I have other books that provide more tools for creative and balanced living and problem solving.But if it’s meaningful work that you seek, doing the activities presented here will help you identify and cultivate your talents. As you do, you will naturally and enthusiastically want to share those talents. That is the basis of all good marketing.
May your career path be as richly rewarding as mine continues to be. May you find, grow and share your talents in whatever you do. I am confident that you can dream it and do it.
-Lucia Capacchione, Ph.D.
Content and graphics copyright ©2010 by Lucia Capacchio