I spent a recent weekend in Philadelphia walking through the city, art-appreciating and eating my way through Reading Terminal Market.
Two of my touristy highlights were the Barnes Foundation and Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, which represent a lifetime of work of collector + curator, Albert C. Barnes and artist Isaiah Zagar, respectively. These visits create vastly different experiences. The Barnes Foundation is awe-inspiring in its massive, global collection of masterpieces, set in crowded, quiet rooms without the typical written placards you’d see in a museum. It’s designed to be an individu
al, contemplative experience centered on your own observation and ideas about the collection. The Magic Garden – a striking, colorful mosaic installation spanning several lots - is right in the middle of the city, between a historic fire house and a Chinese restaurant. It’s vibrant and communal by virtue of its location and spirit. When I was there, there were 6 puppies and their foster owners walking through the garden in preparation for Seeing Eye training school, sniffing and licking everything in sight, including the tourists. Both Barnes and Zagar were committed to assembling the disparate. They curated and gathered pieces together that don’t at first seem to have an obvious connection: an impressionist masterwork and a Pennsylvania Dutch utensil side by side; a piece of Mexican folk-art sculpture and a bicycle wheel built together into an urban wa
ll. This feels to many of my clients like the story of their careers: "What a hodge podge! I'm all over the place. A few years in pharma marketing, a detour into public sector work, a gig as a consultant…what does it all mean?" These artists had - and were creating - a direction, even when it was hard for other people to see or appreciate. What spending time with the art collections in Philly reminded me is that the throughline of our narrative is ours to make sense of. Sitting in an art gallery, you might slowly see similar shapes between two pieces that at first seemed like an odd pairing. In your own life, you might uncover the thread of com
mitment to working on big social problems, an eye for elegant design, a passion for leading young people through transitions in their lives, a curiosity around language, strengths you bring to each team you join, or the choices you made to work in places that support your desire to be home for school pickup or to finish your own degree. Connections and patterns in our life and work are ours to discover. We get to create our narrative. If you’re on a quest to put together the design of your career even while you're in the middle of your ow
n work of art, I’m going to suggest two things I come back to over and over again: pen & paper, and a series of reflective conversations with a trusted listener. It also helps to get out of your milieu and see something new – an art collection, the seashore, a hike in the woods, a new city. You never know how a new series of sights may allow you see yourself a little more clearly. Putting it all together? I’d love to hear about it.