Lead Yourself through Art
How to use an art practice to lead a more purposeful and stress-free life
In college I was out of control. I think that is a common assessment of the college experience – the “experience” is sometimes being immature and drinking and partying a lot. Your ego takes control and you convince yourself, no matter what, no matter what bad decisions you make, you will get by and you will be a success and you “deserve” this experience.
I was paying my way through school (through financial aid and working a lot of character building jobs), and even though my finances dictated that I could only eat ramen noodle and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (which are the best, so I still eat those) I still “deserved” to go out with friends.
My friends were going out and having fun, so I would be missing out if I did not spend what little money I had to also go out and drink. Shockingly, this behavior was not leading me on the path to success. One day I was walking back to my apartment (I never owned a car in college and this was long, long before Uber) I noticed something stapled to my front door. I quickly read it and realized I was being evicted.
We’ll, we were being evicted – but I quickly tore down the notice so my roommate (who paid his part of the rent) would not find out. I then called in a lot of favors to pay my part of the rent. Yet I had to move home.
I moved home for the summer and a semester. I worked two jobs, and I was able to save enough money and receive a large enough dose of humility that I was able return to college. One of my close friends said he was surprised I came back – this shocked me. He said is was nothing against me, but a lot of our friends who dropped out never came back. I never doubted that I would go back to college.
The question of what I was going to do with my degree once I graduated was weighing on me now more than ever (actually this was the first time it weighed on me — I was a jackass). I was focused on and I had always focused on drawing and painting. I was in school to get a Bachelor of Fine Arts in watercolor painting. I always took classes that inspired me – I took a broad, some would say random, selection of classes (Logic 101 to Asian Art to Chinese Calligraphy to Encounters with the Great Outdoors). The vast, vast majority of my classes, however, were watercolor painting classes.
I loved creating a body of work and having my professor and fellow student critique it. I loved when I created something that resonated with people. I loved when other classmates created something I had never thought of. I was also good at it, and it is fun to be good at something.
The only problem that my degree was going to pose was that I really did not like selling my artwork. I loved creating artwork, but if I had it my way I would just keep all of the work I created or just give the work to loved ones as gifts. This was not a great recipe for success.
While I was going through this existential crisis, my brother was preparing to take the LSAT. The law school admissions test. My father was an attorney and so was our other brother, so … why not.
Fast forward 17 years, and here I am. I am a lawyer, a husband, a father, and still an artist. I’ve had other failures like the college experience listed above, but I’ve taken them in stride. I’ve fallen and I’ve failed, but like Winston Churchill advises, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” I was able to take my failures in stride and I was able to fail forward because my art practice kept me grounded, and it allowed me to slow down from the rush of the everyday so I was never overwhelmed by the rush of the everyday.
I am happy. I am happy and I continue to push myself for new and different and somewhat random goals. I’ve continued my art practice where I participate in art shows and sell my work. I’ve also written a lot about art to support other artists and to highlight the amazing art scene in Detroit. I also love the law.
I graduated with honors from law school and I even went on to get a Masters in Law (where I received scholarships and was awarded the A. John Serino Outstanding Graduate Banking Law Student Prize –“awarded to the student who displays outstanding overall performance, in terms of academic achievement and dedication to the highest standards of scholarship and service.”). I’m now the General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer of RocketLoans, an online lending platform that is revolutionizing fintech right here in Detroit. I am all-in with my company and our “family of companies” where I have constant opportunities to give back and to learn how to be a more impactful leader – I was actually just certified as a leadership coach.
Anyone that knows me knows that spilling all of those niceties about myself was particularly painful for me – I love to get results and I hate to talk about any accomplishments. I am actively working on celebrating the wins more – but I digress. Why I am talking about all of this – about where I am and where I came from?
The other day a good friend asked me how I was able to keep such a busy and stressful professional life while also continuing my art practice.
The answer: I have joy in my life and I don’t sweat the small stuff BECAUSE I have an art practice. I think everyone should.
My art practice and my thoughts on art and life in general has been immensely shaped by my older sister Kelly Darke (I’m the youngest of 5). We’ve been talking about art since … since … probably right when I started talking. We’ve been talking about the power of art to help people lead a more purposeful and stress-free life for the past several years.
Kelly is the most calming and caring person you will ever meet. She is an art teacher and an art therapist that runs the Mindful Art Center. Each of us have experienced the power of art in our own lives, and we knew how much everyone else could benefit from developing their own creative practice. I’ve had her come to my company to teach my team members about art therapy, and although some were apprehensive at first - some even insisting ”I’m not creative” - all the team members enjoyed the experience and some continued the practice on their own. There is so much more to art than making pretty things - art contributes to our cognitive development and mental health - for all ages. Studies show that creating art reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, after just 45 minutes - this article “Making Art Reduces Stress, Even If You Kind Of Suck At It,” by Priscilla Frank, shows how much we all benefit from making art, whether or not we think we’re creative.
Now, Instead of just speaking to each other about the power of art, we’ve decided to take our mission to the rest of the world, or at least as many people as we can reach. We will be bringing you ideas, education, and fun bits of information about how to use art in your daily life as a way to reduce stress and improve your overall well-being. Join us and lead yourself through art.