Past lives

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This week I celebrated the reunion of my old company, Leap Partnership. It had been fifteen years since I’d seen most of  them in person. I only set aside an hour, but I managed to sneak in some great conversations. These people, especially the women, were so influential to me at a critical time in my life, and still inspire me today. Each of the ladies in this photo now contributes to the community in a totally different way. One is a clinical therapist, another is the president of a university. Another learned the hard way how to start her own business, and she now helps others achieve the same thing. I talked to one of the original partners, who now manages his own original brand, inspired by (of all things) the actual summer camp in Wisconsin that he attended as a kid, and now owns with his wife. Another long-time management leader had moved over to a similar company which has been going strong all this time. At least four couples paired up during our stint together, with at least 9 kids resulting from those unions.

Before joining Leap, I had been pigeonholed into submissive roles doing clerical work, trying to fulfill my dream of being an active part of the art world in Chicago. By spring of 1999, I was growing tired of having to act a certain way to project the right image to the people I was “serving.”  Exasperated, I resigned from my job in a Michigan Avenue art gallery. I don’t recall ever worrying about how I’d pay the rent, I was so confident then that I’d find a replacement job. Soon I landed a temporary position at Leap, which was then Quantum Leap, a small ad agency which was just beginning to engage in web site design. Even on day one I knew this was a big break for me. I sat near the HR office, and was quickly absorbed into a team of smart, dedicated professionals, whose attitude was inclusive and without judgment. Once initiated, I was given the chance to use my design skills, and I was offered a full time position. For the first time ever, I got my own desk.

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It was all too good to be true. The sense of camaraderie was fantastic, an office full of young creatives who regularly invited all to their band performances, art shows, underground warehouse parties. Never had I been so socially fearless. Even fifteen years later I can remember conversations with nearly every one of the 60ish employees who made up that core group. Soon enough we had competition, and I was placed on the team that assembled proposals for new business. There was lots to do, but gradually the bottom started to fall out. Ultimately, most of the company was laid off. What followed was a terrible grieving period. I had attached so much of my identity to that job, that when I was cut off, I felt like I was worthless. Till I realized what a gift I’d been given. I stand by this statement: being laid off from Leap was the best thing that ever happened to me. I had to rebuild myself from the ground up. I had to wake up every morning that summer and ask myself what the heck was I put here to do. In a couple of months I would be staying up all night to put together a portfolio of my own creative work (some of which I created that night), and somehow I’d be chosen over 200 other applicants for an apprenticeship with an art conservation lab. A new chapter, just when I thought the story was over.

 

 

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