Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour

Ep. #22. From Corporate HR to Professional Artist with Joanna Lee Miller

June 30, 2022 Jean Balfour Season 1 Episode 22
Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
Ep. #22. From Corporate HR to Professional Artist with Joanna Lee Miller
Show Notes Transcript

Joanna Lee Miller made a radical career change. In 2017 she took a year sabbatical to study painting in Florence - fully intending to return to her corporate career. Nearly 4 years later she is a professional artist alongside working as a career coach and change consultant. 

In this high energy conversation Jo shares her story about making this move from corporate life to artist life and portfolio career. 

We talk about

  • How important relationships are in building a successful career
  • The importance of sponsorship
  • The struggle of how to decide to move out of corporate life
  • How a coach helped her to make the decision to follow her dream
  • How to hold the tension between her art and her corporate work and coaching 

Joanna Lee Miller is an organizational change and transformation expert driving effective and lasting change for companies at the local to the multinational level across all industries.

 Jo is also a career advancement coach and is a professional landscape painter. She began her career with Deloitte consulting in change management communications talent management and culture transformation. She then moved into HR, working as HR director at American express in New York, London, and Singapore. While in Singapore, Jo decided to shift gears completely, moving from here to Florence, Italy, to train as a professional artist at the Florence academy of Art.

Jo's three years of highly technical training followed the traditional academic methods of the 19th century European Ateliers. She's now back in South Africa, her home country, where she's focusing on her three different yet interconnected careers, change management, consultant, career advancement, coaching and landscape painter.

You can find Joanna here:

joannaleemiller.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanna-miller-517b38/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/joannaleemiller/
@joannaleemiller

Kim Myerson: https://www.kmyerson.com/

Alice Toich: Instagram https://www.instagram.com/alice_toich/?hl=en

Lindsey Coen Fernandez: lindsey@withu.org

The Artist’s way  - Julia Cameron - https://juliacameronlive.com/

Emotional Agility - Susan David - 

https://www.susandavid.com/

https://www.instagram.com/susandavid_phd/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/susanadavidphd/


Jean:

hi everyone. And welcome to making sense of work today. I'm delighted to be joined by Joanna Lee Miller, Jo welcome to the podcast.

Jo:

thank you, Jean. I'm so happy to be here.

Jean:

Great. So Joanna Lee Miller is an organizational change and transformation expert driving effective and lasting change for companies at the local to the multinational level across all industries. Jo is also a career advancement coach and is a professional landscape painter. And we're gonna hear more. The combination of these different roles as we go along. She began her career with Deloitte consulting in change management communications. Talent management and culture transformation. She then moved into HR, working as HR director at American express in New York, London, and Singapore, which is where I met her. While in Singapore, Jo decided to shift gears completely moving from here to Florence, Italy, to train as a professional artist at the Florence academy of Art. Jo's three years of highly technical training followed the traditional academic methods of the 19th century European Ateliers. She's now back in South Africa, her home country, where she's focusing on her three different yet interconnected careers, change management, consultant, career advancement, coaching and landscape painter. Wow. I'm so looking forward to our conversation, Jo, to hear how all of these things come together for you. Welcome

Jo:

Thank you, Jean I'm grinning ear to ear. It's so exciting to be able to share my story with you.

Jean:

It's a great story. Let me just ask then how's work at the moment.

Jo:

Work at the moment is really invigorating. I am preparing for our. Winter studio show. So I'm in a collective of artists in Cape town and on Saturday we have an open studio. So I have been preparing for that. And I've been out painting almost every day for the last week, which makes me very happy. Work is great because I'm juggling all the things I enjoy juggling. I am coaching and I have some I'm coaching clients. So this evening I have a coaching session and I'm also working on some consulting and I have a project that is in motion and I have a meeting on Friday. So everything is happening at once. And at the moment it's feeling very, very exciting.

Jean:

I'm not sure how you're gonna answer this actually, but when you have a really good day at work, what does that look like?

Jo:

It varies a lot. And that's what makes a good day. I think I I've learned. That I love the variety. I love movement. And I mean, physical as well as intellectual movement, I don't enjoy the days where I'm at my computer all day. I actually find it incredibly draining unless it is engaging with others and doing, workshops I've, I've hosted some workshops online and that I find incredibly invigorating, but if I'm just focused on my laptop doing. You know, more traditional computer work. I actually feel completely drained by the end of the day. Yesterday, for example, I was out early, I went for a walk with a friend. I brought all my art staff. I then just set up at the end of the walk and I did a three hour painting. And then I came home and I managed some of my consulting work and I did some other sort of organizational personal organizational planning activities. And then I went off and did another painting. so that, that for me is a great day

Jean:

using so many different facets of your skills and your brain in the same day. So much variety. Sounds amazing. A lot of variety. Mm-hmm yeah, I know I've shared a bit about your career, but it would be lovely if you could tell the story of your career and how you came to be in this place.

Jo:

oh, absolutely. My pleasure. I feel like everything has come together in the last two years. And in a way it was almost, facilitated by COVID because I'm not sure if I would be where I am right now, physically, as well as career wise, if it wasn't for the. Sort of external environment created by COVID. So just to, to rewind, um, I studied organizational psychology in Cape town at the university of Cape town because I've always had a passion for psychology. And my dad gave me the very sound advice that a business degree would put me in a good position, no matter what I chose to do with my life. And he said, you're not really gonna pick up those skills unless you actively study them, which is also very true. So I studied organizational psych. and then I traveled and I really didn't know what to do with my degree, interestingly. And so I went back to some of my lectures at university. My dad, again, recommended I do some consulting work. I almost did it for free. I did pro bono work in Cape town, but then it gave me this platform to do some really solid interviewing. When I moved to New York, my mom is from New York, so I have a passport. I'm very, very grateful for that. So I arrived in New York and through my cousin. I got connected to somebody at Deloitte and my resume was thankfully read by a recruiter and I went through the process. And so that's how I began my career in New York. And I spent seven years with Deloitte and then through a relationship I had made at Deloitte, I then started working for this friend and colleague who had moved to American express, and I then moved with American express to London then to Singapore. And at that point, I realized that even though I had been experiencing so much intellectual stimulation from my corporate career, I could see the path ahead of me. And it was moving towards, a vice president of human resources, maybe even more senior, the path that American expressed was most likely gonna take me probably back to New York. And I thought, I actually don't think this is the path that I want to be on and I didn't really know what other path to take. It was very destabilizing, very unnerving, very scary. It felt like my foundations were very, very fluid. Mm. Like I didn't have solid ground to stand on and I, and I was in that space for some months. Mm. And I think you and I definitely were speaking at that time. We were Yeah, we definitely were.

Jean:

I remember you being quite torn because it wasn't that you were unhappy at American express as an organization that you, you valued the organization. It was the nature of the work that you were doing that you weren't sure was what was right for you.

Jo:

Exactly. And it was, it was a very big conflict because there was so much of my role that I loved because, I felt like I was the architect of the employee experience at American express. And that is a very. Rewarding role to be in, but I was finding at the end of the day, my overriding emotion was I, I felt exhausted and I didn't feel like my cup was filling up again. I was expanding huge amounts of energy, but I just felt drained at the end of the day. And that was a feeling that was. Uncomfortable. Um, and I, and I was questioning and I've been questioning for a long time, is this really what I want? Is this the part that I really want to be on?

Jean:

Yeah. And during this time, how much were you painting? I had, it's interesting. I had a lot of resistance actually to painting. I had studied art at school and I wasn't brave enough to study art at university. Um, I contemplated it for a very short time. I think I made one phone call to the art department and then I, I just transitioned into the business realm.

Jo:

Um, so I would say. About 10 or 12 years passed before I managed to get myself to an art class. It felt very clear to me that there was something missing. My corporate job was very demanding. but there was a part of me that was not being tapped at all. And I kept saying, oh, I should do an art class. I should do an art class. And it got to the point where I said, am I gonna keep saying this for the rest of my life? Or am I actually going to go to an art class? So I did. I pulled myself together on a Sunday morning and I went to an art class in Soho in New York. It was literally a 10 minute walk from my house. And that was the, that was the beginning of it. And I just felt so proud walking down the road with my, you know, with my portfolio under my arm, it was such a good feeling. And so then I just started doing classes in New York and then I found our class in London, very serendipitously, um, how I found it, but it was, it was definitely something I meant I was meant to find mm-hmm and then I also found some art classes in Singapore. So throughout the last. maybe seven, seven years or so before I went to art school, I had been doing art pretty, pretty regularly.

Jean:

So you'd, it had been there as a part of your life, not just, not in your professional life at that point. Exactly. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And can you tell us the story of how you ended up in Singapore?

Jo:

I landed up in Singapore because my boss, when I was living in London was the head of international human resources for American express. And one of her direct reports was the head of HR for Asia. And he had. A role that was coming open due to someone who was taking maternity leave. He wrote an email to my boss saying, I think Joanna would be great for this role, but at the time I was seeing all of my boss' emails because I was her chief of staff and I needed to see all of her emails so that I could support her and enable her success. So I saw this email. As did the, um, executive assistant. And he, he obviously realized pretty soon after he sent the email that I would see it. So he he removed the email and resend it again, encrypted, but I had seen this and, um, so I had the administrative assistant and she approached me and she said, did you see that email about this potential to go to Singapore? And I said, yeah, I saw it. But you know, I'm in London and my life is good here. And she said, you need to go. And it was thanks to her really, that I really opened up my mind to this potential to go to Singapore, to have this experience. And it was transformational. it was a huge vote of confidence in me to take on this head of HR role, um, to move internationally again, to move to a completely new region. It was a catalyst to so many other changes in my life. So yeah, that, that was, it was a wonderful opportunity. I was so happy in London. I was enjoying so much of my life, but I still took the chance to. To, to have a different experience.

Jean:

And that of course has led you on that pathway to where you are now. Exactly. Um, be before we come on and talk about how you made that decision to get to where you are now, it would be great to hear a bit about, what it was that helped you grow in your corporate career. What were the support mechanisms that helped you to be successful?

Jo:

I love this question and I've thought about it a lot. Also, because now I'm a career advancement coach. So a lot of what I do is help people identify aspects of their day to day life at work that can support them in achieving what they want. It's very easy to look back on one's career and say, oh yes, everything makes sense. But for a lot of the time, especially in my early career, I really didn't know what I was wanting. I just was trying to do everything that I was doing to the best of my ability. And when I first started in my consulting job at Deloitte, it was incredibly difficult. I felt so out of my depth for the first six months, I think I worked every single weekend. I, I was so far behind, it felt my American colleagues coming from South Africa, having traveled for two years. I really felt behind. My, my, um, peers and very ill prepared for the huge corporate environment of New York, let alone America. But I have learned, and especially looking back on my career, I can, I can see these common themes and threads. And for me it has been relationships. It has been relationships, every single step of the way. Can't just build relationships. You also need to have obviously solid work, um, behind you. You need to be, performing, you need to be, constantly challenging yourself. But what I found was through the relationships that I built. from the get go. It opened up opportunities for me. And I thought a lot about this concept of sponsorship and my old leader. Kerrie Peraino, was one of the original authors on a paper for Harvard business review on the sponsorship effect, um, that she did with the center of a talent innovation. And I've actually been trained. Yes, exactly. It's a brilliant article. It's already now over 10 years old, but it's as relevant as ever. And I was trained to present on it, you know, so I know the content very well, and it's fascinating to me how that has played out in my life so strongly. So in order to be sponsored by somebody your primary role is to do the best job you possibly can to build relationships and to make yourself indispensable. and then people will hopefully want to support you. And it's more than mentoring. It's more than coaching sponsoring means that somebody in a more senior position to you with power in the organization, you're at can put in place things that will positively impact your career through a conversation through an opportunity. And that happened for me. It, it happened in my well, my first job at Deloitte was through my cousin and her relationship with somebody that she knew. My move to American express was through my relationship with a previous manager at Deloitte. That manager introduced me to my future boss. Kerrie Peraino,. Kerrie was the reason I was able to move to New York. Kerrie was the reason I moved to Asia and yeah, I suppose that's, that's where my corporate career has, has halted for now. But now when I'm back in Cape Town and I'm doing consulting it's again, through relationships. and I am lucky because I am a relationship person. I value relationships. I invest in relationships. I get a lot of joy from relationships. A friend of mine said to me just the other day, I connect with people in such an easy, authentic way. It's not contrived. Yes. But maybe, you know, someone could say, oh, you were doing that to, you know, to further your career, but that's actually not the case. And I think people can feel authenticity. So in that sense, I think I've been lucky because I do think that relationships are in general, one of the most powerful ways to navigate your career.

Jean:

I, a hundred percent agree. I think that. Part of my role and my coaching is often helping people think about nuances in relationships. And, and some of that is, the political landscape of the organization, which of course is all about relationships or it's about how are they connecting and building and improving on their relationship with their line manager or their teams relationships. So central to organizational life. And in fact, there's some organizational theory that suggests that organizations are only relationships and that everything happens through the relationships, which I actually subscribe to.

Jo:

I think so I, I do too. We are social beings and an organization is a social system and we can't really separate out relationships from the work we do because none of us exist completely. and to ourselves, it's just, it's not, it's not possible in any aspect of our, of our life. Yeah. Yeah.

Jean:

For people who are not familiar with the term sponsorship, I wonder if you could say a bit about it and particularly sort of positioning it against mentorship or mentoring.

Jo:

Absolutely. I think when we talk about sponsorship, we first talk about the role of a coach, the role of a mentor, and then the role of a sponsor. So often a coach is, is someone in your life who can ask those. Critical questions to really help you understand, explore and navigate your career. From your perspective, a mentor is often somebody who you, you can always approach yourself, even, you know, somebody that you respect, admire someone who has experienced that is relevant to where you would like to take your career. Someone who you can learn from and who has often a lot of life experience to share and impart with you. So often, it is around learning from someone else's experiences, sponsorship. Is is neither of those two things, but it could include both of those things depending on the relationship. But a sponsor is someone. Who is really willing to, to use a cricket term, go to bat for you. Somebody who is willing to put their reputation on the line, in support of your career and your career growth. So usually the way that it works is through your relationships at the organization where you're at, you build a reputation, potentially you work with somebody, it could be your boss. It could be a previous boss, your boss's boss. But somebody that you come into contact with who is more senior than you, someone who has power and positive agency in the organization that you work for mm-hmm and the, and the goal is for this person to use their reputation and their influence to support you. But because of that, they are taking a risk. So that's why sponsorship has to be earned. Yes. And the tricky thing that I always found about this is when I, when, when we were first talking about this, 10 years ago or so at American express, the message around this was that you, you wouldn't normally ask someone if they use sponsor, but act as if they are and try and build as many sponsors as you can. Because if you were to ask someone directly, are you my sponsor? It's kind of an awkward. Conversation, but I think, the closer you are to the person and the more, open your, your relationship, I think that you can have that conversation, but the goal is really to try and earn that. Sponsorship through your behaviors every day and to not lose that connection, because often you might change teams and someone who was your boss then becomes your sponsor. Yes. Because they know you, they know your work, they know your work ethic, your potential. So don't lose contact with those people. And of course, if you leave the organization or they leave the organization, don't lose those people in your life. Either keep them close and then maybe their role will transition to coach or mentor. But really the role of a sponsor is within your organization, someone who can positively effect change you like my boss, Kerrie, finding that opportunity for me to, or, you know, supporting me moving. Singapore.

Jean:

I've always understood it as you've described it as somebody who's prepared to put their neck out for you actually is really prepared to say, you know, I believe in Jo, I think she can do this job. And if that doesn't work then, okay. It was my bad. It was, uh, they prepared to do that. Yeah. And there's been a lot of conversation, uh, certainly from the work I've done around women's development about can we do matching for sponsors and, and I've always really pulled against that because if I'm going to, to use your words, go into bat for somebody, actually, it's gonna be hard. Them to be matched to me. I need to know that. So I think we need to create conditions where people, senior leaders are encouraged to sponsor. People are encouraged to sponsor people in minority groups in the organization, and we leave it up to them to go and find the people in those minority groups to sponsor. We trust them with that rather than trying to match them because they're not, I think it can become a bit contrived.

Jo:

I'm not nodding vigorously here. Cause I completely agree. And it's, I'm really glad that you raised this point because I think it's around education. You know, people in senior positions may not recognize the important role they play as sponsor. But in addition, this research proved and the reason that the research came about was because at American express, Kerrie was noticing, for example, that senior women were climbing the ranks that American expressed and then. Suddenly they were leaving the organization or their careers just weren't flourishing in the way that they were seeming. That they had this potential and, and things were sort of falling apart. And in a short period of time, several women, senior women left American express and that prompted Kerry to investigate, um, was Sylvia Hewlett. Why, why are these women leaving at this critical point in their career? And they found it was not due to all the things that people would. Maybe say, oh, you know, this is why a woman would leave at a senior time in her career. It had to do with sponsorship. Yeah. And each of these women had had one sponsor, only one. And something happened to that sponsor. All of them had a male sponsor and all of their sponsors changed position, left the company, something happened and then their career started to store. So the big message is, try and build as many sponsors as you can. In general women have one at this time, it was 10 years ago. Maybe the conversation has changed, but men at that time were having three or more sponsors. So that is, I think, a huge part of this education. What does it mean to have a sponsor? What can you do to build sponsorship and how do you build as many sponsors as you can? Cause it will only help you for only help you.

Jean:

Yeah. That's such great advice. I don't think I've ever thought about it in the volume. Not just one but many because you're at risk. If you've got just one mm-hmm yeah. exactly. So you were there, you were having a very successful corporate career and then something happened and you made a big change. Could you share a bit about the big change and how it came about and where it's led you now?

Jo:

absolutely. Yes. It really was a transformational moment for me. Uh, it was almost like the same experience when I was in New York. I had been saying for years, oh, I should go to an art class. Oh, I should go to an art class. But then it started to shift to the next step, which was maybe I should do more. Well, let me take a step back. I was feeling very intellectually challenged and stimulated by my job, but something was missing. I had felt that feeling when I was in New York, which prompted me to find in art class, but now the feeling was becoming more insistent. And I, and I was hearing myself say O over and over again. I don't know if this is what I want. I don't know if this is a fulfilled life for me, but I don't know what that actually looks like. And it was a very uncomfortable space. And I, and I wondered, am I going to say this till the day I retire? Am I going to wonder about this till the day I retire. And I was speaking to a friend in Singapore who is a coach, Lindsay Fernandez Cohen. And she asked me a very, very pivotal question. I was really struggling with this back and forth, back and forth in my head. You know, almost like coming to these dead ends. I wanna change, but I don't know what to change or I don't know how to change. I dunno what to do. And we were sitting in a little cafe next to. The art school that I was going to on the weekends in Singapore, in this beautiful lash garden with fountains outside. And she said, imagine your life was a blank canvas. What would you do? And I said, almost without really thinking it through, well, I could go to Italy in study art. And she said, okay, what would happen if you did. And it was such a resting question. I was like, I, I don't know what would happen. I, I guess I would have to, you know, give up my role in Singapore. I would need to pack up my things I would need, you know, and suddenly I listed all of these things and she said, okay, so let play it out. What would it mean if you needed to. Leave your job at Singapore. And, and she suddenly started to put some really specific questions around a very abstract idea that for me, I had never considered, and it was like, the cat was out of the bag. I couldn't go back. I tried, I was very overwhelmed by this idea. I felt shaken. I felt like I, I really, I felt almost like I was shaking and the next day I saw Lindsay again. And she said, what do you think? And I said, oh, no, no, I don't think I'm gonna do that. I'll just go to art classes here in Singapore. I'll do a local show in a cafe. But I couldn't go back on the idea. It was so powerful that it started to form its own momentum and suddenly things started to just make sense. I got so excited. I was afraid I was actually petrified, but I was more excited about the potential mm-hmm and, um, yeah, and I just started conversations with, with a friend who'd gone to Italy before. The reason I had the idea was because a friend's sister had studied there. I asked her for her advice and she said something so beautiful to, to me. She said, uh, her name's Kim MEISON, and now she's a professional artist as well. And she said, imagine every day that you are stepping back from your easel, but actually you are stepping back from your life and you will get perspective on what's important to you.

Jean:

Oh yeah. It's so beautiful. Can you say that again?

Jo:

She said every single day that you step back from your easel, you will also be stepping back from your life and you will get perspective on what is important to you.

Jean:

So beautiful. Wow. Yeah. Yeah. So you found courage. How did that play out? That next piece of actually leaving Singapore?

Jo:

Yeah, I'm, I'm just going straight back to it. Now I needed courage every single day. I needed so much courage. My dad I've I've brought him up so many times in this podcast because he has been so influential at these key moments, you know, like just a word or a suggestion or an idea. And, um, in this moment I was living in Singapore, but I had a reason to go to London. I can't remember why. And I knew the school I wanted to go to. I had already gone through all of the processes to apply. Um, I had luckily a few artworks that made sense based on my studies in, in London, my Monday after Monday evening art classes. And, um, my dad said, why don't you just pop down to Florence? It's just a short flight from London. Go see what it's like. And I've never been. And I'm so glad he said that because I spent four days in Florence. I had connections with people through my, my friend Kim mic. I spent four days in Florence and I, I felt like I'd stepped into a parallel universe. You know, just art students, everywhere conversations about art philosophy life. I felt so invigorated and alive and the potential to have that experience every day was so. Uh, it was so real. I could see it here were people doing it every day. So when I got back to Singapore, I held that experience very close because every conversation I had with the business leaders, I was supporting with my team, with my boss, my boss's boss, I had to recommit to this crazy idea. And I actually felt like I was totally crazy, but everybody, everybody was supported. And that was incredibly encouraging. That's a beautiful thing too. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I, I kept, I kept, I kept thinking, are you mad? Are you crazy? But it also felt mad and crazy not to have this experience. I, I did give myself a little bit of protection in the sense that I took a one year sabbatical. I wasn't sure. And luckily American express offered that mm-hmm and it gave me the courage to take a step without completely jumping. and I'm forever grateful for that because it was a big step and American express facilitated that experience for me in a way that felt safe. And I, and everybody was so supportive and encouraging. And the concept of a sabbatical is I think now really starting to gain momentum as people realize that life is so varied. So many experiences to have, and these experiences we have outside of our workplace can only improve our. Back wherever we choose to go back to. Yeah. So, you know, I was very much supported and yeah. And it took, it took a huge amount of courage. I was literally still sending work emails on the drive to the airport to take the plane to Florence. it had only been six months, not even since, uh, since, uh, that conversation with Lindsay. So things moved very quickly, but I knew I was in the flow because they, they flowed, they move. They moved quickly cuz it was right. Yeah.

Jean:

The doors opened. Yeah. And what was it like? What a, what a massive shift from a big corporate successful job to being a student, an art student.

Jo:

It was a dream and I knew it was a dream. I knew it was a dream because I was a mature student. So the opportunity to go back to, to school every day, doing something that I really cared about. Was phenomenal. What I was amazed by was how much I cared I really cared. And that was amazing because I, I clearly wanted to, to learn these skills. It was incredibly grueling. I was at school every day from. At least at eight 30 or nine in the morning until 7:00 PM at night, every day. Wow. For five days a week. Um, so it was very grueling the first month I, I experienced the level of exhaustion. I'd never thought before you're standing all day. I was gonna say, it's quite physical. Yeah. It's very physical. Um, and very technical because really the school was teaching us is, you know, the, the methodologies around how to see, because you cannot represent something realistically, unless you can really see it. And then of course you have to train your, your hand. To, you know, depict what you see, but the first step is to see. So I loved it. I loved it. I loved the highs. I loved the lows. I loved the entire experience because I knew it was a once in a lifetime. I was journaling the entire time. I didn't want to lose a moment of it. what was also wonderful was bringing my life experience to the school because many of the students. You know, still, university, just coming out of high school, university age, or just after university, but I was bringing a whole different level of, of skills. So I started a salon salon, every second Saturday night with one of my art school friends who is now one of my closest friends back here in Cape town, Alice to the two of us would, construct these wonderful themes. And we would bring everyone to my apartment every second, Saturday night. And we would talk about topics related to being a professional artist, which for me was a huge education. Cause I'd never contemplated this but yeah, my role as the facilitator and to hold the space for the group was, was a unique skill for my fellow art students. So I loved being able to bring that.

Jean:

I bet. Yeah. And here you are. A professional artist. So I, I know that, that you didn't almost imagine that happening. How did it come about that you would actually allow that to happen?

Jo:

Well, like I was saying at the beginning, I actually do have COVID to thank for that because I am a highly social person and for many years, Did not prioritize art in any way, shape or form, because I would prioritize social activities, spending time with friends. You I don't know if anyone has has read the artist's way with Julia Cameron. It's a wonderful book and it was very inspirational to me at the time. And she speaks about two fundamentals that you should do the entire course that, you know, 12 week course in her book. One is the morning pages, three, three pages of continuous thought, no editing, no thinking, just writing the second, being an artist's date, take yourself on a date once a week for an hour. I didn't do it once. I couldn't create that time or space for me now. I'm happy to say I'm taking myself on art date many, many times a week. Cause I'm outside painting all the time. So coming back in COVID the school shut down. I was at the school and I'm sure everybody remembers that Italy was the epicenter of COVID back in March, 2020, and things were starting to go. Uh, things were getting very intense, very quickly. And the school was about the school did shut down for 10 days and I. Realized, um, it was probably gonna be longer than it was as we all know, months that Italy was, was in a very bad state. So I left and I came back to South Africa and I had, no, I had no way else. No, no other way to spend my time. I, I actually didn't have any other way to spend my time ever. Than painting. So I was in a way forced I came back from Italy, never considering that I'd be a professional artist, which is the irony of all ironies, because the school's literal tagline is the school for professional artists. I was just having the time of my life in those three years. So I was just so present and I, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to feel so present. Um, so I came back and I just started. And again, things started to flow because through my friend, Alice, I learned about a studio space. And, I think it's one of these experiences where you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And I just started painting and painting and painting and painting. And I didn't have any vision for where that was going to lead me. although I do know that as a landscape artist, you need to paint hundreds of paintings before you can even consider yourself a landscape artist. So, you know, I was just putting in the hours, putting in the hours. And then when I moved into my studio in November of 2020, within a month, they had a studio show and luckily I had enough artwork. So I'd be painting nonstop. So that's, that's how it all began.

Jean:

And, I will put a link in the show notes to your website because your paintings are beautiful. Beautiful, and, well, thank you. You really clearly have a talent and I'm so happy that you expressed it, that you made it come about. Yeah. Well, thank you, Jean. Is there anything else you want to say about that experience of the kind of transition from corporate to art to now holding those two worlds together?

Jo:

I'm so glad you asked me that question, cuz I wanted to circle back and say that I've come full circle. When I left Singapore, I needed that 180 degree change. I needed it. My soul needed it. I. very, um, probably burnt out. I was probably burnt out if I reflect on that now I, my job as the head of HR was incredibly demanding, very exciting. I loved playing that role for the organization. Um, I was supporting Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia, and I loved that leadership role. I loved being in that position of, um, influence and being able to support that employee experience. however, there was a huge part of me that was not being expressed every day. So I needed to do that 180 mm-hmm and almost let go of all of that to create space for a different experience. But when I came back to Cape town, I realized there was a, there was actually a lot of good in what I was doing and it actually was speaking to. That other part of my personality, you know, it's not one or the other it's and and it's, it's more about abundance. Again, was relationships, a very, very old close family friend had this, um, idea that change management was something her organization needed without really knowing what change management was. And when she explained to me what was going on, I, everything in my brain lit up. I was like, Check check, check. This is change management one. Oh, I'm through and through. And I actually found myself incredibly stimulated and excited working with her organization. And that took me by surprise. Yeah, because there was a part of me that had, um, maybe discounted that experience that I had had before and the roles that I played before to make space for the, the new identity. But I have come full circle. Um, appreciating the fullness. I think of my interests of my passions. And I am now adding the coaching. It is such a natural fit for me and I enjoy it so much that I feel so privileged. And I think about this all the time. I spend my time every day doing things I want to do, and I just feel so. Grateful that I get to say that, that I get to experience that.

Jean:

Well. You worked hard for it and took some risks to create it. Cause it was, it wouldn't have been without those courageous moments that this would would've come about. Yeah, definitely. Definitely. One of the things that I'm always curious about in all of this, because you are a confident person you express confidently is at what points along this journey has imposter syndrome shown up for you and how have you handled it when it has,

Jo:

it's definitely shown up for me. Definitely. Every time I started a new role, there was this very uncomfortable bumpy. Confusing and, complicated few months where I didn't know whether I was going left right. Apple down, but I would say the most, um, the most uncomfortable imposter syndrome that I experienced was when I was in the role of head of HR, because my background is very solidly in change management. That's inverted comments, where I grew up as a change management consultant. And I, I learned excellent skills at Deloitte skills that I continue to use every day as I manage my career. But I haven't had that core HR experience where, you know, I've worked my way up as an HR professional, trying out all the different aspects of, what makes an HR organization, um, you know, support their employee. So as the head of HR, I had a lot of learning to do, and I had to recognize that I couldn't lead through expertise anymore. And that was very scary. And I still had to represent the entire HR function. That was still my job, but I had to learn how to really trust my team and make sure that I had the best people in the roles. That like, for example, compensation and benefits or employer relations. And it was very hard for me to know what to trust when I didn't have a solid track record of making some of those decisions myself and learning what happens as these things play out. So that was very, very scary. And I found it took some time to learn how to manage in that way. but I can say that I had a very, very strong team and I inherited a very, very strong team. So I didn't, I didn't luckily have any really bad outcomes from that experience. But the things that kept me up at night were those projects that were specifically employee relations related where I didn't feel like I had that solid experience behind me to support the decision making I needed to make. So that. That was very challenging.

Jean:

I think this is a common pinch point for people in their careers when, when you are. Promoted or you move into that role where you no longer have the knowledge expertise of some of the people you are managing. And it requires a whole different skill set because it's really then about coaching and leading through relationship and conversation. And of course, performance management, but there's also such an element of trust in the skill and the expertise of the people we are managing. And yeah, it's scary.

Jo:

it's very scary. And then it's really about enabling your team to perform in the best way that they can, which, um, became my, my primary job supporting our business leaders and the sort of strategy of American express of course, but really enabling success for my team.

Jean:

Wow. wow. I am, coming to this point in the conversation feeling incredibly inspired. Because your story is such a, a beautiful story of corporate and, creative one after the other, and then coming back together. And that's amazing. And I think that helps those of us who are wanting to think about creating a career that works for us to have the faith and the hope that we could perhaps do that too. Yeah, it's amazing. Well, thank. So, um, be as we sort of come towards the end of our conversation, is there anything else you'd like to share about this experience that you think is, is helpful for people to know? Um, yes. A couple of things. The, the first is just, just, just building on from what you just said.

Jo:

I created this huge change in my life, but I had support, I had support. In the sense that I had already built quite a lot of experience, I had saved money, so I took a risk, but I felt like it was a, it was a safe risk. So I, I feel in a way, like I came to the art experience at a time when I was really ready for it. And I had enough of a safety net that I had constructed myself to make that experience very enjoyable. Mm. Um, so that, that was the first thing, I think that as we all, think about the, the life we wanna live to, to be planful about it and to set ourselves up for success, because I think it would've been a very different experience if I was. Really struggling financially, for example I think that the whole experience would've felt quite different. Um, and I know that as an artist, it is not easy to make money, um, especially at the start mm-hmm So for me personally, I'm so grateful that I had a buffer, I had a financial buffer, so that was important to me. Yeah. And I think, just as a separate side note, financial planning and thinking very sort of strategically about our financial wellbeing. It's just such an opportunity area for so many people. And, um, I'm just grateful. I've had some people to support me there and mentor me in that area. The second is it took me many years to come to a point. of finding what it is that I find so rewarding and there were many years where I was struggling. I felt like I was, I put so much pressure on myself to know why don't I know already, why haven't I figured this out and now looking back, I can see that everything is, is building towards something and it's okay. When it's not obvious. where those building blocks fit or why you're building that particular skill set or why you're having that experience. And I think it's very valuable to try and connect as early as we can to our values, you know, what's important. And I felt like it took me so long. Through trial and error to get a clear picture of that. But I think that's okay. I often used to give myself this image of being like a, an insect with my antenna. I used to feel like that, I'm out there trying to figure out, what makes me tick? What makes me happy? And. You know, conversations I would have with people, experiences I would have, would have were all informing that. And so I would just say that all of our lives are so unique, so different. We're all building experiences that teach us about ourselves and for all of us, at whatever stage we're at to recognize that everything has its time, everything has its place. If you are, staying open, staying aware of your experience. Engaging with the world taking risks, calculated risks. I think, the path will unfold and I put a lot of pressure on myself early on to know. but I think we'll know when, when it's right. And, and just to allow the path to unfold.

Jean:

Mm-hmm yeah. I love that. It's, it's an iterative journey for many of us finding that place. That's that's right. That fits and, and indeed, what's fitting for you now may not fit in 10 years time or for any of us. It's not that that is also then affects state. There's an opportunity for us to keep growing and moving and changing.

Jo:

Exactly. I mean, whenever I need to take heart, like when I think about what you've just said, when I think 10 years back, could I possibly have imagined where I'd be in 10 years time? No way, no way. So just to know that a lot can happen in 10 years and it doesn't really help to try and have it all figured out. Just try and keep our values close and that'll chart chart. Our course mm-hmm yeah.

Jean:

Wonderful. Before we finish. Would you be able to recommend a book or a podcast or something? You've, you've already mentioned a few, but is there one in particular that you would like to draw out?

Jo:

I've been reading a lot of books recently around emotions and emotions in general, but also how emotions affect us at work. And also when I think about my coaching career, the role of emotions and how emotions can be constructive, they can also be. Destructive at times. And I recently read, Susan David's book called emotional agility. And I know Jean, you post a lot on your Instagram account and your story. And I get exactly the same, images from, from Susan David. And I read her book and I felt like she captured so many of these very complicated concepts in a way. Is so engaging. And, and of course she's not of course, but she is connected with Brene brown and I've done a lot with Brene brown. And I actually did a, a training, with someone who's, um, certified in the Brene brown, coaching technique, dare to lead mm-hmm So, these ideas and these concepts are very closely linked and what I find so powerful about Brene brown and also Susan David is taking these concepts that are very complicated. And making them accessible. Um, so I would recommend that book. Definitely I plan to read it again. But yeah, I would recommend, yeah, it's brilliant.

Jean:

And also, um, she does post Susan David posts a lot on LinkedIn and Instagram of, of really helpful little ideas and thoughts about how to manage emotions. So, um, I'll, I'll put links to all of those in the show notes so people can find them easily. Oh, Jo, what a fantastic conversation. Thank you for sharing your really inspiring career. Journey. And, um, I'm excited to see where it goes. I'm particularly excited, always to watch the beautiful paintings that you create and also the photos of where you are creating those paintings on beaches or in vineyards in South Africa, it always looks so beautiful and I hope we, uh, get to see each other in person sometimes soon. But thank you so much for this conversation.

Jo:

Oh, thank you, Jean. It's been my honor. And I'm so glad that we had this opportunity to reconnect in this way. I've missed having you nearby, like you were in Singapore when I was there and I'm just so glad that this is one of those relationships that I can hold close after my time in Singapore. So thank you very much. Yeah, me too. Me too. Brilliant. Thank you. Thank you.