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Creative Thought at Work

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Letters To cut costs; cut sabbaticals, learning and citizenship, thoughts matter
CTMoment Better late than never
Observation Germany's turn to give back
President's Perspective Essential relationships





CTMOMENT

Better late than never

by Katy Stenhouse ’83
Gary Gold photo   
Finding her niche in interior design sits well with Katy Stenhouse 83.   

Creative Thought Matters? You betcha! It’s taken me half my lifetime to understand that. In our increasingly frenetic world it is imperative that we slow down and listen to what our creative play reveals to us of our true soul or essence. If only I had listened sooner.

Who would have thought that what I did as a kid held all the clues to what I should be doing as an adult? If only I had realized that playing doll house was a real indicator to my current career in interior design. I didn’t have just one doll house; I had three. Then I started making floor plans with washcloths and placemats, until I broke enough doll furniture to move to the real thing—my room. At first I rearranged the furniture and changed the bedding constantly. I eventually convinced my mother to replace the furniture altogether. There was a clear path and progression in my play, but I never noticed. I took my creativity for granted rather than for the gift that it is.

At Skidmore I discovered photography, but I thought of it as a hobby, simply something fun. It never occurred to me that what was fun could also be valuable. My photographs were highlighted in a show on campus. I was solicited to have my photographs published. I continued to take photo classes after Skidmore and was told, “You have more talent in your little finger than some people have in a lifetime.” But, like so many women, I instantly devalued my talent and interpreted the remark as a come-on. It never occurred to me the guy who said it was sincere.

Why didn’t I see the signs, the themes of creativity running through my life? I was young. And even when I was not so young, I listened to others’ expectations. My brother, a Yale painting major, was the family’s celebrated creative artist, not me. After Skidmore I was expected to go into a white-collar career, not a “trade.” (In the 1980s money, not happiness, was the measure of success.) I tried to belong and fit in, rather than celebrate my uniqueness and stand out. Instead of listening to my inner voice, I ignored my natural talents and interests.

After college, my first job was in an art museum, but I thought of the museum as merely a venue, not Fate calling out to me. My second job was for a commercial photographer, where I worked with art directors who suggested—and insisted—that I get out of the office, onto the set, and ultimately off to art school. Finally, the lightbulb came on: In art school I was given the encouragement and specific skills to direct my creativity, and I thrived. With my degree in graphic design I went to work as a freelancer, and that led to a career in publishing.

After having my daughter (at 40!), I moved from the two-dimensional world of print media to the three-dimensional world of interior design: Katydid Interiors. From editing books and art-directing book covers, I went to editing furniture and directing general contractors.

I am, like everyone else, still evolving. Now, however, it’s in the right direction. We all have a true north inside our souls, and creative thought will guide us if we let it. When I finally stopped rearranging people’s homes in my head and rearranged them for real, the voice in my head was quieted. And while I never felt emotionally attached to paperwork in an office, color in a room gives me a visceral sense of calm, control, and peace. When I meet with clients now, I have a direct connection with them; by changing their space, I can change their life—and mine.

I am so grateful for what I have been given, even though I did not always recognize it at the time. The theme and threads were always there, but I failed to see them until I tripped over them. I encourage others to look for patterns, indulge your interests, and, as Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss.”

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