Back in 2009, I discovered that the world wasn’t all the same. Surprise! Yes, this was a realization for me. Sadly, but truthfully, I believed that race and socioeconomic status were the only things that gave the world its organization. I am African-American, so I knew diversity was a good thing, but I only understood it on a topical level. Partially, this belief is a result of growing up in a small town with my entire, insanely large family living blocks away from each other. I had no reason to think that people lived outside of this perspective. The other cause for my belief is that mainstream media often reinforces this same idea. Nevertheless, it may have taken me a while, but I got it — the world is diverse. Also sad but true, there are many people that still haven’t had this “epiphany” yet. The capacity for infinite variation in humans is what made me start to tell their stories, especially those of people who were creatively using their unique perspectives and passions to construct new opportunities and new lives for themselves.
Now finishing our seventh year of these stories, my wife and business partner, Elena, and I keep coming back to this work day after day because we continue to love what we learn from each individual—each time, learning a bit more about ourselves. Creating is hard work because we are all forced to confront the false notions we hold for ourselves in order to get closer to a world we believe in.
When we sat down with Jessie Adore, a luxury handbag designer and blogger, she articulated her exhaustion from matching the world she believes can exist with the world she currently lives in. We talked to her in the midst of one of those days as frustration welled up from setbacks and self-doubt. In a stream of consciousness before her actual interview, she told us about all the times when she yearned for an easier route or the type of mind that could just give up. She described those moments that we have all found ourselves in, comparing ourselves to people who are the epitome of what we don’t have. But she, despite all apparent rationality, couldn’t stop designing. Why? Well, she called it “that fire.” Some people call it purpose, drive, or mission. Anyway you call it, what we learned from Jessie is that if you need inspiration, the best place to look is back to the memory of why you started.
Surprised and refreshed by Jessie’s candor, we were also reminded of how hard it is for people to be emotional, but also how powerful it is when they are. Nowadays, there are very few creative endeavors that don’t mention the trend of design thinking or user experience design. While everyone says they are human-centric, how much of the human are we really digging into and how much of the human is okay to offer?
Real emotions show our humanity, and for many of us that inherently means showing flaws. Often people and companies think being real is just putting a smiling face on your product and sharing your origin story. However, what we appreciated about Jessie is how raw she was. She didn’t just keep her emotional palate to the widely acceptable “proud” or “excited” (the two emotions most used when “humble bragging” on social media) but gave us insight into her humanity by offering a greater range of emotions. As creatives and entrepreneurs (and humans) we all experience these things, but very few like to talk about them. We all have heard it before, that business is not personal; but for Elena and me, it can’t be anything else. As a husband and wife team running a business with a baby you can imagine a lot of emotions swirl around us all the time. Really, we don’t even have the luxury of hiding it. But many times more than not, we have found the truth of our life to be an asset rather than a turnoff. Our life experiences inform our views and that’s what people have appreciated most about us.
In telling others’ stories, for a long time I believed it allowed me to hide from telling my own. What story did I have to tell? What was significant from where I came from? What could I possibly have to say? Those questions came to the forefront in full force when interviewing CharlieRed, a rock duo. The vocalist Chauncey Sherrod told me a story of when he was confronted with the question, “Who are you as a man?” After years of hiding in his music and his musical identity, he could not answer the question. He said he had to stop and evaluate where he came from, why he had become a child preacher, why he had served in the army, and why he had gone through so many stage names. It took him going back to his past in order to get to who he really was today.
At the conclusion of the interview he thanked me for making him “face himself on camera for the first time.” Not knowing exactly how I did that, I had to ask myself, “Was I hiding behind the camera?” What I realized was that I wasn’t hiding and that I can’t hide. The questions I asked were actually a reflection of myself.
Writing this blog post for me was difficult. I always have trouble with these types of things, because too often I work so hard to share a perspective beyond the boy I grew up as. This typically comes with a particular voice, language, and references to instances that paint me as an insightful and interesting man able to offer intimate knowledge of faraway worlds and exciting ways of life…but that all stands in the way of writing something real. What Chauncey realized about his music, and I on that day about my videos, is that while we create to express, we primarily create to have something to hide behind as we try to engage a world too grand to take interest in our “meager perspectives.” The truth is no matter how far I go, or who I’ve become, that boy is still present as a part of me. And as much as I understand that the world is not all the same, I now also understand neither is my experience of it. Most importantly, what I’ve learned from telling others’ stories is that every story is valid, even my own. It has shown me how much I really am from a small, hick town in Michigan, but it has also encouraged me to take pride in that fact, because it too is a perspective. All any perspective has to be to be unique, is your own.
Carl Schrónez is a co-founder of Culture of Creativity (C8), an artist collective, independent media producer, and creative content agency. He is an experienced director, cinematographer and a graduate of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor’s Film Program. Carl is passionate about encouraging others to creatively use their individuality to construct opportunities and a life uniquely their own. He works nationally with large and small clients to share his passion, including The Small Business Administration, Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, Epic Records, BET, and the Grammy award-winning singer, Ne-Yo, with whom he toured.
Elena Schrónez is a partner in Culture of Creativity (C8). She has a background in brand marketing and storytelling, research and group facilitation and has worked with global Fortune 500 clients around the globe. Graduating with a BA in Psychology and an MA in Latin American Studies from Stanford University, she applies a psycho-social and cultural perspective to all that she does as a content producer and strategist.