In my mind, there was once a clear divide between artists, healers, and businesspeople. As an idealistic creative in my twenties, the world of business seemed as far as I could get – creatively, morally, and spiritually – from the life I hoped to lead. And yet, after becoming a mother in my early thirties, I found myself gradually crossing that divide.
I’d been developing my intuitive gifts by reading tarot cards when, one evening at The Spot cafe in Culver City, California, a frazzled event planner emerged from the music lounge and called out something to the effect of Is there a tarot card reader in the house? It was Middle-Eastern night and the reader she’d hired had just canceled. My bestie M was sitting next to me; she was already a fan of those early readings and spoke up to volunteer my services.
And just like that, a professional tarot card reader was born.
Initially, my clients were women like M and me; they hung out in cafe lounges writing in journals and craved guidance for fulfilling their creative dreams as artists and healers. But over time something surprising happened; the entrepreneurs came calling.
Where I’d once assumed businesspeople were boring and amoral, my stereotype of entrepreneurs was even worse: fast-talking men driven to make a buck, willing to use people for their own ends, and ethically bankrupt. But the entrepreneurs I was counseling were not like that at all; they were creative, idealistic, and dreamed of making the world a better place. Though their medium was different, I realized that, in many ways, they were artists too.
Once I expanded my offerings to include editorial and coaching services, I discovered that those same entrepreneurs were as eager to express their ideas and get them out into the world as writers were. In fact, from the beginning, my writing workshops and retreats were (and still are) filled with women of color who considered themselves both.
As I saw my clients begin to realize their dreams I saw that, while they could primarily draw on creativity and idealism in the beginning, as success took hold, capitalism exerted more of a force. Whether you are a screenwriter or a founder, you must inevitably transition from the sphere of pure inspiration into the world of business where the relationship between profit and loss is the bottom line; a world in which it is difficult, if not impossible, to hold on to one’s higher values. For the idealists among us, this transition can be spiritually devastating; it can feel as if you’ve lost ground in your effort to change an oppressive system and are now upholding it.
This paradox of success haunted me until 2019 when I began working with The Enneagram Prison Project (EPP). At the time, EPP was a relatively small educational nonprofit that was exploring the question of how, even as it scaled, it could retain its original inspiration and values. And just as I’d once been surprised by the creativity and imagination required to launch a business or organization, now I was astounded by the creativity and imagination of an entire organization that was asking courageous questions about its own growth – and whose members were collectively wrestling with the answers.
The questions I heard EPP asking itself in 2019 were similar to many of those that my Tarot clients had asked years earlier, questions like: How can we make our offerings and our operations consistent with our mission? How can we function in alignment with the values that got us here? What do we need to change when we’ve strayed from our original vision?
When an individual poses questions like these, the answers apply only to their own actions. But when an entire organization asks them, everyone involved – especially leadership – must not only consider how the answers apply to them, but also how to implement them as a collective. Going through such a process for more than three years with EPP, I found that it not only required imagination, courage, and growth on everyone’s part, but that there was a worldwide community of thought leaders, consultants, and organizations exploring the same questions.
So, how can a single organization transform the oppressive practices of capitalism? How can it transform its participation in a system that prioritizes the relationship between profit and loss over all others? And how can we create new systems which benefit all stakeholders, not just shareholders?
It starts with everyone involved asking those same hard questions an individual asks when they want to transform their own life. And it continues as leadership models the hard work of listening, takes appropriate actions and, when necessary, heals whatever traumas are in the way.
Spoiler alert: there are a lot of traumas in the way.
Whether you are an artist, a founder, or a CEO, when there is something blocking the way, there is something to be healed. Sometimes that thing is in you, sometimes it is in the people around you, and sometimes it is in the system itself. There is no separating the effort to create a just economy from the work of healing, and it is messy work. In some capacity, everyone is oppressor and oppressed, and everyone has historic and generational triggers that frequently make that work painful and threatening.
Nevertheless, this is work that must be done; as a species and a planet, we have no choice.
I no longer see a divide between the artists, the healers, and the businesspeople. We all bring something to our collective struggle for liberation, we all have a role to play, and we’ve all got to support one another.