Drawing Your Own Destiny: How to Design a Job You Love

 

Job: Artist specializing in live graphic facilitation
Salary Range: The average salary of Deloitte consultants with four to six years of experience is $87,000.
Worker: Zara Stasi
Age: 27
Education: Bachelor's degrees in studio art and history
Company: Deloitte

 

Zara Stasi graduated from college and quickly accepted a job offer doing consulting, despite her passion for and degree in art. The stability and paycheck Deloitte, a major professional services firm, offered were appealing, but over the years, Stasi began to pine for professional opportunities that made better use of her creative skills.

 

So she made a big pitch to the executives at her company: Make me your in-house artist, and I'll offer your clients a unique, valuable experience.

 

After her creative thinking helped save a challenging, high-stakes meeting, Stasi sold her bosses on the proposal and now has her dream job as an artist who specializes in live graphic facilitation. That means she translates client meetings into illustrations and text in real time, creating visual notes that help business leaders understand and solve problems.

 

Stasi explained how to create your own role at work and described how tenacity and outside-the-box thinking can pay off in your career.

 

Tell me about your education background.

 

Starting in the high school realm, I asked my parents if I could go to a private school near our house. I had learned from someone in my town who attended that it had an interesting art program: When you're a senior, you can have your own studio on campus. I ended up going and balancing that focus on art with going to a really rigorous, six-days-a-week school.

 

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[In college,] I double-majored in studio art and history. I got involved in undergraduate honor council and was chair my senior year, a big leadership position. Those neural networks were always bouncing back and forth and getting stronger with all the things I put on my plate, making sure art was getting enough time and energy and emphasis while balancing all the other pieces.

 

How did you end up working in consulting?

 

I didn't have a destination in mind 100 percent. I wanted to be an artist, and that's not a job you apply for. I wanted to make sure I had a job when I graduated; it was important to be financially self-sufficient.

 

The path from that world of college to Deloitte was one that was a little bit by chance, a lot by going out on a limb.

 

Deloitte came to campus for their consulting group out of D.C. I had a couple of friends in business school talk about consulting, and I thought, let's see what type of job this was. I was surprised when I got a second-round interview. Then I got an offer, and I wasn't sure.

 

I think one of the reasons I ended up taking it was something said in one of my interviews: "I'm not sure if you'll get the offer or take it if you get it. But I expect to hear from you in 10 years; I want to hear how you pulled all those skills together to make your first million." That was one of the first times I realized art could be valued in the business world, being told by a partner at a huge firm like this that my brain was valuable.

 

When I accepted my Deloitte offer, part [of my motivation] was that interest in what this career could look like if I went in with a really open mind. It was advertised to me that it was flexible and what you make of it. The job was in D.C., a city I hadn't lived in yet and wanted to explore.

 

I started the summer after graduation and worked two years as a strategy and operations consultant for our federal practice. I bounced around a lot of projects. I worked with one team, then another team. It allowed me to get comfortable with business acumen and how the consulting world and clients worked, networked, communicated and the words they used.

 

[See: 25 Best Jobs That Pay $100K.]

 

How did you learn about live graphic facilitation?

 

I came across an internal training that caught my eye, about graphic facilitation. I took the class, and it was very foundational. It didn't blow me away, but it interested me.

 

I studied up and practiced in every part of my day: while listening to a podcast, with a white board during a meeting. I networked with folks who would become some of my closest mentors.

 

I started teaching that class, and I knew that I wanted to do it more. I was getting requests from people all across the firm, but it was like an additional job.

 


How did you pitch the idea of creating a new job for yourself at the company?

 

I had made a portfolio when I was an artist, so when I decided I wanted to pursue this, I made a portfolio and marched up to the highest partner I knew. I had so much gumption.

 

I said, "This is where I see myself growing, where I want to focus my time. I know it's a craft. You can always get better, but you have to commit time."

 

He didn't say no, he didn't say yes. He said, "We have this group called the Greenhouse, opening across the U.S. Check them out." It's a team of facilitators that design experiential sessions with clients. They're always trying to help clients overcome a challenge they're having.

 

The chief operating officer of that program was going to be in D.C. that week. I got a meeting with her. I bring my portfolio, I pitch her. She didn't say yes or no. She said, "We don't have a role on our team like that right now … but interview for an opening." I interviewed and got that role.

 

I had to network around to figure out anything about my job because it was brand new. It was an amazing experience. I was doing a job that was to facilitate and design these sessions, and on the side having these back-pocket skills.

 

I was transferred to New York and started going to sessions in countries I'd never been to. When there were clients [for whom] English was a second language, there were some concepts half the room would get, half not. I started using [graphic facilitation] to align people. At the end of these sessions, in surveys, people would gravitate toward the use of visuals, saying that was the most impactful part of the day. They'd say, "The graphics you created are up in our office, we're going to use them."

 

I started to build a business case.

 

What finally convinced company leaders?

 

There was one big turning point, in Beijing. We found out a couple moments before the lab starts that one of the main clients was going to come by for an hour to chat. Half of the people couldn't understand because the chat was in Mandarin. Typically someone comes to translate, but it was the last minute, so we didn't have anyone.

 

Everyone's huddled up, asking, "What should we do?" I raised my hand: "I can capture it graphically if someone translates into my ear, so the folks who only speak English are able to follow."

 

We went for it. It ended up being amazingly impactful. Not only did we let people follow along, but once that client left, we used these materials as a point of alignment. In that moment I knew, I want to do this; I want to do this right.

 

I went back to the same woman who had hired me and I pitched her on a new role: greenhouse artist. That's the role I have today. I use graphic facilitation to capture sessions we do. I worked with mentors to flesh it out, and it's evolved as it's grown.

Did you choose your job title?

I did choose my job title. I chose greenhouse artist; whatever I do, it's through the lens of the artist. I'm not hiding what I do.

It was a little bit tricky. I didn't want to pigeonhole myself into just graphic facilitation or illustration. I wanted it to be something that made me look different, that when you look at the title you clearly understand the value I brought. I wanted to keep it high-level and open.

I definitely get notes all the time like, "You need to change your title," or "It doesn't say that on your title." To me there's no title that's going to explain what any of us do.

What skills do you need for your job?

Active and thoughtful listening. Being able to synthesize ideas, which is hearing a mess of stuff and pulling out the key themes.

Good handwriting. When I take my own notes, sometimes I scribble. I had to teach myself to have thoughtful, positive, good handwriting.

Emotional intelligence. When I'm able to read a room, empathize with people in the room, I hear them more and draw out different themes.

Having confident executive presence. Being able to hold the floor, stand at the front of the room, be confident and excited. Be able to engage folks in a way that's inviting but also credentializes yourself.

Storytelling. I have to practice visual storytelling in most of the work I do.

What are the perks and challenges of your job?

The challenges: I typically have a lot of travel, which is also a perk. This work is really tough on me, listening and plugged in and standing for a whole day. It can be kind of draining. You can't check out. That plus traveling can be hard on me.

At the beginning, I didn't have balance. The demand was crazy, everyone wanted it. I had to learn when to say no and how to say no.

Another challenge is people downplaying the value. I've had to do a lot of legwork and research with my team to credentialize this. There are plenty of people who experience the session and get it immediately – the vast majority. Every so often, though, there are different people who think it's just kind of silly. They say things like, "I have a small child who loves to draw, I wonder if they would be good at this." What they mean is, "I'm looking at your markers in a business setting and you look like you don't belong here." That's a challenge I walk into willingly every day. I know how I can bring value, but I have to deliver it.

Being able to do this work as a nomad, traveling, showing up, doing the work, building the new relationships with sessions in Beijing and London, having C-suite clients trust me with this work, is definitely a privilege. Being able to create something people are emotionally invested in and attached to at the end of the day is such a perk.

Tell me how you've benefited from mentoring.

I had a specific mentor, Catherine Madden. She has since left Deloitte and started her own career doing this type of work. She took me under her wing, gave me opportunities to shadow her. Without her mentorship, I wouldn't have learned the stuff I learned to help me get there.

We both talked about our next-step goals, and we both did those things. I think having a mentor like that can keep you accountable.

What's your advice on how to create your own dream job?

Visualize what you want to be doing in the next year and next couple years and don't stop until you get it. I heard "no" a lot. There are people who are going to tell you you aren't good enough, that no one will hire you full time.

Get very creative with what you want. Don't take no for an answer.

What tips do you have for becoming an artist who does graphic facilitation?

I would have studied more in the field of behavioral psychology to get reference points and data about how people react in different experiences. Always have science behind you and be able to back all that you do with evidence.

Take your own notes – think about every class you take as a one-pager. Visually practice that every class.

Think about taking on leadership roles: Running meetings, keeping people accountable, all of those skills are important.

What have you learned as a result of having created your own job?

A lot of clients I meet with in sessions make time to ask my story. The amount of connections and people I've met doing that, and hearing their own stories, has inspired me to think what my next move is, how I can bring my true self into my work.

I get emails from people from my firm saying, "How do I learn more? I'm creative, I need an outlet." I'm trying to think about ways to bring people along on the journey. I know how it feels to want to bring that to work.

That's a big part of what I want to do in this job: Encourage people to think critically about their current role and if it's serving them.

 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

The salary data is based on information from Glassdoor.com.

Corrected on May 22, 2018: A previous version of this story misspelled Stasi’s field.

 

 

By Rebecca Koenig

Source: money.usnews.com