Martha Graham, Arianna Huffington And Me: A Lesson In Themes

Alexis Fedor

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When I graduated from college, I had a degree in film and dance with a minor in English. My friend who was a business major said, “it doesn’t get more artsy-fartsy than that!” I had moved to Chicago, apprenticed with one of the best yoga teachers in the world, Gabriel Halpern, and became a yoga teacher. So I was teaching yoga three nights a week, choreographing for two theater companies, waiting tables and selling local commercials on the side for a small media company to make ends meet. I was all over the place a (like most of my artist friends were!) thinking that was what it was going to be like for the rest of my life if I wanted to pursue my art.

The truth is I was driving myself crazy in the process and I knew there had to be a better answer. I started to feel depressed, defeated, and unsure of myself. When I visited my family for the holidays, I was visibly distraught and my mother was certain I was going to run myself into the ground. That was when my uncle, a very savvy electrical engineer-turned-investor sat me down and said, “you need to pick one theme and stick to it. Anything that doesn’t fit the theme, let it go.” He was referring to how the entrepreneurs he knew and followed- like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs- approached crafting their businesses into massive successes. They knew how to focus on their theme- their vision for a project- until they saw it through into the best possible rendition of what they could imagine. If they could do it, I could do it, was what he told me. Lucky me to have such a loving and supportive family!

I substituted the women entrepreneurs I admired most and saw they followed the same path of sticking to their theme as they nurtured their businesses to life, time and again: Oprah, Sarah Blakely (founder of Spanx, arguably one of the most successful businesses on the planet) and Arianna Huffington. I then thought of the female artists I admired most and saw the same pattern as they nurtured their art to life, time and again: Martha Graham, Maya Angelou and Cate Blanchett.

I decided I needed to stick with what I was most passionate about, which was exploring dance from other cultures. I had been dabbling in some classical Indian dance technique for one of the theater companies’ shows, and was immersed in the culture through my yoga training. So I made a decision: I let go of waiting tables and the media company, took on more yoga classes, one of which included an hour of Indian culture, and kept choreographing for the theater companies, one of which was focused on classical Indian dance influences. I then took a job waiting tables just one night a week at an Indian Ayurvedic restaurant to ensure I was making ends meet. I was still juggling quite a bit, but enjoying it all much more and, most of all, performing much better in all areas. My life felt exciting, motivating and free again, and for once I was making enough money to not worry about my basic needs.

Later, when I began working with entrepreneurs who were showing me the ropes of how to run a successful business, I learned the importance of finding themes continuously in all areas- product offerings, company policies, employees’ environment- and every theme reflected the core values of the owner. This helped them keep their businesses focused, on track and profitable, no matter what direction they needed to go. Similarly, when I had the privilege of working with Lanny Harrison, a core member of the Meredith Monk dance company, I saw how her focus on the theme of Buddhism was the driving force behind the creation of the profoundly diverse works she was able to create, which fed into one another and made an impact on so many people.

The best businesses, just like the greatest artists, stay focused and clear-sighted because they choose themes that mirror the value system they built the company on to begin with. The best artists do exactly the same thing.

I believe artists are hardwired to run the best businesses in the world. Help me prove my belief by taking action and sharing a theme that is integral to your art in the comments below, or share a visual on Instagram using #artistsinbusiness and tag me: @alexisfedorpics!

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