Get Lit: A Q&A with Cathleen Clerkin

Every other month, Luminare Group reaches out to one of our favorite clients or people in the field to learn more about what makes them glow - from the inside out. Professional, personal - all is at play in the work we do here.


Cathleen Clerkin is a senior research faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership. When she's not conducting leadership research, you can find her experimenting with her latest art project, or planning for her next trip abroad. You can find her Tweeting at @CathleenClerkin.

Read on for a Q&A with this month’s Be Lumin-Us guest editor, Cat Clerkin.

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1. What idea/practice are you most in love with currently? Why?

Lately I’ve been really captivated with the idea of choice. A wide variety of research has shown that being able to find and recognize even small choices can increase your sense of empowerment and control, and lower your stress levels. But of course, an abuse of the idea of choice can quickly turn into victim blaming and not recognizing socio-structural barriers, so I think there’s a careful and critical balance needed to leverage this research well.

One practice for activating choice that I really love, and that strikes this balance really well, is job-crafting. Job crafting is the practice of redesigning, reframing, and/or refining a person’s existing job in a way that is more consistent with their values and goals. Conceptualized by Jane Dutton and colleagues at the Ross School of Business, job crafting recognizes that people might not always be able to leave a job that they find unfulfilling. Instead, job crafting focuses on how people can find small choices and make small changes within their current job description to make it more meaningful.

2. If you could do one thing for a day (and be good at it), what would it be?

Anything? Well, I’ve long dreamed about being able to teleport! As a person who is perpetually traveling, over-committing, and has a bad case of FOMO, teleporting seems to be the solution to all my problems!  I would travel the world, but be home by bedtime. I’d never miss an event or a birthday and always be able to visit loved ones even if they lived far away.

3. What makes you smile...every time?

My first time in a new country. There is something so exciting about being someplace completely new—where I know that I am about to encounter the unknown. I generally spend my first day or two in a new place grinning ear to ear and thanking my lucky stars that I live in a time and place that allows me to be an explorer.

4. What do you want to do more of this year? Less of?  

My two new year’s resolutions for 2018 were to read from a book every day and to meditate every day. I made these resolutions because I wanted to shift how I was spending my time and attention...Which brings me to what I want to do less of: Last year I spent a ton of time staring at my phone, which is not the norm for me. But with the ever-escalating news cycle in the U.S. lately, I’d found myself glued to my phone—half the time reading news, and the other half, playing game apps to distract myself from the news. I was starting to feel like I was wasting my life in this way and I wanted a change.

Have I done it? I’m honestly surprised to report that so far, I’ve stuck with it! I chalk this little victory up to a few things. Firstly, my resolutions only required small changes—there have been days where I literally read one paragraph and meditated for one minute. The tiny dosage makes it doable no matter how busy or tired I am. Secondly, I made it a daily goal--it’s so much easier to build habits that happen every day. Finally, honestly, it’s felt good. Of course, I still spend a lot of time on my phone and I still read the news. But I no longer do it first thing in the morning, or when I go to bed at night (those are my reading and meditating times) and having that little bit of space away from media has given me so much more mental and emotional energy and capacity.

5. What was the biggest risk you took last year? Was it worth it?

The biggest risk I’ve taken recently was actually about a year and a half ago: I decided to leave North Carolina and to ask my company to allow me to work remotely. At the time, I was working at the Center for Creative Leadership’s international headquarters in Greensboro. I loved my job, but not my life, and my partner and I wanted to leave NC. I was pretty nervous about the decision. Would it cost me career opportunities? Would I be lonely? Would my colleagues forget about me? Or think that I was a slacker for not being in the office?

I’m pleased to report it was well worth the risk. My supervisor and my company have been endlessly supportive of the transition, and my partner and I are much happier in our new location. Of course, there have been some compromises. I travel back to the office often. I have had to improve my email communication. I feel a bit lonely in my home office during large meetings and on staff appreciation days.

But in other ways, the change allowed me to stop compromising. In Greensboro, my life did not feel designed for me, but more like someone else’s hand-me-down that fit me good-enough. Starting fresh and working remotely has given me a lot more agency and ownership over my life. I am much more intentional about my time, which, not only has increased my work and life satisfaction, but I believe will also help my career in the long run.

6. What’s an unlikely place you turn to when you need inspiration?

One of my favorite places to go when I need inspiration is to an art museum. I love getting to look at different people’s interpretation of the world—the good, the bad, the indescribable. It helps me gain some perspective, and feel motivated to be creative and productive.

Another place I love to go is the public library. I spent a lot of time in public libraries growing up and they’ve always felt like a sanctuary to me: a place that holds peace and knowledge, unaffected by external forces. I especially (still!) love spending time in the children’s section. There is something about sitting in a tiny bean-bag chair flipping through picture books that resparks my childhood sense of invincibility and endless possibilities.  

7. If people knew this about you, they might be surprised?

I suppose if people met me now, they might be surprised to learn that I was terribly shy as a child. I’m pretty gregarious and adventurous these days, and I absolutely love public speaking and lecturing, but there was a time when the idea of having to speak in front of people seemed torturous. It’s always funny when I run into someone who hasn’t seen me since I was a pre-teen… they always have the same incre

dulous looks on their faces as I enthusiastically rattle on about my latest ventures.

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