Daydream — divergent creativity needs space. We are all so busy with smartphones, podcasts, meetings, emails — we have no space. To solve the problems of this decade, we need innovative solutions, and insight is a big part of that. J.K. Rowling famously got stuck on a train for 5 hours, staring out the window. This is when she created the story for Harry Potter. Of course it was many years of painstaking editing and creation to build the stories, but it started with a daydream.
As a part of my series about the “5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Caroline Brookfield
Caroline loves to dance at the intersection of Art and Science. She feels compelled to show people how to rediscover their human gift of creativity, for a regret-proof life.
As a veterinarian and researcher, Caroline prioritizes data and evidence based concepts, and delights in convincing staunch skeptics that everyone is creative. Caroline seeks new challenges, like stand-up comedy, guitar, rock climbing, and surfing. A late diagnosis of ADHD explains her deep distaste for irrelevant and pointless drivel. Caroline lives in Calgary, where her lectures go unheeded by her husband and teenage sons. The dog listens, sometimes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as I can remember. Then, in high school, I discovered a love of performing arts and photography. I was torn. I loved animals and science, but thrilled in the creative expression of the arts. I didn’t want to live in a basement apartment all my life, because I didn’t have faith in my acting skills. I had no idea how to become a cinematographer. So I followed the easiest path, despite a highly competitive program, to become a veterinarian.
After being a veterinarian for many years, I felt like something was missing. I took acting and improv classes when I could, and tried many different jobs in the profession. Drawn to entrepreneurship, I owned two online businesses; an online veterinary recruitment company and then an online jewelry business. Through that journey, I got help from some amazing coaches. Through working with an amazing coach, I reconnected with my love of performance and took a stand-up comedy class. Now, as a public speaker, I can combine my love of performance with my passion for science and drive to help others connect with their elemental gift of creativity.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
My career is so diverse, so I have lots of stories. I wanted to be a zoo vet, so I trained at many top zoos in North America. I loved working with rare and unusual species. Once, I was a surgeon for a program to place trackers in rattlesnakes. Another time I helped to give a grizzly bear a root canal, repaired a pelican’s leg, and even collected blood samples from a rhino. As a comic, I performed in someone’s house for a 50th birthday party, the food was amazing!
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
For my veterinary colleagues, the main obstacle I see to healthier mental wellness is a lack of boundaries. Veterinarians are people-pleasers and often personally take on their client’s emotional struggles. Not only is this damaging to their mental health, pet owners can misconstrue a well-meaning veterinarian as pushy or uncaring.
For speakers, isolation can be very debilitating for mental health. Joining speaker groups and networking with other speakers can be very helpful.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Quit the crap. Stop believing your own PR and embrace intellectual humility. Be honest and vulnerable, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. I’m a big fan of Brene Brown’s work on leadership and vulnerability. So many studies have shown that psychological safety is essential for employees to thrive. Also, an environment that encourages creativity, embraces failure, and motivates employees to work towards a common goal will reap the best results.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“What’s the worst that can happen?” helped me try stand-up comedy for the first time, travel around the world for a year and a half, and even decide whether to have kids. Life’s too short to always wait until the timing’s right. Sometimes you just have to go for it.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?
My framework for inspiring mental wellness all supports the research that says that creative employees are happier. Also, creative employees have higher salaries, higher job satisfaction, and champion innovation. The 5 steps spell DANCE.
- Daydream — divergent creativity needs space. We are all so busy with smartphones, podcasts, meetings, emails — we have no space. To solve the problems of this decade, we need innovative solutions, and insight is a big part of that. J.K. Rowling famously got stuck on a train for 5 hours, staring out the window. This is when she created the story for Harry Potter. Of course it was many years of painstaking editing and creation to build the stories, but it started with a daydream.
- Ambiguity — Go ahead and google “gestation period of a meerkat”. We don’t sit in the unknown anymore. Smartphones have fed our certainty addiction. Uncertainty leads to anxiety, stress, and an inability to sit in uncertainty can make us feel insecure and incompetent. Seek ambiguity for the sake of being okay with the unknown.
- Novelty — Your divergent creativity needs new experiences to find amazing insights. Imagine your brain is like a universe of data sets. Collect widely differing experiences through travel, study, intercultural experiences, and you can link random concepts. Stay in your bubble, which might be comfortable, but you won’t come up with unique suggestions. I went to the CAMP exhibit at the Met in NY last year. I wasn’t overly interested in CAMP, and that’s why I went. Fantastic fashion, stories, and music. It didn’t convert me to a fan, and I might never think about it again. But in a year, or 10 years, something from that exhibit might unconsciously spark a connection with another idea, to create an amazing insight.
- Curiosity — Absolutely did not kill the cat, in fact, has been shown in studies to be correlated to longevity. Mindfulness can help with the engagement of the sometimes lost skill from youth. You can be curious about anything, like a bowl of cherries. Who invented cherries? Why are they red? What makes them taste so good? You can also use this as a prompt to build your comfort in facing ambiguity. Sir Alexander Fleming was curious, when he came back from a vacation to his microbiology lab. While cleaning up the lab, he got curious about a tuft of mold on a petri dish, which seemed to be the only place where bacteria was not growing. This was the start of the journey to discovering Penicillin.
Curiosity and mindfulness can also lead to a feeling of awe in the everyday. Awe will help you face ambiguity with more confidence.
- Edit Later — Don’t create a brake stand in your brain. A brake stand is when you push the gas and brake at the same time — rubber burning, squealing tires. Imagine your imagination is the gas and your analytical, editing brain is the brake. Both are good. Some ideas are, in fact, bad. But don’t edit your ideas as they are being created. Separate the process distinctly. Either a different time, location, or even a different team.
These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
If you don’t know the importance of supporting mental wellness of employees, then it doesn’t really matter, because I believe that those businesses will evaporate over the next 10 years. Case studies of companies who are valuing employees’ mental health and psychological safety will help to prove that successful companies can creatively care both about employees and about profitability.
From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues ? Can you explain?
Evidence has shown that engaging in a creative exercise will improve your mood the next day. Other studies show that happy people are more creative, and vice-versa. Luckily, we are all creative — we just need to step into the ambiguity of what creativity looks like and engage. These benefits are also independent of whether you are actually good at creative expression. Spending time with others, and building a network of support is really important
Some ideas; baking cookies together, an online paint class, building a snowman, or sandcastles.
Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?
Stop editing our ideas, stop worrying so much about what others think. Nobody thinks that much about what we are doing, so why worry about trying something new? People think stand-up comedy is terrifying. I’m nervous before I go on stage, but once I’m up there, I just hope I’m motivating someone else to try that thing that scares them. Even if they don’t think I’m funny.
Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?
Dr. Doug Brackmann, author of “Driven” taught me how to do a Zazen style meditation, during a meditation combined with a sniper rifle shooting retreat. It’s hard to explain. I meditate daily in the morning. Circular breathing is also a technique I use when feeling stressed.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I love Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann. Basically, we all think we are so objective and thoughtful about our decisions, but we are really just reacting from an emotional place, and justifying it with our big frontal cortex. I’m fascinated by the way humans are both incredibly complex and highly evolved, yet still so tied to our evolutionary roots of what has worked for us for thousands of years.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Create something today — it’s the first step to get better and better at facing fear of criticism and ambiguity, until you find yourself doing something remarkable that you never thought possible.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!