Right after being introduced as Gretchen Schauffler, part of the first graduating class from the Graphic Design Department at Portland State University, there to inspire current students with her success story, I grabbed the mic and said, or not.
I had something else I wanted to talk about, it seemed like a good idea the night before.
For the last 30 years, I've been asked to tell my story thousands of times, in front of thousands of people. When someone meets me, they always ask to hear my story. When someone meets my children, they ask them to tell them my story. I have told my story so many times I can do it in my sleep.
For this reason, I procrastinated on starting my PSU Presentation until the night before.
In my mind, all I had to do is fill in the intro slides with talking points about my life as a student at Portland State University and make sure my Graphic Design chops were up to parr. It was a SHOW & TELL… the show had to look good!
Then, the unexpected happened.
The linear narrative of my story wasn't working, the intro didn't fit the rest of the orderly slides in the PowerPoint. It was a hard stop. This had never happened before.
If my narrative refused to be linear, I would have to tell it in flashbacks. Now I had a pile of flashbacks needing to be sorted through. It was getting late and I was getting frustrated. I gave myself permission to quit except I knew
I had to keep going.
The other option was worse. The one where your stomach starts bloating with guilt because you should have done this or that and doesn't let you sleep.
I thought yelling at my computer, like hitting the side of a T.V. in the old days to get the reception back, would help, so I did. "What do I NEED to tell these students?"
Then, Marshal’s face popped into my head.
My best friend in college and life-long friend, Marshal Greene, was tall, bald, 30, married, had a three-year-old son, and worked as a waiter at El Torito Restaurant when we met.
I, on the other hand, was 20 years old with no responsibilities whatsoever, and the freedom to quit. I had gone to three colleges and had changed majors three times before landing at PSU.
I was a quitter.
For me, there was nothing worse than being in a room full of creative people that were better or more original. Every time I tried to be better and couldn't, I quit. When I tried to be perfect, and couldn't, I quit. When I got afraid, I quit. I never felt bad about leaving.
I thought I couldn't beat "the system," I was never going to win. It's why I didn't even try after college to become a designer and went straight into sales instead.
Marshal, on the other hand, didn't believe in being perfect or better. He believed in being himself.
Until that very moment I hadn't realized how much Marshal had tethered and grounded me into staying, following through, and finishing my degree at PSU. He changed the course of my life without me knowing it.
I was going to tell these students the three things they needed to quit to be successful.
I found myself drinking wine, instead of coffee, and staying up way past midnight to finish my presentation before heading out to class in the morning.
I started with an introduction quote that made my intent clear.
“Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry." ― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
"Quit trying to be something you already are."
Everyone is an original. Everyone's one of a kind. Fingerprints only matter in murder cases. Quit trying to be original, perfect, or better. Quit trying to be someone else. Steal ideas but make them your own. Be yourself, and pour yourself into what you make. There is an untouchable place where all the wondrous things you are and know live inside of you, untouched and untainted. Learn to find it and live there as much as you can.
"Quit thinking everyone has different pieces to work with than you."
We all have the same Lego pieces to build with. I made a creative living by using the same seven colors in the rainbow everyone else uses. Elton John and Kurt Cobain made theirs out of the same seven notes.
Bakers need flour and eggs to bake regardless of where they live. For centuries, all English writers have had to use the same 26 letters. Architects and Astronauts are sick of gravity and still have to deal with it.
Doctors can only treat disease because they work on exactly the same body parts. Everyone has the power to use their culture, history, circumstances, race, date of birth, or gender to create something with the same pieces. What will make it EXTRAORDINARY is the level of self or soul they choose to put in it.
"Quit using the pieces to be better instead of making life better."
Until I had my kids, I kept using my Lego pieces to be better or perfect. Then, everything changed. I poured all myself, and therefore my soul into my creativity to make our lives better. I colored my home from a place deep inside myself. The untouchable place where all the things that I am and know live untouched and untainted.
A rainbow poured out of me like a river. Its outrageous bold energy and warmth was contagious. Everyone who walked in my door desired that in their own home. I used the same rainbow to help them.
In the words of USA Today:
"Schauffler is a different type of entrepreneur. What she brings to the table is a color sense born of a childhood in Puerto Rico, a background in art and a craving for intense hues that comes from living in the rainy Northwest. She also has a savvy sense of how to appeal to women, who make most decorating decisions and who, Schauffler says, see their homes as sanctuaries from the pressures of daily life."—USA TODAY
Then I went on to tell the class one more thing, and told them to be open minded because it was going to get a little woo-woo.
After I sold Devine Color to Valspar Paint, I walked away with a five-year non-compete in the paint industry. The can at the end of my rainbow was gone.
Not knowing what to do next, I threw myself into writing, yoga, meditation, Qigong, and even learned Photoshop (which I was so happy about considering who I was speaking to).
During a regular meditation, thoughts of the Big Dipper came to mind along with the acronym, D.I.P. Which became my new company Design Is Personal. With it came the opportunity to use my color expertise and graphic design experience to create a line of wallpaper patterns.
It was beyond a challenge, it became a full-blown test.
People either love or hate patterns, like Cilantro or Black Licorice. There’s no in between. There’s already an entire world out there full of slightly different versions of the same design. This time, the worst thing in the world for me was designing homogenized states of indistinction. I found myself in a state of creative relapse, trying to be original, which made me want to quit and walk away.
That’s when I knew.
I had to go spend time in the space, where my rainbow river flows. The wallpaper patterns I needed to create had to come from there. They were meant to be yellow brick roads—the smell of my own teen spirit.
Don’t try to become successful I said. Be yourself and quit trying to be something you already are.
Three months ago, I finished loading the final wallpaper patterns on our website and pushed them live. Full of courage, loaded with anxiety and insecurities I went to bed that night and had a dream.
I was in a glass conference room, leading a team of people, who were there to help me. I couldn't see who they were, because my eyes kept darting back and forth between the only empty chair at the table, and the open door behind it.
We were waiting for one more.
I was about to ask if we could start without them, then a man in a pink shirt walks in, and it was my life-long friend Marshall. I ran up to him, and we hugged. I could feel his deep rumbling laughter vibrate off his chest and onto mine, and I felt my self-doubt and anxiety leave my body. I was so excited I turned around to tell everyone and saw his wife Adrienne sitting across from the table, except she was not able to see us. I woke up and started to cry.
I hadn't seen or hugged Marshal since he suddenly passed away in 2012.
That morning as I was sobbing telling my husband the story, I received a text from our oldest daughter Lily who was surprised she had seen Marshal in a dream. Standing in our old kitchen, smiling at her.
Unbeknownst to me, a rainbow behind me, outside a third-story window, had appeared while telling the class this story and remained until I finished the presentation.
It was a collective magical experience none of us will ever forget.
I always start my color advice with, “there are only 7 colors in the rainbow and beige or gray is not one of them”. When I moved from Puerto Rico to Portland Oregon in the 1980’s rainbows and sunsets where my cloud saviors. Marshal’s wife sent me a picture of the rainbow when they spread Marshals ashes in Hawaii.
When I heard Maya Angelou on Oprah's Soulful Sunday last week on Facebook speak the following words, I felt I could sit down and write this blog.
"I've had so many rainbows in my clouds. I had a lot of clouds, but I had so many rainbows." "The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in somebody else's cloud. Somebody who may not look like you. May not call God the same name you call God — if they call God at all," she chuckled. "I may not dance your dances or speak your language. But be a blessing to somebody. That's what I think."
In all gratitude, thank you for reading my story.
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Gretchen Schauffler’s entrepreneurial journey started when she created, developed and marketed her first brand, Devine Color, from idea to cult status. Her new brand Design Is Personal Online DIY Style And Easy Products are available at Wayfair, Homedepot, Walmart, and Target.