The Passionate Creative as Symbolic Exemplar

Minna Bromberg

“Really? He said that?”

That’s usually people’s reaction when I tell them that even as a singer, songwriter, and voice-finder, I have a story of someone telling me to be quiet. In my case it was my seventh-grade choir teacher who used to tell me “shut up” so he could “hear the other sopranos.”

Why are my voice students surprised by this? My students find me because my voice suggests to them that I have something to offer about how they might better use their own voices. For some, the fact that I, too, have experienced being told not to sing seems not in keeping with their image of me as a confident singer and loving encourager of their song.

More and more of us as artists, coaches, yoga teachers, makers, and creatives of all stripes are working in the world by cultivating a “personality brand” – growing (God willing, growing!) businesses based on passionately bringing our truest selves to the world.

All of this got me thinking about the “symbolic exemplar” and the pros and cons of being one.

The term “symbolic exemplar” comes from the writing of Jack Bloom, a rabbi and psychologist who wrote about how rabbis get authority as teachers and leaders, not only from our actual years of training, but from everything that we represent to the people we serve (e.g., every other clergy person they’ve ever met, Torah, the whole of Jewish tradition, even God Godself). We learned of Bloom’s work in rabbinical school because it’s important for new rabbis to be aware that when we walk into a room we bring with us not only a set of skills, strengths, and weaknesses, but also everything that everyone in that room projects onto us.

Similarly, a yoga teacher may come to symbolize “health” to her students (who would be shocked to find her eating a cheeseburger), or how a successful indiepreneur, in teaching others to thrive in business, is partly relying on how he himself symbolizes “success” and even “wealth.”

There are obvious cons to being in this position: If something happens to my voice, will my students stop trusting me to teach them to sing strongly and healthily? And as a rabbi, if you catch me having a bad day in the grocery store and I’m not able to be 100% present to you, have I impacted your view of Judaism, Jewish tradition, and God Godself?

We can easily feel trapped by what we come to symbolize.

But Bloom is very helpful here in his advice to rabbis, and I think all creatives have something to learn from his work: being a symbolic exemplar may have its claustrophobic moments, but resisting it or pretending the phenomenon doesn’t exist will only take us down a bad road.

Instead, like any other form of power or privilege, it is our responsibility to use it for the good. As a voice-finder, this means embracing my own diva self and continually trying to use the supreme confidence that others project onto me (whether I’m feeling it in the moment or not) to help them find greater confidence in themselves. And as a rabbi, to the extent to which others will always see me as a stand-in for the Divine, I want the image of the Divine that I strive for to be one of compassion and love.

I completely agree with our Buddhist friends: The finger pointing at the moon is not the same thing as the moon itself.

But if you find yourself in a line of work where people are going to be looking at your finger anyway, you may as well commit to pointing in the direction of wholeness, abundance, radiance.

9 thoughts on “The Passionate Creative as Symbolic Exemplar

  1. Minna, you rock with a cherry on top! I love your words here. It is every bit a reminder that I AM ENOUGH – it is others who must learn that I am also human. Okay, sometimes I need to remember that too.

    It is very frustrating when I cannot find a way to reconcile a personal choice with the lifestyle my brand promotes. I worry people will be quick to call “hypocrite.”

    Today I will practice being the best symbol of my brand and realize that practice means progress and that is good enough for today.

  2. Yes, Janice, as Carl Rogers taught: We all wear masks but we don’t have to let the masks wear us. AND I would add, the more conscious of those masks (chosen and ascribed to us by others) we can be, the more we can be powerfully playful with them! and playfully powerful too!

  3. Thank you Minna! So powerful and inspiring!!!

    We have 3 children who are 23 mo. apart. Daughter, and twin sons. When they were all aged 3 and younger, I used to repeat to myself, “I will do my best today. And my best changes from day to day, and sometimes, it changes from moment to moment. And that’s OK.”

    That helped keep me mindful of the fluid and everchanging nature of life. Doing your best is what is the important part.

  4. I so enjoyed reading your article here…. first of all your quoting Bloom I Believe, “when we walk into a room we bring with us not only a set of skills, strengths, and weaknesses, but also everything that everyone in that room projects onto us.”

    WOW what a powerful statement to help one to remember when you walk into the room…. I have written this one down to assist me for sure!

    And two I enjoyed your story of how you still sang, made a career out of it, while even adding to your path the helping of others to find their voice(s), despite while when you were so young and impressionable as we all can be at that age, for you to be asked ‘to stop singing’ so others could be heard….

    I can only imagine how that made you felt…. whew – and wow! I hope you share how you overcame those feelings and continued to your path that you lead now.

    I feel many of us tell ourselves – and get hurt by so many others (parents, partners, so-called friends) when told NO, Dont… (insert whatever here) ‘not to sing’, ‘not to do their art’, ‘not to follow their vision’ – for far too long in their lives and then at one point in the lives realize they are not living their authentic life.

    Some might even find it hard to imagine even getting there… You DID!

    Yours is a beautiful story, and hope to learn more – very inspiring!…. warmly, Leah

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *