Amy is a lawyer and art historian who uses works of art to sharpen observation, analysis, and communication skills. By showing people how to look closely at painting, sculpture, and photography, she helps them hone their visual intelligence and recognize biases that impede decision making. She developed the Art of Perception seminar to improve medical students’ observation and communication skills with their patients when she was the Head of Education at The Frick Collection in New York City. She subsequently adapted the program for a wide range of professionals and leads sessions internationally for the New York City Police Department, the FBI, the French National Police, the Department of Defense, Interpol, the State Department, Fortune 500 companies, first responders, the military, and the intelligence community. Her book, Visual Intelligence, was on both the New York Times and Washington Post best sellers’ lists. Her new book is called Fixed. How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving.
Amy, how did you get started in your career?
I made lots of wrong turns/detours to get where I am. I hated being a lawyer and loved the study of art so decided to take the practical aspects of each of those disciplines—legal analysis and visual analysis– and combine them to start a company. There were so many twists and turns but I tried to use each stop along the way to make contacts and gain a skill. Nothing is ever really wasted time. The best part of my path is that I really got to make up the work that I do.
What changes or pivots have you had to make to continue on your career journey?
So many. I left the private practice of law when I realized I would not be happy doing that for the rest of my career. I have gone back to school to get an MA in Art History after being a lawyer. Now at the ripe age of 55, I am going back to school again—in the UK—to finish a PhD in Art History and use the work that I am doing for my dissertation.
To what do you credit your success from your background or work or life experiences?
I am not shy and never have been. I have never been afraid to make a cold call (what is the worst that can happen?) and I love walking into a room full of people I don’t know. I look at things in terms of potential and how much fun I can have with them.
What’s a tough career lesson you learned and how did it serve you?
I hated my first job out of law school. Really hated it. Boring, nasty people, uninspiring clients, and I just knew I had to get out even though it was the only thing I thought I was qualified to do. Sometimes, we have to admit that we made a mistake, and cut our losses and move on. It has served me for the rest of my career.
What are you so glad you did or took advantage of that served you well?
To chart a path to get out of the law, I enrolled in a certificate program in a field outside of my own to create a path to a transition. So many people say, “I don’t like what I am doing but I don’t know what I want to do.” I knew what direction I wanted to move towards, but I had to pave the path to get there, one stone at a time. A structured program of classes gave me structure and the classes (at night) carved out time I could focus on making my transition. It was a juggle in every way—logistically, financially, emotionally, and intellectually—but it expanded my qualifications, solidified the direction I could move in, and best of all, gave me confidence.
How do you balance work, life – any tips?
Greatest juggle of my life. Always remember that you are doing the best that you can at the time. Taking care of yourself is important because you can’t take care of anyone else—personally or professionally until you have all your ducks in a row. Or, at least as many of them that are willing to line up behind you. 😊 Being a mother is some of the greatest career prep out there.
What have been some career highlights and why?
Writing a book that landed on the NYT and WaPO best sellers list. Going to present to NATO in Rome on behalf of the US, and working with people whose boots are on the ground to help them see more effectively and improve their ability to do their work and engage with the world.
What one (or two) bits of advice would you give someone regarding work or career?
You really can fake it until you make it. Don’t ever doubt your ability to rise to an occasion.