The Character Movement

What Pablo Picasso can teach us about character.

“When I don’t have red, I use blue.” — Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso was a painter, sculptor, designer and the founder of Cubism. His lasting influence on modern art is indisputable. His famous Blue Period lasted from 1901-1904 and is characterized by a monochromatic color scheme saturated with blue tones. Here is his most famous work during his Blue Period: The Old Guitarist.

At first, these somber, depressing paintings of cabaret performers, beggars, and frail, old people were not well-received by critics or the public. But Picasso didn’t give up. He had the last laugh. The Old Guitarist is now worth $100 million.

B.Q. (Before Quarantine), one of my favorite ways I “painted with red” as the YF culture leader was to walk around our office and pop into people’s workspaces and chat. This in-person connection gave me energy, fuel and meaning. It also helped humanize our company culture. That red paint is no longer available. Working from home now, I need to “paint with blue” to connect with staff in virtual ways via zoom meetings, phone calls and brief, affirmational texts.

When Youth Frontiers doesn’t have red, we need to use blue.

Our company works with schools to inspire character, but right now our large-group gatherings with hundreds of students and teachers – the red paint we’ve used for 33 years – is unavailable. Fortunately in the last few years, we’ve picked up our blue paint and have begun creating new ways to inspire character in educators and community leaders via smaller cohorts of 20 people that meet three or four times a year. Our student programs might need to go in that direction too.

Who knows? Our work with smaller groups – live or virtual – may become our best work yet.

When you don’t have red, use blue.

Nothing could stop Picasso from creating. Nothing will stop Youth Frontiers from inspiring character. Nothing should stop you from doing what you are called to do.

This Week’s Challenge: Think of what brings you joy and purpose. In what way has this quarantine period taken away your red paint? Pick up a metaphorical paintbrush and start painting with blue. Don’t let anything stop you from pursuing your mission to make the world better. It may be your best work yet.

How we respond during this time will define us as individuals, a community, and a nation.

Let us choose to be people of character.


Joe Cavanaugh
Founder & CEO
Youth Frontiers

P.S. Tomorrow night, Thursday, April 30th at 7 p.m. CT, we’re broadcasting a fun, virtual event for all of our neighborhoods. Check out this 20-second teaser.

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