For an internal agency thought piece, I was asked to provide words of wisdom to me as a 22 year-old, just starting out in Adland. Others in gyro management were asked to do the same. These pearls would then be circulated throughout the network. Mostly just for fun.
But lessons are lessons and this seemed as good as way as any to give and receive them. As part of the exercise we were also asked to dig up photographs of ourselves from that time period. This is harder than you might think, especially if you, like me, were 22 before the advent of digital photography. It’s amazing how few photos I have of myself as a young man. I found the above winner and reluctantly submit it for your amusement.
Therefore, my first piece of advice: take more selfies! Kidding. Besides, I know you’re doing that anyway. So, other than telling my 22-year old self to buy gold coins and stock in Apple what would I suggest?
First thing: Be curious. Do not shirk learning in favor of seeking pleasure. Better said, seek pleasure from learning. Then, figure out what you’re good at and become really good at it. You might not achieve greatness but you won’t suck either. Thankfully, despite my careening ambition I carried my childhood love of learning into adulthood. I also chose writing as a “path” and, despite all manner of distractions, never stopped doing it.
The harder question: What new advice would I tell my younger self?
For starters, I’d tell me not to be so uncomfortable not knowing something. “I don’t know” is a perfectly good answer, especially if it’s the truth. As a young man, I thought I knew so much… that I was hard wired for being right. I was wrong. Curiosity is a great virtue. By definition that means having questions. Not answers. Amazing how long it took me to figure that out. So, to all the 22 year old creatives out there (and anyone really) my biggest piece of advice is to ask bigger questions.
Here’s another. Stick with the winners. At work (or anywhere) seek out people who have a gift, be it a skill you covet or even a big heart or both. Chances are they will not be unwilling to share.
This may come off as superficial but a great piece of advice I’d give my younger self is to dress better. Unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg, wearing sweatshirts and faded jeans every damn day is not a key to success. Working in a creative department has always meant come as you please but I bet I would have been taken more seriously and sold more work if I would have looked a bit more put together. Probably would have had more dates, too.
Finally, I wish my younger self had been nicer. Like a lot of twenty-somethings in advertising (then and now) I was, at times, a sarcastic and overly competitive SOB. So unnecessary. Begrudging my fellows to get ahead was foolish at best and likely a detriment. Working at a big agency, as I did, created tribes. We often competed on briefs. I’m all for healthy competition but I could have done without the snarkiness.
Alas, I doubt I would have listened to older and wiser me. Some things must come the hard way. Karma is real.
January 22, 2013
A couple years ago, Pastor John Buchanan of Fourth Presbyterian Church Chicago (now retired) gave a terrific sermon on the rite of baptism, which I had the privilege of attending. Earlier he had performed the sacrament on two babies. And so later spoke of names, identities and how they relate to God’s plan for us. Interesting stuff. Especially for a borderline agnostic like me.
While there was much to glean from his sermon, I want to focus on one thing in particular. Buchanan referenced a book he’d read by Sister Joan Chittister (The Gift of Years) that struck a nerve with him. It did the same for me. I think many of you will relate to it as well. We define ourselves by our work. It becomes the Who, What, Where, How and Why of our lives. Can you deny it?
In our society, introductions to people almost always include asking what the other person does for a living. I do it all the time: “So, Phil, what do you do?” Big deal. It’s a good way to find common ground.
But what happens, the pastor asked, when ‘what we do’ is over with or, worse yet, taken from us as in layoffs or job eliminations? Do we lose our identities? Do we become nobodies in the eyes of our peers and ourselves? Buchanon suggested living by such a self-absorbed credo devalues us as human beings, often causing serious anxiety and depression. In America, our identities are inextricably tied to ‘what we do’ versus who we are or what we believe in. Take away that and we’re left with… what exactly? Given the current recession and myriad job losses, his sermon was especially poignant. Yet, even in good times the ‘what we do’ credo is troubling. For one thing: what happens when we retire?
I have always unabashedly identified myself as a writer, be it of copy, editorial or fiction. To wit I wrote and edited my high school newspaper (The Lane Tech Warrior). I did the same for both student papers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (The Daily Cardinal and Badger Herald), not to mention scribing for an independent publication, The Madcity Music Mirror. I started my career as a copywriter at Leo Burnett and continue to do so at gyro in San Francisco. I’ve written three novels and dozens of short stories, some of which have been published. I wrote two screenplays. I write and maintain Gods of Advertising as well as The Rogue’s Gallery, which, as some of you know, was originally intended to be a forum for copywriters to showcase their writing.
So, yeah, for me it’s all about the writing. The point I’m building to: What happens when all that ends, as one day it surely must? I get paid to write and creative direct copy. This also gives my blog a modicum of credibility. Take away my job and then what do I do? Relax? Hell, I barely do that now. How am I supposed to do it 24/7?
According to Buchanan, if we are spiritually fit we are more content and serene, regardless of our employment status. But getting fit means letting go of intense personal ambitions. Self-centeredness must slip away. Easier said…
To me writing is a very selfish act, even if for clients. It has a narcotic effect. I not only get off doing it; I can’t stop. There is always another brief, another story, another presentation. Writing takes me away from my family, friends and other obligations. Buchanan suggests it also takes me away from God.
His point isn’t that writing is a despicable act (even ad copy!) but that putting it before others and God potentially is. Similar counseling is given to alcoholics: ‘Get outside of your head,’ we are told. ‘Think of someone other than yourself!’
I promise. Just as soon as I complete this post, rewrite that presentation, and edit some copy…
(Special thanks to friend, Anne Ross for reacquainting me with this post and Buchanon’s brilliant sermon. It is a lesson I have yet to master.)
January 15, 2013
The call of duty beckons…
In Adland, people come and people go. Turnover happens, now more than ever. Without long term incentives employees are not bound. Upheaval in our industry exasperates an already virulent tendency: to keep moving.
Agencies feel the urge as much as individuals. Like a submarine, new crew is necessary to keep the ship going, to keep up with the other subs, to stay fit. While we may feel distraught to see a beloved crewmember leave, it is part of an agency’s lifecycle, inevitable as the tides.
For a long time I was the anomaly. I spent my first 15 years at the venerable Leo Burnett Company in Chicago. I seriously thought I’d never leave. All my vocational dreams were coming true. I had great partners and bosses. I created lots of work, some of it good, some of it even very good. I felt a part of something bigger than myself. Alas, that strong tie didn’t fray. It was severed. A wave of corporate jive crashed over my head and I swam for the doors. For me wanderlust came late and not without a strong kick in the ass.
For a time I looked back in anger -a pointless endeavor and one I don’t recommend. But then I signed on to another ship. And then another. Like you, I was no longer a “company man.” My updated goal was to be of maximum use. Last year, I took the helm at gyro in San Francisco. She is a relatively small ship but with great ambitions and a stellar crew. Our mission is to create humanly relevant ideas, often for clients unaccustomed to them. Of course it’s hard. But I am loyal to this brief and despite the many challenges feel its potential on a daily basis.
I’m looking for good crew: Specifically, an art director with web production capabilities and knowledge of B2B marketing, someone who knows their way around technology-based clients. In addition to, or instead of, we will also consider men and women who create and design content, be it websites or online advertising. Doers in new media are welcome to enlist. Speaking of media, a position also exists for a top strategist. Lead generation. Emerging platforms. You know the drill, call us.
Turnover happens. And we’ve seen our bit. Yet, now it’s time to reload. 2013 started with a new President. Maybe you’re next?
Yes, we will use age-old methods to fill these positions. But I’m trying a newer one. Hell, if I find one great recruit this blog will have been worth it. In the oddly timeless words of Van Halen’s David Lee Roth, “Change, nothin’ stays the same/ Unchained, ya hit the ground running.”
Interested? Hit me up on Linkedin.