When fear permeates Adland, it’s hard to do the things you should.
May 3, 2010
“I don’t know why sometimes I get frightened.”
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt
I’ve been writing a lot about fear. Fear of being left behind –in work, in memory, in death. Like it or not, fear is the ultimate bogeyman. None of us our immune to it. Certainly not me.
Healthy fear is a good thing. We cross the street when we see trouble. We brace ourselves for bad weather. Fear protects us from harm, as it has since the beginning of time.
What I worry about is unhealthy fear, the feeling in your gut that something bad is going to happen (usually to you) even though there is only circumstantial evidence to support it, sometimes not even that. This, my friends, is dread.
Let’s look at how dread manifests itself in the workplace. Specifically, our workplace. The economy blows; we all know that. Advertising is dying, or so we have been told…a thousand times. Maybe we’ve had a few bad meetings. Maybe the agency lost an account. And there it is: dread. Suddenly, our feet feel not so firmly planted on the ground. The air gets thinner. We begin to worry about our position within the company. Our future. So instead of doing the things we should do (focus and work harder), we become quarrelsome and defensive, pointing fingers, looking for scapegoats. Some of us hide, choosing to isolate. Because we feel things are falling apart we no longer feel a part of things. Sound familiar? Sadly, this is as natural as it is unhealthy. In the midst of fear, we react instead of act. We do what the primitive DNA commands. Fight or flight.
The effect on the creative department is obvious. Our minds close precisely when they should be opening. We cannot collaborate as well. We cannot create. We shut down. Like it or not, most creatives are sensitive, even the tough looking ones with tattoos and ripped jeans. No match for a culprit like dread.
Yet, I see fear boggling all of us to some extent. Even in good times, the specter of it looms. After all, what is given can be taken away. What goes up must come down. I used to think free floating anxiety was my curse alone. But now I know better. Still, there it is: unhealthy fear.
I know it’s spring, the days getting longer and warmer. No place for topics like fear and dread. Yet, now is a time of great upheaval. Lakes turn over. The ground heaves. Dead wood is exposed. New life replaces old. Change comes to advertising agencies, too.
What to do? For starters, try doing the very opposite of what your instincts compel you to do. (I know this sounds like an episode from Seinfeld but, if you recall, it worked.) Instead of fleeing, be present. Instead of fighting, offer to help. If you have an assignment tackle it. If you don’t, ask for one. Let go of the past (bad meeting, lost account). Stop sweating the future (getting fired). An old proverb states if one straddles the past and future, he invariably pisses on the present!
Find a way to do what you do best. And do it. Start writing. Open up that file and rework your layout. Again. Success in areas we can control mitigates fear of the unknown. This is the great lesson of the Serenity Prayer. It works like a charm.