I consider myself lucky. I have designed my career, and it serves me, much better than the other way around. In the beginning, I fell siege to the corporate call—a lemming damned to an antagonizing existence of daily minutiae. It beat me down and taught me the value of fear: zero, unless you use it to motivate yourself. I learned that I expend far too much energy dredging and re-dredging the same tired, boring injustices of life, and spend too little time trying to fix my problems. I learned that those same problems give me an excuse to hem and haw, scratch my head in frustration, and complain about something I had brought on myself. It's the ultimate vicious cycle: see problems, hem and haw, cause more problems, hem and haw more, complain to my friends, oh yeah, the good life. Corporate life served me too. It provided a powerful base on which I would build a relatively successful business.
Freedom Only Comes from Self Mastery
“It’s Wednesday…only two more days!” She blurted as the waiter set our coffees down on a pristine white tablecloth. It took it a little while to settle in. I usually go to my office on weekends. I can’t recall the last time I was more excited to see a weekend than a weekday, unless there was sex or skiing involved. Working for yourself isn’t always PornHub and coffee, but I almost always feel like I’m getting shit done. Plus, I’ve done some cool shit.
A couple people work for me, and they have for years. They always deliver, and they always work from home. I don’t want people in my office. I want people who can manage their time, have fun, and know that a ten-hour day in the office is really a four or five hour day in the home. My day usually starts at three or four a.m. I do more in those first three or four hours than most people accomplish in an entire day. It’s not because I’m smarter or better. It’s because these are my prime hours and I have no distractions. I turn off my notifications and just get it all done.
Just Say No
The room smells like two-day-old curry farts. Phil sits next to me yawning every five minutes or so and rubbing his massive dome, seemingly pulling the skin back on his head to keep his eyes open. I sit doing my best to look interested, staring at the lines and wrinkles in our client’s face. I feel my body tilting forward, and the room goes black, then I snap back into a sitting position forcing my eyes open. A fucking work roofie.
Clearly, Phil’s the smart one. “Dude, If you’re done with us, we’re going to head back to the office and get started.” Phil taught me more about dealing with people than my mom and grandma combined. Well, at least the important stuff. I would have just sat there quietly until they excused me. There’s no shame in not going to meetings, or leaving early, or even turning down a job if it doesn’t serve you. Recently, I took a job for about a third of what people typically pay me. It screwed with my schedule and most of all, as predicted, the client treated me like cheap labor. Say no. Say no to meetings unless you know what the intention of the meeting is and that it will actually better to be there than not to be there. Say no to the jobs that don’t serve you as an investment.
Saying no isn’t always easy. It takes some discipline and some balls. Your instinct screams that this is a chance, and everyone trying to get you to do something for nothing is using that as leverage.
Work with People You Like
I’ve worked with some amazing people and some real tools. I’ve worked with true innovators who’ve taken new approaches to advertising, amassing countless awards. The most interesting thing about these people was that they weren’t overconfident. Sometimes they weren’t even confident. They had doubts about everything but were capable of pulling the trigger when they had acquired their target. And, their targets were rarely low-hanging fruit.
The tools, I learned a lot from these people too. They were busting at the seams with confidence. Answers to simple questions from them could go on upward of ten minutes without a single morsel of substance. One of the worst fancied himself a sort of Bill Clinton, not realizing he didn’t nearly possess the intellect of our former commander-in-chief. Once he rambled on about his new idea, and I remember thinking it was all over the place. When I asked if he could put the idea into two sentences, I received the condescending, “I realize this stuff is hard to understand, but it makes complete sense in my head.” The head’s a funny thing that way, all sorts of crazy shit makes complete sense if it’s not checked. Just talk to the guy who sits in the street chewing on his own face.
Let All Go
That said, yes, you have to be able to do things against the grain, but at the same time if you can’t express it simply, chances are you don’t understand it that well yourself.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a career I designed, and it serves me well. I don’t think I’ve ever had a week when I thought “It’s Wednesday, only two more days.” I go to the office on the weekends. I even bring my daughter along sometimes. It’s not always fun, but it’s always going in a direction based on my own desires and plans.
The other day I was having lunch with a friend, and they said they didn’t have anything to do in the office, so they were looking for ways to look busy. I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with that; It just doesn’t sound very fulfilling.
My work has taken me around the world. I’ve worked with some of the big names in my industry. I’m not saying that to gloat, because the fact of the matter is that I’m good at what I do, but I’m certainly not the best. I’ve worked with some of the best, and I see I have a long way to go. I also know that there’s a lot of room for me to get better.
When I embarked on my journey as a copywriter, I thought I knew what I was doing. A true sophomoric attitude. I would write something and think I had it. Anyone over forty knows that as we develop stronger skills, we see room for improvement.
This last week I went to visit with a client. The teams from around the world were there, and I watched as what I thought I understood was smashed into little pieces, scattered in front of me to put back together. I didn’t know this client or the industry. I still don’t and anyone who tells you they do know their client and their client’s industry is either an idiot, or they just don’t listen.
It’s always changing, and we have to be open to learn and develop relevant skills that serve our clients. I’m not saying the client is always right. Sometimes they’re not, and sometimes you have to fold and hope their decisions will ultimately serve the grand plan. I know I’ve been wrong. So far nothing terrible, but I’ve had my moments.
So when we go to our clients, what do we bring them. Are we bringing an “I-know-best attitude,” or are we taking the time to listen carefully and give them the service they deserve?