Sometimes things going bad can end up being great in the long run. You don’t realise it at the time, but looking back you learn something new which can hopefully improve how you think and live.

In my career I’ve worked for some incredibly talented people, who are supremely awarded. In my experience, these people have also been the most neurotic and difficult to deal with on a human level.

So, I thought I’d outline the lessons I’ve learnt the hard way.

Lesson # 1: If your boss is an alcoholic, run.

Being at the top of the food chain comes with a lot of pressure in advertising. No, scrap that. It comes with a perceived absolute chest crushing pressure that can break just about anyone’s spirit.

It’s a pressure that can warp people’s sense of perspective. The pressure to win awards, win new clients, and increase revenue seems to be an all consuming one. A pressure that I’m sure not one person who entered an advertising creative department ever thought they’d have to deal with when they got their first job.

With this pressure, comes coping mechanisms. Alcohol (and drugs to a lesser degree) being the crux.

Yet consider this saying from Australian cricket legend Keith Miller. Miller was a supremely talented cricketer who lived, and fought, through World War II. As such he was once asked how he kept so cool and calm in pressure situations on the field. His response: “Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse.”

Really, we are just making ads people. Lighten up. See the world. It’s awesome.

Sadly, I’ve found a number of high ranking advertising executives afflicted with alcoholism. Beyond being something bad for that person’s health, it’s also bad for the morale of an agency.

I’ve lost count of the number of times a drunk CD has come stumbling back into the office late in the afternoon and changed everything that the entire agency has been working away on, in a pique of (drunken) fury.

It’s damaging. It’s hurtful. And it’s a sign you need to get a different job.

Lesson #2: If your boss gives you feedback on your ideas and says “Just keep pushing”, it’s a sign they don’t know what they’re doing.

Your heart and soul should be in every idea you commit to present to your boss. You should have thought it through, stress tested it, pushed and pulled it, and be emotionally attached to it. Because you care.

So, when a boss looks through your ideas and just writes them off with a shrug, or a flick of the wrist, and shoves them back at you with nebulous and impossible-to-take-direction-from feedback, it can be heart wrenching.

The people who say this, are often the same people who get pissed off when a client says, “I just don’t like it”.

It shows a lack of empathy, and a lack of looking thoughtfully into ideas. But mostly it shows that they don’t know what they’re doing. Because without direction, an advertising creative will go out in a million unfocussed directions. That’s why a tight brief with lots of constrictions can often be the most freeing- thinking there’s no room to move can instead force the brain to think laterally.

If your boss says, “just keep pushing”, ask for them to try and give you some more specific feedback of where to keep pushing. If they can’t, then maybe you need to think about doing it for them. Push through and do your best to give your ideas a different perspective. Or try and meet with someone you admire. You’ll be surprised if you reach out to someone via email who will get back to you and offer advice.

Lesson #3: Be wary of a boss who doesn’t give credit where it’s due.

I once worked for an agency with a revered Creative Director. A Creative Director who is globally recognised as one of the leaders of the industry.

To everyone who worked under him though, he was the smiling assassin. A man who would say one thing to your face, and another thing behind your back. He mastered the art of “managing up”- whereby all of his bosses thought he was amazing, and that all of the good work coming out of the agency was his doing.

The reality was the opposite.

The agency had a culture of fear, with teams pitted against each other constantly, with a focus on awards at the expense of the real work that makes a difference, and a lack of recognition for the people doing the heavy lifting.

Once when I confronted him on this basis, he sighed and said, “This is why I don’t like to give people credits on our press releases”. It was a rare insight into his thinking. If he didn’t let people get credit on a piece of work, it meant by association that it was all his doing.

I firmly believe that the Universe knows who did what. So, instead of getting bitter and twisted about being treated poorly, make a change. Because if you waste energy on negative emotions, you’ll stay in the same spot, with negative energy enveloping you.

Get out. Remember, hard choices equals easy life. Easy choices equals hard life. You choose.

Lesson #4: Work for someone who wants you to be you

This is the most important thing I’ve discovered in my career. It’s taken twenty years of hard work to uncover this startlingly obvious lesson.

Advertising is full of very talented people with incredibly fragile egos. There are so many people trying to fit into what they think is the stereotype of being successful.

That could mean winning lots of awards. It could be working crazy hours and forcing everyone who works for them to be mini reflections of who they are. It could be getting promoted higher and higher until you’re so senior you are no longer doing anything you love, but are caught in a never ending spiral trap of awards and PR releases.

However, I believe, that when you look for exterior motivations for your happiness you’re setting yourself up for failure. Because your happiness depends on the judgement of others. And that judgement is never ending and will never be truly fulfilling.

If, however, you can look at yourself and be pleased to get up everyday and achieve something new, then you will always be satisfied. Because the satisfaction comes on being true to yourself and always learning something new.

It’s this voyage of discovery that can allow you to do the things you really want to do.

Lesson #5: Surround yourself with positivity

All of the lessons I have detailed above are all really variations on this theme. You will of course encounter bad things, but its how you deal with them that can lead to a positive outcome. Indeed, you should be using these bad things to find the good. Being in a state of mind where everything is a challenge instead of a defeat can open up your mind to new possibilities.

I know I’ve always struggled with reverting to being negative and looking for the bad in situations. And it’s held me back for so many years in my life. But now I’m trying to see everything as a challenge to grow, rather than chance to retreat.

When in doubt, make a decision.

Because the worst thing you can do is stay in the status quo, going nowhere.

Just go.


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