(these posts are the President’s Messages for the Advertising Production Association of Los Angeles. I decided to put them here so I could keep a concise record and in case any of y’all in cyberspace who find this blog did not get a newsletter!)
In tough times like these, people talk about being grateful for the simple things- for a job, for a home, for food on the table. For those fortunate enough to have an annual review in 2010, part of the conversation will be “at least we have jobs.” This is good, in kind of a “back to basics,” humble kind of way. But this approach doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity inherent in these times.
When times are not so tough, we raise our standards. When we are doing okay, it’s not enough just to have a job. When things are good, we evaluate our circumstances, and often realize things could be a lot better if a few changes were made. That’s not being ungrateful, it’s basic human nature. Two of the key advantages to being human are opposable thumbs, and being capable of dreams.
Sometimes I think of my first real advertising/marketing job. Interviewing for a large movie studio, I recall thinking, “Any crummy job at this place is better than the crummy job I have now.” And that launched my “professional” career. I was a lucky guy to get that job, for sure, but I set a trap for myself with that attitude. I planted a bad seed. Whenever times get tough, I can ratchet back a few steps to being okay with what I have. On one hand, an attitude of gratefulness is good. But not so much when I am settling for less than I could have if I worked at it.
I have read countless motivational tomes on achievement. I’ve heard everything from “Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow” to “Think and Grow Rich.” The secret ingredient of these books is that each one of them was written by someone using their experience, imagination and skill to build something unique and different. I can certainly learn from them, but as I go through life I find that there are unique voices that speak up from inside of me. They speak from different times and different experiences. They remind me of all the lessons I learned during trying times and how that the mettle I have was forged in great turmoil and pain. I didn’t get where I am today by settling. The courageous moments encourage me to continue on.
Let’s take a scenario many in our industry have faced. If you do a terrific job, and create great functional systems for someone else, there’s a good chance you will work yourself out of a job. The successful environment you have created will outlive you, much as a child outlives its parents. If I can face the results of what I have created, I can move on to the next challenge. Maybe I start a company that creates great functional systems, and I can use the experience I gained while receiving a paycheck to achieve results beyond my comprehension.
Okay, that’s a nice scenario, but how about this one. I have expended my productive years learning and practicing a craft and a trade that is highly regarded but rarely understood outside of its practitioners. My employers don’t really know what I do, and after years in this business I make a fair living, so they eliminate my job, give it to those younger and less experienced than me, and thank me for my contributions. For many in this situation, the uniquely rich environment they created cannot be recreated, or found elsewhere. It’s there that the imagination and intuition must come into play.
Maybe the experience I have wasn’t meant to lead me always on the same path. I haven’t worked for a movie studio for more than 10 years now. At this point, following the path as it appears before me would be a parlay of print marketing experience on a healthcare industry path. But that would be a relatively safe way to see things. Maybe the experience I have gained is handing me the opportunity to do that one thing I always dreamed about.
The lesson for me is that the edge of a cliff is a jumping off point. I can grab onto the last tree root to save myself from falling, or I can let go and just surf that baby all the way down. It might hurt some as I free fall, bouncing off the rocks, but at the bottom of the cliff I might just find my true upside.
Jeff “Bouncing Boy” Thompson