What follows is a blog entry posted in May of 2010 by Neel Kumar (http://neelkumar.posterous.com/). I would have admired this wisdom coming from anyone, but I was astonished to see it coming from someone so young and so relatively new to the business. Please take Neel’s words to heart. They’ll keep you going for a very long time.
My mother majored in English Literature. And both of my dad’s parents were literature professors. So naturally, I never really paid any attention in a literature class.
My professor was talking about the French author Albert Camus. And while we were reading The Outsider, he briefly mentioned an essay Camus had written called The Myth of Sisyphus. It sounded interesting, so I forgot all about the book and started to read the essay instead.
In a nutshell, Sisyphus was a figure in Greek mythology who had angered the gods. He was sentenced for all eternity to push a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again.
Not exactly what one would call a meaningful existence.
Now, in my first year working in the advertising industry, one of the most important things that the ECD at Young & Rubicam Dubai ever said to me was, “Love the process.”
In an industry far, far removed from Mad Men, we all know that’s not always easy to do.
It takes a lot to come up with a good idea. And while the outside world thinks us creatives are paid to wear torn jeans to work and smoke stuff that looks like seasick tobacco, the truth of it is quite different.
We’ve got The Toughest Job in the World™.
We have to wake up every morning, walk into the office and face Hemingway’s “White Bull”: the blank page.
It’s where every idea starts.
So our job is to take that white sheet of paper and conjure up something magical out of thin air.
And the struggle doesn’t stop there. In fact, it’s just the beginning.
Because often, your idea doesn’t even get to the client before it dies. It gets caught in friendly fire before it can even get a shot off.
So your bullet-ridden idea comes home from the front in a body bag. And now you’ve got to bury it.
Then you’re back to square one. The white bull.
The number of times this process occurs before one of your ideas makes it over the fence and into the world of production depends on several factors. They include fate, luck, the moods of several different people and the alignment of the stars.
So when I first heard someone say, “Love the process,” Sisyphus immediately came to mind. And I remember that Camus ended the essay like this:
"The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."
To most people, it doesn’t make sense. It’s easy to get caught up in the negatives of the industry. And there’s no shortage of them. It’s much harder to find the positives instead.
Too often, we look to find joy amidst the frustration. But the secret is to find joy in the frustration. In the pressure. And in the stress.
Working in this industry, you’ll hit your highest highs and your lowest lows. Sometimes in the same day. And you won’t always win. Unless you realize that it’s not about winning. To borrow from Kipling, “…meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.”
One of the things that stuck with me after reading Luke Sullivan’s Hey Whipple, Squeeze This was where he wrote that there was never a time in his career that he had faced the empty page and not been scared. Even right after winning a One Show medal.
Sure, you feel immortal for a while.
Then you get back to the office. And you’re facing the white bull again.
So if it’s about winning, then you’ve already lost. Winning’s an illusion. Because in this industry, it’s always temporary.
It’s not about winning. It’s about sweating it out. And loving it. It’s about grabbing that white bull by the horns and forcing him to bend to your will. Sometimes knowing full well that you’ll face him again. Maybe even later that day.
That’s the process you’ve got to learn to love.
Sure, there are times where it gets to us. But hey, we’ve got the salaries and the awards shows to keep us going.
I guess in comparison, we’ve got it pretty good.