I graduated high school with the goal of $10 an hour. At that time post-secondary education was not a financial reality. Five years later at 23, an unexpected inheritance changed that. By then I had worked as: Waiter, chairlift construction worker, tramway operator, postman, railway lineman, yacht crew, lift operator, flagman and bartender. Until recently I‘ve regretted the wasted time. I don’t feel that way anymore.
There are two fundamental forms of work. One, and this is the far more common case, involves trading eight to nine hours a day for the means to seek fulfillment and happiness in the leftover time. The second form is where you enjoy your work enough for it to become a pretty good part of your life. Most of you reading this will fall into one of the two categories. I can only hope that if you’re not in the second one, you’re working on it.
There’s this very dedicated and talented young art director at Spring. He’s got a big scar on his forearm. He got it working in a muffler shop. Now when he’s frustrated at work or pulled an all-nighter he describes that scar as a reminder of the difference between those two ways of working. For me, after having spent years in clammy raingear at the various jobs I’ve listed above, it’s cold rainy days.
The other good thing about employment outside of this work is how it lets you onto the minds of people who aren’t us. We don’t often get wet at work; we don’t risk injury, flip burgers, cut hair, do taxes, fly floatplanes, milk cows or operate a crane. We are not fabulously rich or fabulously un-rich. It’s not that those conditions are good or bad; they’re just not us. To me the advertising business is about getting into the headspace of people who are almost never like you.
A lot of really good people in our trade have worked at other jobs. Harder jobs. These are by no means absolutes but allow me to offer a few examples that have created better advertising people.
Restaurant Service Staff: Great in account services for not taking client problems personally and for effectively communicating with the kitchen (creative) staff. They can juggle a lot of moving parts at the same time.
Laborers or Factory Workers: Anyone who has punched a clock for a day of digging the same ditch, assembling the same part or chopping the same wood has the stamina to keep working on the same problem without losing focus or interest.
Anyone who has worked in the family business or ran a lemonade stand: The first thing forgotten in this business is that we are here as a return on investment. Anyone who got didn’t get a bike for Christmas because the family business stunk in its last quarter has that kind of common sense hardwired.
Tour guides, outdoor guides and other caregivers: These people are usually fearless in presentations and can think on their feet. The good ones are great at reading people in an empathetic and non-judgmental way.
Its been said too often for me to lay any claim to this fact, but this business is learned by being in it. Preparation and qualification come from business schools, art schools, portfolio schools, anthropology majors and psyche majors. Give me a waiter/factory worker/lemonade stand operator/river raft guide on top of a smattering of education and I’ll show you the raw material for success in the advertising business.