What Mad Men has Taught Me

“Who is Don Draper?”

Draper stares for a minute before taking a signature drag of his cigarette. He’s clearly uncomfortable. With the familiar plume of smoke and the clamour of 60s New York enveloping him it’s not beyond the imagination to expect him to magically disappear there and then, like something out of a Jorge Luis Borges piece. Afterall, it wouldn’t be historically inaccurate.

Still from “Person to Person”, Mad Men season 7 finale.

It’s been 10 years since we were introduced, and Don Draper stands on sunlit Californian bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. His suit is nowhere to be seen, his cheeks and chin tinged with 5 o’clock shadow. This time, Don’s taken nothing but has left everything behind. Wether he jumps, runs further from his life or simply ceases to be — we know this time it’s the end of the line. 5 minutes left and we’re at the edge of the sofa.

In truth, like Don, I’ve been seduced by the idea of escapism. It’s similar to visualising a video game, resetting your life over and over to get it perfect. I fantasise about it in periods of difficulty and confusion; and just as much during quiet lapses of time commuting to university or a morning coffee date.

I feel this yearning to leave, to run from my surroundings has manifested over time. It’s a result of being susceptible to questioning myself and equally, a result of an innate weakness to social pressure. In response to this pressure, I undergo self-examinations of my identity frequently to identify any assumed weaknesses; and then simply burn them away. In their place, artificial identities born from friends or my instinctual idea of social correctness grow like bacteria in a Petri dish. My Yorkshire accent was one of the first to go as well as my habitual ‘hyper-politeness’, left for a glimpse at popularity. My ability to trust unquestioningly — born 1994 and died a slow and truly agonising death somewhere between now and today. Some changes have been beneficial, a natural process of discovering myself as I grow older. A date I had with a very sweet girl last Tuesday wouldn’t have happened without forcing confidence and social adeptness stolen from those around me. As I do so however, I realise how overly destructive this has been to my outlook on my life and the world. It’s hard to know who I am or what I have become sometimes, because I simply aren’t sure. Just like Draper, it’s a case of wearing different faces and not knowing which one is more honest. When I’m waiting for that monumental question of “Tell us about yourself?” taking Job interviews, all the pre-emptive consideration in the world doesn’t make it any less easier. What defines me? Sadly I don’t smoke, and the days of Borges have long gone.

Beginning this year I’ve tried to turn it around and keep myself defined to a few key traits which I know are my own and not a construction forged in self-evaluation. Honesty to friends and myself. The persuit of happiness without a reliance of others. Love towards my family and the goal to patient self-fulfilment in my education, career and social life. It’s been difficult to clear all the parasites clinging to my personality but the medicine is working. But in those moments of calm, I’m still intrigued about the opportunity, the peace, the excitement only an outbound ticket to a far-off country would provide. It’s intoxicating and makes my heart beat faster. After all, the ticket’s not just about escaping a tainted background or reputation; it’s a ticket to validate my current self. The flame of existential crisis cannot burn without the existence of a past.

The first morning at McCann Erikson was the point of no return for Don Draper. With his fingers pressed lightly against the glass panes of his new office, there’s a moment where he stares hungrily over the Manhattan cityscape as a plane flies overhead, skirting past the Statue of Liberty. It became too much and once again Draper ran.

This piece is incomplete, and is used for demonstration purposes.

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