Heroin, carbohydrates and a monthly salary.
A couple of annual team building excursions later and we’re done. We’ve seen through it all and no amount of corporate sponsored fun, lip service or salary bumps can slow the unyielding advance toward the exit now — “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore”. At least, not here.
Two years is about as long as we’re able to commiserate with each other about how frustrated we are, before we leave to find a new audience somewhere else, and do it all over again. Sadly, this boom-bust lifecycle is the unfortunate, and unavoidable cost of working in advertising. Unfortunate, because we have to tolerate people that are blind to our incredible genius. Unavoidable, because we can’t tolerate them forever — am I right?
At face value, speaking-up when you’re unhappy and leaving if nothing improves is reasonable enough, but in this case it’s far more insidious than that, more pathological. We’re caught in a destructive cycle, that with each repetition, magnifies our discontent.
And we’re ok with it…
At least, judging by the eagerness with which we repeat the formula. We relish the chance to be seduced by new companies, who bait us with the promise of transcendence, and to whom we pledge our temporary allegiance — our commitment lasting only as long as we’re able to keep ourselves from realising that nothing actually changed, and we’re still unhappy. It’s a truth we’re not willing to sit with, so we have to keep moving, relocating and starting anew, to distract ourselves from ourselves.
An observer might assume that we’d seize the chance to break this cycle. But, I don’t think we would. This transient arrangement actually works for us, however counter-intuitive that sounds. Let me explain…
After working in the field for a decade, I’ve had ample time to reflect on the migration patterns of an ambivalent workforce. None more so than my own. I’ve searched for solace in big companies, small companies, small companies inside big companies, Swedish-American and French-Canadian companies, multinational companies, even my own company. I’m still undecided about where best to apply my energy, of what is really deserving of my focus, and of what a working environment befitting of my own, very specific, strand of creativity would even look like.
The one thing I have concluded is that not deciding is a decision, too. It’s a choice to avoid the tough decisions, the dangerous ones. It can be frustrating, sure, but we’re able to blame our discontent on external factors like management, clients, processes, and vendors — they are the ones stifling us, impeding us from reaching our full potential. They misdirect our energy, distract our focus and squander our talent. We have greatness to give if only they had the common sense to listen. But they don’t. “T.I.A., Jimmyboy, T.I.A.” my former colleague used to say.
Superficial frustration is preferable to the threat of all out failure, which is what we’re really avoiding. We reset the cycle every few years to keep our minds occupied, distracted from the things we really want to pursue; a bakery, a line of ceramics, interior architecture, whatever. We’ve heard the stories of the gallant few who said to hell with it, got out, and became owner-operators of the type of things we now spend our money on each weekend. Their stories give us hope that one day we’ll risk what most of us are too afraid to face: failure.
The lesion an epic fail can leave on a reputation is horrific, like a facial scar people can’t help staring at, but don’t want to talk about. No matter how well one manages the optics, failing forces us to suffer through the public shame, humiliation, and ridicule of following a hunch that didn’t pan out. The ensuing schadenfreude is a way for others to reaffirm their choices and confirm their fears, thus, keeping the cycle in tact.
Failure is something for which we haven’t yet developed an adequate vocabulary. The only way we’ve been able to process it, is in relation to success; fall and rise stronger, take a hit and punch back harder, lose but don’t lose the lesson. As long as failure can be reframed as a stepping stone to being better, it’s tolerated. Barely.
That’s a lot of pressure for failure to be under. Is it not enough to suffer a crippling defeat, without the added responsibility of having to extrapolate a lesson in self-improvement? Man, I feel tired already. No wonder I haven’t failed much recently, although, this article might be a good start… And if it is, then let it just be that — a failure. One without embarrassment or parables. That would take some pressure off of failure, and make it that bit easier to go out and just do stuff.
According to the writer and essayist, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates and a monthly salary, because they protect us from risk, pain and growth. Maybe it’s time to go cold-turkey and breathe in the fresh sobering air of failure, without that familiar smell of fear.