My first job was working alongside my father selling vegetables at the Quatre Bornes market. I was hardly more than 6 or 7 years old at that time and would spend my weekends and school holidays with my brothers, working alongside my father at the market and learning the ropes of life. My father used to work every day from 6:30 in the morning till 6 in the evening and even worked half day on Sundays. He never took a day off in his whole life, never had a ‘lindi cordonier’ either. I remember only one time from my childhood when our family spent a day together at the seaside.
At school, I wanted to do well because it represented a jailbreak out of our condition. When I completed my HSC, I obtained a scholarship to go abroad. My father was proud and went about telling his joy to everyone he met. Even though it was heart-breaking having to leave your family, I couldn’t wait to do it. In my mind, I must have imagined a thousand times when I would come back to Mauritius having completed my studies and going to see my father at his place of work and getting to see the pride in his eyes. But it was not to be because my father died on the very day I was supposed to leave.
After that, I was broken and did not want to go abroad, but my brothers persuaded me that it was my father’s dream to see his son go abroad and I eventually did it, not to fulfill a goal but to accomplish my duty towards my parents.
When I came back to Mauritius after my studies, I was jobless for one whole year. I could not get anyone to employ me because then, just like now, you had to know people to get you places and I didn’t know anybody. Everywhere I went, people kept asking me: “Are you still not working?” After some time, it was too much to bear; I stopped visiting relatives, stopped going to the barber and sent my little niece to the shop whenever I needed to buy anything.
Then, one day, I went to visit a friend’s father who was recovering from surgery, and the old man showed me a vacancy in the field of advertising in the newspaper and suggested that I give it a try. I thought, why not really? It was like after you have been waiting for the bus for so long, you are ready to take any bus that comes, wherever it leads you.
The vacancy required that we fill a blank space in the newspaper and show that we have imagination. I needed the job so much that I did not send one application. I bought three copies of the publication and filled the three of them and sent. I was called for an interview and was told that I seemed to have some helpful ideas and was offered a job on a trial basis. Other than this, I had nothing else in my favour. I had done my studies in Economics and never studied anything even remotely having to do with advertising. I could not draw, write, take photos or do designs on the computer. But I knew I’m not a vain person; I thought I would project an inner beauty in my creations which people would be able to see and connect with.
On my first day in the new job, I had a colleague in the same office as me who was utterly fed up with everything. He resigned a few weeks later. Before leaving, he asked me, “What about you? You intend to spend your whole life here?”
I thought about it and told him: “You know, I have just arrived here. Someday, I will be telling people I worked in advertising for some time, and I would want to have at least one good piece of work I can refer to. That’s what I want, I want to do one good advert, and then I’ll leave.”
But right from day one, I knew that advertising was what I would be doing all my life. It seemed unbelievable that there was a field where people would be paid to think out ideas. For me, it was like a blind date that turned into true love.
I loved it so much that I never asked for a lot and, quite understandably, never got a lot in return either. I started my first job as a junior copywriter and left five years later, still holding the same position. Never once in my career have I been granted any promotion, I never had any business card issued on my name and never got any new computer bought for me. Years later, when I started my own company, Amadeus, our first team member was a girl, and she was assigned to design the new company’s business card. She told me: “I’m putting you as Creative Director on your business card.”
I was uncomfortable with that and told her: “Nobody has ever thought of me as worthy enough to be a director of anything.” She went ahead and put it away. That was how for the first time I was made the director of my own team and staff. That probably has to be my greatest achievement ever, from a matchbox I created an agency that made a name for itself, competed against the very bests, worked with the most high profile clients and got awards and recognition both locally and in Reunion Island, in South Africa and Japan. All the time being honest and playing it fair and square.
Over my career I have had to hold position in the most diverse roles, facing a wide range of circumstances and challenges: Junior Copywriter, Creative Copywriter, Senior Copywriter, Group Head, Lecturer in Creative Process, Strategic Planner, Director of Strategy and Branding, Managing Director, Creative Director, Creative Lead, Lecturer in Marketing, Invigilator for Exams. Some of my most pleasing achievements in my career include winning 4 Gold awards out of the 5 in competition at the Advertising Awards Night, together with another Gold Trophy and a Silver Trophy. When the nominations were on screen for the best print advert, both the adverts had been done by me. That was quite unbelievable really. At some point in my career, I further achieved the feat of winning nine pitch competitions in a row, against all the other big agencies and one against an international agency. I also represented the country abroad and came back with the first prize, won a competition working alone against a full-fledged agency of 40+ people, created a concept that won a freelancer a primary account against some of the biggest agencies, and came just in time to save an agency that was about to close, by winning several accounts.
Often when I meet younger students, they want to know how much an Art Director or a Designer earns. My answer is always this: “Choose a job that you will be willing to do for free. This job is the one that will make you grow as you go and someday it will earn you more than you think you deserve today.” Honestly, advertising is the one job that I would have been willing to do for free.
More important, imagine you were given one chance to prove that you are worth something, that your whole life is not fake, would you let it pass without a fight or give it all you’ve got to make it work? Advertising was my one chance; I just couldn’t let it pass without a fight. And now, I have been fighting for so long I don’t remember if ever there was a time when I did not have to fight…
The journey is a journey of finding yourself. I genuinely believe that a life spent DOING is stressful; a life spent APPEARING is empty; a life spent ACCUMULATING is meaningless; only a life spent BEING is fulfilling. I like to think that I have spent my working years not doing, appearing or accumulating, I have spent it finding out who I am and being true to who I am.
First posted in X-Team Academy on Medium.