Asking Not Asking #4: All Out of Love
TINA ESSMAKER / Creative Coach
I’ve been working in advertising for nearly a decade now. I can say with some confidence that I’m very good at what I do—I’ve worked at some of the best shops in the world, from Wieden+Kennedy to Droga5 and everything in between. But the longer I stay in this business the more disenchanted I become. The joy I used to feel from concepting and producing fun ideas has been sucked away by the process. An interesting brief used to get me absolutely stoked. Now, I just think by the time it gets through all the layers at my agency it won’t even resemble my original idea. And by the time it gets to the client? Well, they’ll probably decide the brief was wrong and nix the whole thing.
I just don’t feel inspired or interested anymore. And on top of that, I’m tired of what I refer to as “The Golden Handcuffs.” The money and perks ad agencies offer come at a high price: crazy hours, high stress, and the expectation that you’re available for work 24/7. Plus, I’ve never been to a retirement party in advertising. I feel like unless I become an ECD, eventually I’ll age out and be replaced with someone young, fresh, and much cheaper. It seems smarter to start a new career now, when I’m in my early 30s, rather than in 10 years. All of these factors (and my general feeling of hopelessness and disinterest) has led me to believe that I want out. But like...what else can I do? I’m a writer and all of my grown-up job experience is at agencies. What else am I even qualified for?
Basically, my question for you is what’s next for someone who is all out of love for advertising?
I hope you can help. Thanks <3
—All Out of Love
Dear All Out of Love,
My friend and colleague, Jocelyn K. Glei, hosts a wonderfully insightful podcast called Hurry Slowly. If you haven't listened to it, I would urge you to stop reading my response right now and go listen to Jocelyn’s interview with Renata Salecl in an episode called “The Tyranny of Choice,” because I’m going to reference it and I want you to have context for what follows.
We view choice as a positive thing. The more options we have, the better. But having more options can also paralyze us. As Salecl notes, when we choose one thing, we must let go of the other. We grieve the path or person or job we didn’t choose. We move to a new city and miss the city we left behind, even though we didn’t want to be there anymore.
So, that brings me to my first question: If you leave advertising, what will you lose, what will you grieve? I ask this not because I have an opinion on whether you should stay or go—it’s your choice alone. I ask this because the act of leaving advertising might bring you joy and happiness and rekindle your interest and inspiration, or it might not.
Sometimes we engage in magical thinking. If only I could find the perfect job or That person would treat me so much better than my current partner or I would be much happier in a different city. We place emphasis on making external changes. There are cases when a new job, a different partner, or a change of scenery might improve the quality of our lives. But the magic doesn’t lie in changing our external circumstances; it lies in deciding what fulfills us and finding ways to invite those things into our work, relationships, and lives.
This might be a situation in which you will become happier if you leave, but I want you to consider that leaving may or may not change the way you feel. That brings me to my second question: How do you want to feel during your workdays? From your letter, it sounds like you currently feel disenchanted, joyless, disappointed, uninterested, and uninspired. No wonder you want to leave.
I’d like you to do something. Take out a piece of paper and set a timer for 2 minutes. Write down how you currently feel during your workday—get it all out. Now, turn the sheet of paper over and set your timer for another 2 minutes. Write down how you want to feel during your workday. Don’t think about the tasks you do—think about the feelings and emotions you want to experience. Here’s an emotion wheel if you get stuck.
Now, go through the list of how you want to feel and next to each word, describe the last time you felt that way: What tasks were you doing? Who were you with? Where were you? What caused you to feel that way? I know, this is a lot of feeling, but it’s important because feelings are like the gauge on your dashboard that alerts you to inspect the engine. They are an indicator that something is off, out of alignment. So we are popping the hood and taking a look.
When you review the list of how you want to feel during your day, do you know what is stopping you, or what you could do to invite more of that feeling into your workday? We often define our lives by the things we don’t want, but do you know what you do want? If you’re not sure, you can do the same exercise you just did, except on the first side, write down what you don’t want (i.e. a joyless process, exhausting work hours, etc.). Flip it and write what you do want on the other side.
I am asking you to do all of this work because, even though it sounds like you are convinced you need to leave advertising, how we make transitions is important. Doing this work will either confirm your need to leave the industry and give you a solid foundation to build a new career that aligns with your values and mission, or it will help you build a new career for yourself within the industry you already call home.
“How can you become the ancestor of your own future happiness? What conversation could you begin? What promise could you make? What promise, even, could you break, that would make you the ancestor of your future happiness, that you could come back to yourself, this weekend, and thank yourself for having stepped out on that path into a future which has made both a better world for yourself and the world in which you have given your gifts?”
You cannot know where the choices you make will lead you long-term. With that uncertainty comes an opportunity for fear to creep in. I will pass along advice that a mentor gave me when I was going through a divorce to my life and business partner and rethinking my personal life and career: Never make a major life decision out of fear. And if you are making a decision rooted in fear, what is the fear that is motivating you? Fear of failure, not having enough money, rejection, or something else?
You say you’re not sure what else you would do, but you called yourself a writer and my guess is that you have desires for your work beyond advertising. Will you give yourself permission to dream about what’s next? What opportunities exist where you are for you to start living into some of those desires? You’ve spent your life in agencies—that’s great. You must know an extensive network of people. Who can reach out to for support, work, mentorship, or introductions?
What I want for you is to get to the place where you can make a decision out of love. You say you are out of love. I am asking you to make this decision, out of love—out of love for yourself, your career, your talents and value and the future you both want and deserve. It is never too late to change course. You don’t need my permission, but you do need your own. And only you can give yourself that gift.
Doing it all out of love,
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Asking Not Asking is a bi-monthly column written by Tina Essmaker, a New York City-based coach, speaker, and writer who helps others live into their possibility. To be considered for the column, send and email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a short note about where you're at and where you want to be, and make sure to include the following:
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