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Aform of punishment in which the culprit was made to run stripped to the waist between two rows of men who whipped and beat him as he passed by. These beatings were extremely severe and the victims often died as a result—and many of those that didn’t may well have wished they had, as survivors were sometimes executed afterwards.”

This, according to the internet, is what it was like to run the gauntlet in ancient times. I know. Barbaric in every sense, right? The very idea of being forced to subject oneself to something like that, well, it’s appalling, I tell you. Sickening. Disgusting. Cringeworthy to a fault.

Except I’ve been there. That’s right. And not just once or twice but many times. Was it painful? Sometimes. Did I learn something? Always. And here’s the kicker. I think we’d be better off if we all put a little more gauntlet in our lives.

Of course, in the gauntlet I’m talking about, instead of being ogged by metal gloves, ropes and spears, it’s the scrutiny of your peers that is mercilessly beating your ego to a bloody mash. Let me explain.

The worst of it is knowing that no matter what you say, no matter how you try to defend your brilliant idea, the gauntlet sees only what the gauntlet sees.”

Imagine you work for a place where the creativity bar is insanely high. Where virtually every creative on the payroll is no stranger to the awards shows. Where not a single one of them is easily impressed. Now imagine that despite this, you know that no matter how good you feel about an idea, no matter how killer you believe it to be, you know that until those creatives, those take-no-prisoners peers of yours, ordain that idea, it’s untested. Unblessed. Maybe it’s something. You don’t know. And you won’t know until you go before them. Until you run the gauntlet.

This is no easy thing. With few exceptions, we are all such delicate creatures. I tell you, no matter who you are, no matter how heavily laden your shelves might be with Lions and Pencils, to get a blank stare from one of your own, to get a muttered “It’s OK,” to get a shrug from an intern, this is crushing. And the worst of it is knowing that no matter what you say, no matter how you try to defend your brilliant idea, the gauntlet sees only what the gauntlet sees. Bullshit is bullshit and that is that.

But if you’re honest with yourself, you run the gauntlet, you take your lashings, and you go home that night and you think about it. At first, you think, what do they know? They don’t get it. They don’t want to get it. They’re envious. They’re bitter. And then it settles in. What if they’re right? What if this amazing, kick-ass idea of mine isn’t nearly as amazing or kick-ass as I think it is? What if I missed something? What if I did? What if I’m a poseur? What if I suck?!!!

Linds Redding was an art director, designer and animator who died of cancer, but not before he did a poignant piece in his blog where he wrote about what he called “The Overnight Test.” He recounted how, early in his career, he’d spend the day tacking ideas up on his wall, leave them up there, let them simmer and bubble until the next morning, when he’d come in and look at those same ideas, but with new eyes, eyes that suddenly saw things they hadn’t seen before. The same thing happens when we run the gauntlet. But it’s different. Coming back to your work with fresh eyes is fine. But coming back to it after getting spanked by your peers—this is so much more motivating.

Sometimes the gauntlet can be one person. I know a guy who’s a global chief creative officer for an international agency. But once, he was just another writer. He asked me to lunch one day but wanted to know if I could meet him at the office first. He had a new campaign he was working on and wanted to see what I thought. After a few minutes, he couldn’t take it anymore.

Him: Yeah, so?
Me: I like it.
Him: But you don’t love it.
Me: I like it a lot.
Him: What’s wrong?
Me: Nothing.
Him: There must be something.
Me: It’s good.

And it was. But I hadn’t gushed over it. So, naturally, he thought about it overnight, made some changes the next morning and never asked me to comment on his stuff again. That’s OK. Because that campaign went on to win a Gold Lion. And all I said was, “It’s good.”

Like I said. Barbaric. ca

Ernie Schenck (ernieschenckcreative.prosite.com) is a freelance writer, a creative director and a regular contributor to CA’s Advertising column. An Emmy finalist, three-time Kelley nominee and a perennial award winner—the One Show, Clios, D&AD, Emmys and Cannes—Schenck worked on campaigns for some of the most prestigious brands in the world in his roles at Hill Holliday/Boston, Leonard Monahan Saabye and Pagano Schenck & Kay. He lives with his wife and daughter in Jamestown, Rhode Island.

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