There’s a story the columnist and author, Bob Greene, tells about a groupie chick from the early days of rock ’n’ roll. It turns out this young woman had set a lofty goal for herself. Not to become the next Tina Turner or Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. No, this was even loftier. This particular young roadie’s ambition in life was to sleep with Mick Jagger.
Truth be told, she had in fact slept with a lot of rock stars. Some she liked. Others, not so much. But at least she could say she’d had sex with one heck of a lot of musicians. And every morning, she would wake up and she would think, well, that was cool. That was fine. But he’s no Mick Jagger.
And then one day, she found herself actually hanging around with the Rolling Stones. One thing led to another and, you guessed it, she did sleep with Mick. Finally, she’d made it. She’d reached the mountaintop. A roll in the sack with Mick himself. And when it was over, she thought, well, that was cool. That was fine. But he’s no Mick Jagger.
That’s the thing about mountaintops. When we’re at the bottom looking up, they seem so much higher. So much closer to the sun. Surely, we think, if we could ever find our way to the top, the world from up there must seem so mind-buckling. Every blue a thousand times bluer. Every breath of air so much sharper. To reach the top, if only we could get there, we tell ourselves, life would be perfect. And then some of us do and we find out that life up there isn’t always better than life down here.
Envy is a seductive thing.
We sit in our cubicles in Bismarck or Tallahassee or Wichita Falls and we flip through the pages of Communication Arts and we see all that great work and we think, I could do that. I know I could. I just never get the chance. I work in a place that doesn’t get it. I work for clients who don’t get it. While I’m sitting here listening to some 25-year-old suit with plastic hair and preternaturally white teeth explain why she doesn’t think the client will go for running their logo in the top left corner, some lucky bastard in Portland or Miami or New York is having the time of his life. Getting rich. Getting famous. If only I could get there. If only I could sleep with Mick Jagger.
A guy I know is North American creative director for what most of us would probably consider a very cool, albeit very big, advertising agency. This is a talented person. He has won more awards than any decent human being should be allowed. This is also a powerful person. His creative dominion is massive. He flies first class. He wears expensive Japanese suits. He dines in five-star restaurants at least twice a week and races a tricked out Porsche Cayman on the weekends.
So is he happy?
“The pressure is staggering. People think this is what it’s all about. You think, it’s different at the top. You get to call the shots. You get to have a real impact on the work. And you do. But like anything else, the rush of that wears off. You know what doesn’t though? The pressure. That never lets up. It eats at you. You think, why am I doing this? Why am I killing myself? It’s advertising for God’s sake. It’s not like at the end of the day, you’re going to find a cure for cancer and people are going to say, ‘He did that.’”
We all want to do inspired, amazing work. We all want to move up the ladder. We all want to be adored at Cannes. Idolized at The One Show. See our names emblazoned on the pages of Communication Arts and Lürzer’s. Get the big glass office. Get the big promotion. Get the big everything. Feel the grin on our face the first day we pull out of the Audi dealership in our new R8. All that’s cool. All that’s fine.
But if one day, while you’re waiting in South Africa to board your flight to Tokyo and you get a text from your daughter saying that she did great in her ballet recital and don’t worry mommy took some pictures for you, don’t be surprised if you find yourself asking the question: Why did I sleep with Mick Jagger? ca