Did I ever tell you about the time I jumped off a bridge in Boston? Pull up a chair, young padawan, and I’ll tell you a story.
To begin with, the bridge is metaphorical. There is no bridge. And there was no jump. That would have been too easy a punishment for the night I had just gone through. A lance through the heart, perhaps. An errant bolt of lightning. A public stoning in Copley Square.
It all seems so overblown now. So tragically egomaniacal in the face of, say, the sixth extinction. But you need to understand. The agony of defeat was unbearable. Always a possibility when you’re dealing with awards shows. Walk out with a sack full of metal, and you’re golden. Walk out with nothing, and you’re dust. A cipher. A pathetic shadow of yourself. This was me. Oh, the horror. It took me weeks to get over it.
But then, this is what this business can do to you when you’ve not yet learned how to let go.
If you are going to work in advertising—no, let me put that another way—if you’re going to work in advertising longer than the life span of a mosquito, it’s important that you understand that there will be many occasions when you are going to be vulnerable to freaking out. And the more you freak out, the more distracted you will be from the work. Whether you turn out to be Lee Clow or a mosquito has everything to do with how you navigate those moments.
There has never been a time when this hasn’t been true. You know those people who have a resting heart rate of 47 and an air of serenity that makes the Mona Lisa look like a drooling lunatic? Those people do not work in advertising, where whatever can go wrong will go wrong.
You’re on a shoot in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. It’s a gorgeous day. The client is happy. You’ve just had your second breakfast burrito. Your next setup is a grandfather and a grandmother with their grandkids, riding a little train around and around. And then, hellfire. Someone nods toward the wardrobe trailer and says, “We’ve got a problem.” You do not want to hear this. It’s a gorgeous day. The client is happy. You look over and see that a pirate and a banana are talking with the director. But wait. The pirate is your grandfather. The banana is your grandmother. This can’t be right. But there they are, standing in the California sunshine, looking like they just got mugged by a deranged costume designer. The client is no longer happy. She is visibly quaking. It takes you all morning to convince the director that as brilliant and unexpected an idea as a pirate and a banana are, can we please for the love of God just shoot the scene as scripted. He does. Life goes on.
Not long after the United Nations went into Sarajevo to keep the Serbs from shelling the bejeezus out of the place, we show up to shoot a spot for the Olympics. “You see that ridge up there?” asks one of the guys from the local production company. “That’s where the Serbs are. They’re still up there. Probably got us lined up in their sights right now.” Uh-huh. Two hours later, we check in to our little hotel. My room is nice. But from my window, I can see the aforementioned ridge. This claws at me. What if I get shot in my bed? “That’s where the Serbs are. Probably got us lined up in their sights right now.” That night and for several nights thereafter, I sleep in the bathtub. I do not feel rested. I do not feel on my game. Ever. When I should be thinking about the shoot, I am thinking instead about how my wife will explain to our friends how her husband came to be shot in a bathtub. Needless to say, the work suffered a bit.
Things can get to you in this business. They can derail you. Send your freight cars plowing off in all directions. This, you cannot allow to happen. Not if you want the work to take center stage. This is going to sound wrong, but there’s a book by Mark Manson called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. I highly recommend it. In a nutshell, it’s about freeing oneself from perfection complexes, the blame game and other mental traps. Now, the work is different. The work is and always will be worth giving a f*ck about. A great many f*cks. But it’s those years when you go metalless. Those pirate and banana moments. These, you cannot give even two f*cks about, or they will eat at you, they will eat at the work, they will devour every shred of creative energy you have. And if you don’t intend to be that mosquito I talked about, you’re going to need all the creative energy you can get. ca