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When I was a kid, a bunch of us decided one day to explore the cave in the woods behind the Little League field. I knew the cave of course. We all did. With the exception of a few of us, every kid in the neighborhood had gone inside. I say a few. That would be Cheryl Krupka, Wanda Wagner and, um, yours truly. What can I say. I was a bookworm. A dork before his time. What I was not was Indiana Jones, itching to steal golden idols, to outrun massive boulders capable of crushing me like a peanut shell.

It wasn’t that I was afraid of the dark. It wasn’t that there were spiders or snakes or broken beer bottles. No, it wasn’t the nasty stuff I knew that scared the bejeezus out of me.

It was the nasty stuff I didn’t know. The impossible beast down in the dark that could grab my ankles and swallow me whole before I could get a single sob out of my throat.

Little did I know that another cave would come into my life years later. Only, this time, what lay inside was something worth far more than whatever had spooked me about that hole in the ground behind the Little League field. On the contrary. This was no mere cave. This was the cave of ideas.

Nothing brilliant ever lies at the mouth of the cave.”

There is a poem called “The Cave” by Paul Tran. Ever heard of it? In it, Tran writes about someone standing at the mouth of a deep, dark cave, listening to the call of the idea.

Keep going, the idea said.

If you work in advertising, you know this cave. You’ve seen what others have left down there. The false starts. The campaigns that never got a fair shot. The stillborn scripts that perished before they ever saw the light of day. The ads that never made it into CA. Or Cannes. Or anywhere but your laptop.

Someone kept going. Deeper and deeper, they saw 

others had been there. Others had left

objects that couldn’t have found their way

there alone.

“Run!” you might have thought. Run and never show yourself down here again. There would be no shame in this. No one could blame you for turning back. It is no easy thing, this search for the idea. It is dark and difficult and fraught with peril. And yet...

Keep going,

the idea said again. 

Go ...

We light our torch. We gather our courage. And we go down.”

Joseph Campbell said, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Nothing brilliant ever lies at the mouth of the cave. All the greatest work ever created or that ever will be created has come from the depths of our fear, our eggshell-thin egos, our hunger for magic and our brazen willingness to risk everything.

You have to ask yourself, How badly do I want this? What of myself am I willing to give for a chance at greatness? Think of the creative giants who’ve broken through. Do not assume their oath was easy. You think they don’t bear the scars of a life spent underground scrabbling around on their hands and knees for the big one? They do. Scrabbling. Despite the spiders and the snakes and the beer bottles and all the other vermin that wants to keep us from finding the grail. The golden fleece. The idea.

On these very pages, I once penned a column called “The Deep End of the Pool.” Maybe you remember it. In it, I wrote this: “Maybe that’s where we’re taught never to get in over our heads. For fear we might fail. For fear we might fall  at on our faces. That we aren’t strong enough. Smart enough. Creative enough. That if we shoot for the moon, the moon is going to shoot right back. Put a bullet right through our ego.”

The cave is no less dangerous a place. And it’s a place we willingly descend into every time we open our laptops and stare at that blinking cursor. We light our torch. We gather our courage. And we go down. Knowing that, in the end, there is no monster. Knowing that the only thing waiting at the bottom of the cave is a chance to do something wonderful, and, if luck is with us, a shot at greatness. 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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