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• Talking with an old friend about how to look back on work and feel good about it.

 

Talking with an old friend about how to look back on work and feel good about it.

On June 23, I drove up to Washington D.C. from Virginia Beach to meet Thom Doyle, an old friend from my years in Munich, for dinner. He was visiting the States from Germany with his wife and two kids and the original plan was for us to all meet for dinner, and then I would stay with a friend and drive back the next day. That plan fell through (friend had strep throat, which I could not risk exposing Avalon and Amelia to), so I booked a room (see photo) in the very hotel we planned to meet at for dinner, the Tabard Inn. After dinner, we all trooped up to my room for a few more drinks and a lot more talk (Thom and I had not seen each other in well over a decade, maybe two). After a bit, Thom’s wife, Ines, and his daughter, Josephine, cruised (Josie had a date!) and Thom, his son, Chris, and I hung out and fell right into the kind of long, rambling, but focused, conversation I so remember from my years in Europe.

In time, the topic turned to work, but not in the sense of what do you do, rather we talked about why. Thom is a heavy, the CEO of a large Swiss insurance company, and I had my day as an executive creative director of a good sized (about 150 people) agency, so we both have experience with jobs that demand a lot and may make you lose sight of what really matters in life. In the years before I lost my career (temporarily, I hope!) as a result of my brain injury, and especially after my neurons got rearranged, I questioned my work deeply. My favorite way of summing up why it was so unrewarding to work in advertising is that ads are sent out into the world to die. They are not meant to last, the are meant to be of the moment and then replaced with new ads of the new moment. Sure, there have been some lasting ad campaigns, but anything that survives longer than a few years is rare. Most are good for a few months. And I hated this aspect of advertising so much that I swore once I got better I would never do it again. Worse, save for music, I could not think of anything else I wanted to do. Nothing. “Why is that?”, asked Thom. I blathered on about whatever and finally, realizing I did not have an answer, I asked Thom about his job. “Why does what you do matter to you? What keeps you interested?” He blathered for awhile, albeit more clearly than me, and tried to explain why there is value to him in his work. I wasn’t convinced, but after much more iintrospection we arrived at a conclusion I feel good about: what matters isn’t the work, it’s trying your goddamned hardest to do your work well.

And as I look forward to getting back into advertising (truly, I do, I hope to restart my career) I won’t be asking what advertising can do for me, I’ll be asking what I can do for it. And my process will be simple: to enthusiastically try my hardest to do great work, to never settle, to push, and to look back on every project regardless of the outcome and know that I did my very best (I did this before, but often with gritted teeth). And if I go into another career? Same thing. Because the only thing worse than failing as a result of not trying hard enough, is succeeding even though you coasted. It robs you (or should rob you) of any sense of satisfaction. And what about my album? Well, regardless of whether it sells or sits unheard, I can say with 1000% certainty that I tried my goddamned hardest to make it great. Every song got all the care I could give it, from the way it was written to who performed it to how it was arranged and recorded. I’m happy, no regrets.

Meanwhile, back in my D.C. room, the clock was getting near midnight and Thom and Chris had to go. We agreed to meet at their hotel for breakfast the next day, which we did, and as I drove back down to Virginia, I was the best kind of tired: spent from thinking and talking about life with people I really like, respect and care about. Which reminds me: that’s something else I will do going forward, work with people I like, respect and care about. Who better to celebrate trying your hardest with?