Advice is one of those things that’s given out freely, but rarely listened to. I dole it out daily to my teams, knowing full well they’re only half listening. The truth is, it’s really hard to take advice before you’ve experienced it. Otherwise we’d all be a lot wiser than we are. But I continue to dispense my “wisdom” just in case all the stars align and they hear me. And I also say it to hopefully create that aha moment in the future after it happens to them and they think back to that thing I said and go, “Ohhhhh, that’s what she meant. That’s smart!” So you can imagine my surprise when one of my favorite coworkers asked me yesterday to clarify some advice I’d given to him weeks ago. (He WAS listening!) My advice was pretty simple: “Be true to yourself. You are a ray of sunshine. Don’t let other people’s darkness into your heart. Because who you are is wonderful and we need more people like you in this world.” And then I went on and on about being that stone in the river that the water rushes around. Stand your ground like the stone! Don’t change just because other people are trying to push you around. Let the water, and their attempts to change you, flow around you... yadda, yadda, yadda. That’s where he got confused. Because, well, duh. That was confusing.
So here’s what I meant. There is so much pressure in this business of advertising to be everything to everyone. Every day people stress out and rush around doing crazy things to each other in the name of getting ahead—manipulative, underhanded, dastardly things. It’s rare to find people you can trust, and rarer still to find people who operate first and foremost from a place of goodness deep in their hearts. If you want to stay in this business, you have to know that. And you also have to accept it. Because try as we might, we won’t be able to change it. Not really. There are too many fragile egos involved. Too many awards and accolades masquerading as important. Too much money to cloud people’s judgment. Too many people who see your work on a big stage and think it’s special, which makes you feel special by proxy. Advertising is sparkly, and we are the crows. Know that. Accept it. But don’t let it go to your head. Be the giant stone in the river. Let the water rush around you and carry the noise and bullshit past you. Let it smooth and refine your perspective, but don’t let it move you from the place you value most. Because that sunshine within you is warm and beautiful. That basic goodness is rare and special. We're all together in the same river, but most of us are caught up in the current. Choose to be the stone instead. Or, to put it simply, don’t let the bastards drag you down.
Want to know why? Because that light within is what makes you unique as a creative. If you lose track of that spark, your work will suffer because you will be suffering from not being true to yourself. I promise you this is true. I just learned this lesson, and I consider myself lucky now every single day because I’m finally being true to who I am again, and I can already feel my creativity returning. There’s a calmness in being this honest with yourself and with the world. A serenity in standing your ground as the craziness rushes by you. At some point, it will be time to move on. When that time comes, do it on your terms. And choose your rivers wisely.
P.S. I find it fascinating that Billy Joel's song is about who she is as a person, and Bruno Mars's version is all about how she looks. That does not bode well for our society. Let's fix this, shall we?