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August 28, 2010
Choosing Between Personal Happiness and Success
 
For the first time in my career, I am not with an agency. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean I am unemployed as I am currently operating as an independent contractor (working as a social media consultant, in fact). While contracting has its perks, I am eager to get back to agency life. As to those perks, many are obvious (working from home, calling my own hours, etc.), but one that was not-so obvious to me when I began is the time it has afforded me to wax philosophically about the next step in my career. I want back in to the agency world, but I don’t need back into it as far as the necessity for a paycheck is concerned. What I mean to say is, since I am not in the dire straits of being without an income, I have the luxury of choice. But I have found that this choice has less to do with where I’ll be and more to do with what I’ll be.

In the past several months, I have interviewed with digital, PR, and advertising agencies that run the gamut of size and recognition. Among the best of these agencies, one key characteristic seemingly is shared: fanatical devotion to the job. “We burn the candles here” is a common saying I've heard from employees of these agencies. Sometimes the demand of the job isn’t even veiled by euphemism; sometimes it is asked if you are prepared to work 70-80 hours a week.

I have an old college friend who is a talented copywriter and has worked with some great agencies in his career. Until recently, he worked at a well-known, global agency. He confided in me that toward the end of his tenure there, he began to question whether or not he really wanted to continue being an Ad Man. This friend began to train for triathlons and, in doing so, discovered in himself a passion for something other than advertising. His passion for training and competing did not trump his passion for advertising. What it did for him was open his eyes to the fact that some things in this world indeed exist other than his occupation that had come to define who he was as a human being. He just didn’t know if he wanted copywriting to be his whole life anymore.

Is it sad to think that we must choose between personal happiness and a successful career in this industry? Absolutely. Is it an inescapable decision we all must make at some point? Yes, it is. To return to my friend’s story, he knew that in order to be one of the “greats,” he would need to continue living, breathing, and eating advertising. This is not to say his life would be horrible if he chose to continue on, merely that his career would have remained the dominating facet of his life. To his credit, it was one or the other; he knew all too well that in the gray area between the two lay only mediocrity.

So here I stand, on the precipice of what could one day be an outstanding career, but only if I am prepared to devote my heart and soul (not to mention my time and sanity) to that career. That is what I have been philosophizing on all these months.

The truth? I can go all Descartes on the matter, but there is no decision. Not really. Not in my case. I made the decision long ago that this is what I want to do; that this is what I want to be. Those close to me wonder why I am so determined to find work with an agency that does great work, why I’ll up and move anywhere in the country for the right gig. They don’t get it because they are not in this industry. Those of us who are in this crazy business know the price. The question you must ask yourself is whether you are willing to pay it.

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Justin Celko is a digital communications professional based in Chicago, IL. Follow him on Twitter.

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