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March 3, 2010
Here Lies Steffan Postaer

Is what you are who you are?

Pastor John Buchanan of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago recently gave a terrific sermon on the rite of baptism. Earlier, he performed the sacrament on two babies. He later spoke of names and identities, and how they relate to God’s plan for us. It was interesting stuff, especially for a borderline agnostic like me.

While much could be gleaned from his sermon, I want to focus on one thing in particular. Buchanan referenced a book he’d read by Sister Joan Chittister, "The Gift of Years," that struck a nerve with him. It did the same for me. I think many will relate to it as well.

We define ourselves by our work. It becomes the who, what, where, how, and why of our lives. Can you deny it?

In our society, introductions to people almost always include asking what the other person does for a living. I do it all the time; it's not a big deal. In fact, it's a good way to find common ground.

But what happens, the pastor asked, when what we do is over with or, worse yet, taken from us as in layoffs or job eliminations? Do we lose our identities? Do we become nobodies in the eyes of our peers and ourselves?

Buchanan suggested living by such a self-absorbed credo devalues us as human beings, often causing serious anxiety and depression. In America, our identities are inextricably tied to what we do versus who we are or what we believe. If you take that away, what exactly are we’re left with?

Given the current recession and myriad job losses, his sermon was especially poignant. However, even in good times the what-we-do credo proves troubling. For one thing, what happens when we retire?

Uh oh.

I have always unabashedly identified myself as a writer, be it copy, editorial, or fiction. To wit, I wrote and edited my high school newspaper, The Lane Tech Warrior. I did the same for both student papers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison (The Daily Cardinal and Badger Herald), not to mention scribing for an independent publication, The Mad City Music Mirror.

I started my career as a copywriter at Leo Burnett and continue to do so at Euro RSCG in Chicago. I’ve written three novels and dozens of short stories, some of which have been published. I write and maintain Gods of Advertising as well as The Rogue’s Gallery, which, as some know, was originally intended to be a forum for copywriters to showcase their writing.

So, yeah, for me it’s all about writing. The point I’m building to: What happens when all that ends, as one day it surely must? I get paid to write and creative direct copy. Hopefully, this also gives my blog credibility. Take away my job and what do I do? Relax? I can barely do that now. How am I supposed to do it 24/7?

According to Buchanan, if we are spiritually fit, we are more content and serene, regardless of our employment status. Getting fit means letting go of personal ambitions. Self-centeredness must slip away. That's easier said than done.

To me, writing is a selfish act, even if for clients. It has a narcotic effect. I not only get off on doing it, but I can’t stop. There is always another brief, another story, or another presentation. Writing takes me away from my family, friends, and other obligations. Buchanan suggests it also takes me away from God.

His point isn’t that writing is a despicable act (even ad copy!), but that putting it before others and God potentially is. Similar counseling is given to alcoholics, as they are told to get outside of their heads and think of someone other than themselves.

I promise -- just as soon as I rewrite that body copy.

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Chairman of Euro RSCG Worldwide Chicago, Steffan Postaer is responsible for its overall creative leadership and quality of the creative product. He’s received several prestigious awards, including a Kelly Award, Best of Show, Gold and Silver awards at the One Show, the Addys and a Cannes Gold Lion. Steffan has a novel about god and advertising and posts regularly on his blog, Gods of Advertising. Follow him on Twitter.

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