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November 20, 2002
Losing My Virginity

It's been sixteen months since I lost my virginity.

Sixteen months, yet it seems like a lifetime. It's hard to even remember what it was like before. I thought I knew what it would be like when it happened. I'd imagined it in my head many, many times. Let's face it, haven't we all? But I don't think I could truly prepare myself for the way it has played out.

I can't tell you how many times a week people come up to me and ask me what it's like.

Is it wonderful? How do I like being in control? Is it the best thing I've ever done? If I had to do it again, would I?

So exactly why did I give up my virginity? Was it the ad groupies? Was it the fame and the media adulation (see ADWEEK cover story, "Hooray! Michael starts agency!")? Was it my experimental nature?

Honestly, it was the challenge. Starting an agency sixteen months ago was incredibly daunting. Making the decision was easy, but picking a name was one of the most painful exercises I've ever endured. Then there was the whole thing of dealing with five other young and uniquely different personalities losing their virginity at the same time. There were creative and idealistic hormones everywhere. It was like we were all infected with advertising STDs. Our youthful exuberance, cavalier attitudes and ignorance led us quickly to the cliff and over the edge. Goodbye, logic. Hello insanity.

To borrow a phrase from actress extraordinaire Catherine Zeta-Jones, "freeze."

This is where the magic happens in this business. We had every reason known to man not to start an agency. We're too young. We need more experience. We've never run a business before. We have no clients. Focus groups would never have allowed us to do this. But we did it anyway. Why? Trust me, it wasn't cockiness or arrogance that led us here. It was innocence. If I could "freeze" that mindset forever and save it, I would.

A once-in-a-lifetime crossroad. The epitome of foolishness staring back at you in the mirror. Caution or carelessness? Convention or crazy? Maybe this is the perfect place to not ask yourself, "what would so-and-so do?" Maybe this is the time to forget everything you know and simply do what's in your heart.

Innocence is beautiful. It's inspiring. It's enlightening. It's refreshing.

"What ifs" are handcuffs, plain and simple.

If not for a lot of innocence and blind risk, I would not be here today. I'd be working somewhere else wondering "what if." Instead, I'm part of an organization loaded with people smarter and more talented than myself. It's easily the best "illogical" decision I've ever made. And I couldn't have done it with focus groups.

OK. So maybe you're still asking yourself what does this have to do with me?

The point of this is not that you need to go out and start an agency. It's that you should do something unorthodox whenever possible. Sometimes you just have to inspire yourself. If there was one piece of advice I could give, it is to let go of the logic or the cold marketing speak or the peer pressure every now and then. That's what bosses and clients are for. Try forgetting about your brain (and your boss), and just follow your heart. You'd be amazed at the results. Problems just might become simplified. Maybe answers become a little clearer. And maybe you'll accidentally stumble across that moment of genius that we all work so hard to find.

But you have to relax a little. Stop worrying about the roadblocks that may or may not even exist. Stop worrying about what the client may think or whether your partner or your boss will think you're a dork for following your heart. Stop calculating worst-case scenarios. Screw convention and process. Clear out your brain cache and get back to unencumbered thinking. Take a risk. Regain your innocence. It just might turn out to be the greatest moment of your life. At the very least, it will be one hell of a story.

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Something interesting is brewing in Virginia and its called Arnika, a 16-month-old ad agency, get this, composed entirely of recent VCU Adcenter grads. Led by president and creative director, Michael Ashley, Arnika is producing work for The Martin Agency, Clipper City Brewing, Carmax, and many others. 

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