Given I was scheduling initial doctors' visits to solve some bodily wonkiness after quietly turning 45 when I first read his essay, his words really sent me reeling. They seemed all too right ... that the creative side of advertising is largely a scam by holding semi-talented "'creative' people hostage ransom to their own self-image, precarious sense of self-worth, and fragile — if occasionally out of control — ego." That is an accurate description of the field, which is why none of it was all that important to him.
As it turns out, it was only advertising. Redding said he didn't do much of anything.
Thinking of it from his perspective, I thought the same thing. I have a shelf loaded up with glass and acrylic statues that mostly make me feel empty inside. There's about 100; 250 if I count all the paper.
But I won't do what Redding did and steal away the excitement of any kids entering the field. The reason for early recognition and peer review can be important (enough so that the topic probably deserves its own space another time). No, the good and bad of industry awards hasn't changed. I did.
In fact, I've changed so much that by the time the holidays had rolled around I had forgotten Redding's post until Hugh MacLeod picked up on those last words again. They were pointed at by long-time friend Valeria Maltoni, who was also thinking about it. She even shared one of MacLeod's points:
"What is heartbreaking about his story (British advertising veteran Linds Redding who died prematurely of cancer) is it reminds me of something that has always haunted and terrified me since I first entered the working world: the idea of getting to the inevitable end of your life, and in spite of all that talent, passion and energy spent working insane hours for decades, you don’t have a meaningful and lasting body of work to be proud of, money or no money."
I've had that mulling around in my melon since January. Maltoni did too it seems. She recently wondered about her body of work too, some two million words written for her blog. Mostly, the concept revolves around the idea that our respective body of works must mean something or make a difference to someone.
Mostly, I agreed with them for a few weeks. Except today. Now, I'm a bit miffed by it all.
Does it really matter what industry we work in if we want to make a difference? Do we need to find affirmation that somehow we have a created a meaningful or lasting body of work? Does the butterfly have to know that its wing flap changed the world a million years ago?
Nothing really matters, but every second counts.
My grandmother wasn't a writer. She never saw her 60th birthday. But she did have a "body of work." She raised five children and, for a good part of my life, one grandchild. She touched other people and their lives too, even if she did spend more than a decade fighting cancer. Her work is as good as any book or blog or body of work that someone might find on Wikipedia. But most people never will.
You see, a funny thing happens to some people when they can see that their life clock is finite. They make a choice to find regret or resolution. My grandmother was the latter kind of person, and I know what she might have told Redding. Your work mattered. Sure, it might have "only pushed some product around," but sometimes you have to think beyond what you can see.
Presumably, his creative work increased sales for a few dozen companies that employed more people, paid for more health care, inspired more dreams, and somehow made life a little more enjoyable. As a result, many of them all raised families, paid taxes, gave to charity, and made a difference Redding never knew. That's advertising. And it's one of the most brutal businesses any creative can aspire to be part of because outside of self-congratulatory awards programs, no one is ever going to know your name.
I'm a little bit more fortunate than Redding in that I've seen outcomes that have left an anonymous legacy beyond advertising for businesses, ranging from thousands of people helped through dozens of nonprofit campaigns to permanent policy changes in local, state, and federal government. But at the same time, I appreciate his point about time agency folks sometimes ask their families to sacrifice.
So, here's my tip about it. It's not the quantity of time or number of eyeballs that will matter, but the efficiency and impact of every second invested. Let me put it another way and make it easier.
Randy Pausch did an amazing thing when he wrote his last lecture. But I suggest taking it a step further. Make everything your last anything and it will matter more than you ever imagined.
That is what I'm going to aspire to do from now on. While I don't know that my upcoming class will be the last time I teach Writing For Public Relations at UNLV, I'm going to treat it like it might be. While I don't know if my next post will be my last, I can treat it like it might be. While I don't know if the next time I play a game with my kids that it will be the last game we play, I can treat it like it might be.
If you put 110 percent into everything you do, from something mundane like brushing your teeth or having a conversation in the checkout line with a stranger to writing an advertisement for a client or giving a lecture to a room with five students to 50 students, then it isn't possible to waste your time. On the contrary, the only time that can be wasted is when you swat something away like a nuisance. Then you might be right. It's a waste of time. But only because you made it a waste before you ever started.