No one ever said on their deathbed, ‘Gee, I wish I had spent more time alone with my computer’.
I left Advertising to walk dogs.
It’s been about six months since I’ve made the switch. And it was probably the best decision of my life.
I want to preface this by saying that there are a lot of good, passionate and intelligent people that work in Advertising + Marketing, and there’s still value in the industry. I understand why it exists and how it’s come to be what it’s become.
It just got to a point where I couldn’t stand with both feet on those reclaimed hardwood floors under those not quite fluorescent bulbs in that fantastic open concept office and still feel proud of what I do anymore.
There was a series of revelations over my nearly 10 years in Advertising and media related jobs that I had to come to to realize that while I loved creating (designs, ideas, concepts, artwork), I did not like being a creative. Like most things in advertising, what it says and what it is are two totally different things.
I’ve heard from a lot of people that the industry isn’t what it used to be. And if there’s even an iota of truth in Mad Men’s depiction of the actual work (not the show in general), that’s true. Some things are better than they were. Other things are on a trajectory that I couldn’t justify being a part of anymore.
I could be really wordy, and go on a long tirade about the ins and outs of my experience in the industry, but no one really wants to read that. I dont’ even want to write it – I still do design on the side, and I’d rather not have people think I’m some embittered hermit that they’re going to have to fight with, because I’m not.
So, instead, I’m going to take a cue from Mr. Busdriver and make a short, comparative list:
Advertising vs. Dog Walking
The feedback loop in an advertising relationship is often a broken one, and is agonizingly slow. You can put weeks of work into a project, and if you’re unlucky, you’re not in the presentation meeting. Which means that you have to wait for accounts to return with feedback. Which might take longer if the presenting client is only a junior, that then has to re-present to the actual decision making client. It might take days to know if you’ve made the client happy. And if you haven’t, it’s often hard not to take some of the feedback personally.
Conversely, every time I open a door to pick up a dog, they’re happy to see me. And it’s not hard to tell. What with the tail wagging or the jumping up on me to lick my face. It’s kind of a low-hanging fruit, to be honest, but I’m not above grabbing that. I’ll take the ego boosts where I can get ’em.
One of the big things I’ve noticed with my dog walking clients is the implicit trust that I know what I’m doing. It’s not to say that I don’t – I’ve learned a lot over the last few years from Heather and our dog industry colleagues, and felt fully prepared to take on the walking when I started. The dog owners we work for come to treat us as experts on their pets – seeking advice, conferring with us when something might be wrong, or wanting our opinions on things like food, training methods and other dog related topics. It’s refreshing to be in a position where people expect you to know what you’re doing, and trust you to do it.
Less and less, I experienced that trust with clients. I’ve found with the proliferation of photoshop, inDesign and other editing programs, more and more people try and formulate an opinions without a fragment of understanding about visual rules, communication imperatives or, in some cases, even an iota of design sense. The phrase “I’m not a visual person, I need to see it.” Is a personal pet peeve of mine. If you need to see it, then you ARE a visual person. Someone who doesn’t need to see it is a conceptual person.
Because I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my work, I’m not the fastest designer out there. I like to think I’m pretty good at what I do, but I know I’m slower than some. In an industry that has no brake pedal, that means long hours. I’ve been sold the story in many an interview about how they value ‘work/life balance’. You never hear about that balance when you’re at the office until 1 am three days straight. It got to a point where I basically was only home on the weekends, stopping by to catch a few z’s and a shower during the week. On top of that, if I wasn’t coming up with spec projects in my own time, I wasn’t committed enough to the company’s success.
I work about four hours a day now – six if I’m covering for Heather so she can run an errand in the morning. I go pick up the dogs, I walk the dogs, I pick up their poop, I take them home, and I’m done. I don’t think about dog walking after I come home. I don’t have to think about it before I pick them up. Sometimes, I don’t even have to think about it while I’m doing it – my mind is free to wander as long as I’m keeping my eye on where they all are, and making sure they’re not rolling in a dead raccoon. And let’s be honest, as fun as advertising people are, dogs are way more fun. You keep your beer cart. I’ve got six pups that are just happy to be outside.
Bread and Butter
Now, I make less money dogwalking – but it’s a solid base. I have time in the day to explore other creative outlets and do the work I want to do now, not the work I have to do. Every agency has a ‘bread and butter’ client – the one that basically affords them the ability to have a big staff and a nice office, and hopefully that leaves enough room for the award work. The crazy spec projects. But that ‘bread and butter’ client is often the client that has dull, tedious tasks – lots of brochures, or banner ads, or predictable cycles of work that require more volume than quality.
My ‘bread and butter’ client is now playing with dogs. So when I’m approached about design, I can look at a project and decide whether or not I want to take it on.
A big part of my day now is picking up dog poo. For a lot of people, that’s the most horrible part of owning a dog – the idea of only having a thin piece of plastic between you, and hot, steaming feces. It’s not really that bad, so long as your poo-bag doesn’t split open. And even then, poo washes off. You can go home, shower, and it’s gone. I’m so used to it now, that I make an effort to pick up the cold, old poo that other, less considerate people have left behind in the parks. I call it ‘Karma poop’.
I prefer that to having to come in, day in and day out, and come up with another creative way to make a banner ad that no one is going to click on. That’s the kind of stuff that never goes away. Just when you think you’ve got it off your plate, another round of revisions come in on it. In all three sizes. Plus an expanding interactive one.
There’s a lot of other reasons I left the Ad world. There’s similar sentiments to Linds Redding and David de Haas. I wanted to stop being treated like a tool instead of resource. I wanted to believe in the work I was doing. I wanted to feel good about the work I did at the end of each day. I wanted to be happy and rediscover my love of design. I wanted to draw more. I wanted to stop making revisions to things that didn’t need to be revised. I wanted to stop being away from the ones I like and love more than I was with them. I wanted to stop trying to convince people to do things that they didn’t need to, let alone should.
I didn’t want to look back over my life and think: “WHY?”
Also, now I can fart in my ‘office.’
The analogy I like to use is: Creative Juice.
Creativity is like fuel. There are different types of creativity the same way there are different types of fuel. Some people can be any type of fuel, and their juice will drive almost any vehicle it needs to. They’re like unrefined gas, just ready to be put into a process and pumped into something to make it go. Others, like myself, are a more specific type of fuel. They might be suited to a particular type of vehicle, and though their gas might work in others, it’s not going to work like it should.
I’m not the high-octane, double filtered, high test petroleum that the fast-paced advertising world needs. And putting me into that engine was causing damage. I could make that car go, but it wasn’t going to go well for very long.
I still love design. I still love finding creative ways to communicate, to convince, to persuade.
But I don’t think I will ever sit down in an office again.