Let’s be honest: in the advertising industry, there are some who proudly wear the number of hours they’ve worked on their sleeves. I have friends and colleagues in agencies around the world who all seem to be having the same conversations:
Ugh, I’m so tired. I was here until 9:30 last night.
Oh, that’s nothing. I was here until 10pm, then I went home and worked some more.
These conversations happen every single day by the coffee machines, via Gchat, in Snapchat selfies that says “Still at work… lolz.” And though the reasons are different from person to person, from agency to agency, and from culture to culture, there’s still a conscious, continuous effort to rationalize why we’re killing ourselves – sometimes literally – to get the work done.
For some, it’s a staffing issue. If you don’t have the proper distribution of manpower to achieve your clients’ goals, it’s all too easy to find yourself at work long after the sun has gone down. For others, it’s a byproduct of being part of a culture of busy-ness. It can easily transform from “Look at how effectively I can do my job” to “Look at how busy I am.” Apparently, somewhere along the way, “busy” became synonymous with “important.” In the New York Times’ Opinionator, Tim Kreider calls this “The Busy Trap.” And in agencies, it’s all too common. In his commentary, Kreider writes that:
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. …[And yet,] if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary.
I’m pretty sure there wouldn’t be any Social Media Manager cats even in the most modern Busy World of Richard Scarry, but the fact is that we’re all part of this larger, flawed (but well-meaning) culture that considers overtime hours some kind of badge of honor. The advertising industry’s heart beats for brilliant relevancy and meaningful creativity and added-value, but its heartbeat is too often timed to the frantic tapping of keyboards and touchscreens.
The way to change this, however, is not through establishing clearer business hours. In the social media world, I can assure you that no one who wants to interact with your brand cares about your business hours. It’s one of many contributing factors to our “always-on” mentalities. The path forward is actually a shift from work-life balance to work-life integration. In her Huffington Post piece on her integrated life, Susan Sobbott explains that “Rather than a work life and a personal life, two separate entities, the goal should be to have one very full life and work consciously to integrate all of the things that make it meaningful.”
At first glance, this looks a lot like working at the dinner table. But the reality is that technology frees us from the confines of our offices, cubicles, tubicles, and workstations. And that freedom means doing meaningful work when and where we’re most prepared, contributing more value when we’re in the office, and still making time for our friends, families, significant others, and ourselves. That means that part of the transformation – the cultural part – has already begun.
Still, another part of this shift is on us, as individuals. Our responsibility is to choose a career that we love. Before we get too far, though, a disclaimer is absolutely essential: loving what you do does not and never will mean that you will never need to perform the most tedious of tasks, work with demanding clients, or fail in ways big or small. However, passion makes the mindless tasks, overbearing clients, slip-ups, and gargantuan errors a little more bearable. The tedious work can offer a time-out, a reset period to prepare your brain for the more mentally-stimulating tasks ahead. The tough clients can challenge you to conceptualize and create work that thrills them and you. The failures can be learning opportunities to make your future projects that much better.
Choosing a career that you love, of course, is easier said than done. After all, many of us are still just getting started in our careers, struggling to get our feet in the door, trying to find the right fit. But choosing a career for which you have a passion means a lot of things. It’s not only about having teammates that you lovingly high-five in the hallways or working with cool clients; it’s about doing work that inspires us and working with people who make us feel empowered, even (or especially) when it bleeds into our personal lives. This kind of active engagement means that when the line between our work and our personal lives blurs, we accept it because it’s meaningful to us.
Still, the most important element of this happy medium is forgetting about your “work self” and your “home self,” and forging ahead with one integrated self. This self combines the complexity of your character, variety of your professional and personal experience, and depth of your dynamic viewpoints to curate and create more meaning. Challenge yourself to be a unique, continuously evolving, personal-professional hybrid, whose adding true value in all elements of life.
Originally posted on the Advertising Week Social Club here