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The Benefits of a Life Before Advertising


John Close, junior copywriter at Verve|Showrunner, on why all our experiences have value

The Benefits of a Life Before Advertising

I’m an older advertising newbie. I’m pushing thirty and I’ve only just managed to get my foot in the door. From what I hear, that's a lucky break. There’s not much appetite in giving a start to people past my age, so I’m very thankful for the chance I’ve been given.

Now as someone late to the party, working under a pair of talented veterans, I’m pretty eager to play catch up and prove myself with some brilliant ideas. To show them they were right to see something in me, despite my meandering twenties.

I don’t know when I’ll be giving myself kudos for a 'brilliant idea', but without expecting it I was recently given something much more valuable. I was made to feel proud as punch for what I thought was my biggest weakness.

I had been quietly chipping away for a few weeks in my new job; discussing new projects, researching ideas, pushing out content. Nothing to be snubbed at but I didn’t feel like I’d exactly bottled lightning. Then one morning my boss suddenly spun his chair towards me, a flash in his eyes.

“You know, I was thinking about your work history. You took such a non-traditional journey toward advertising. It’s really given you a unique value, with all these different skills and ideas from your experiences. You should write a piece on it.”

To give you the blurb, I took a few years during and after my undergrad to do some exploring. This turned me into a career nomad, so to speak: door-to-door for charities, cold caller, bookseller, tour guide, usher, bartender, special needs carer, marketer, props assistant, script supervisor. It’s an exhausting list. I had opted for the career tasting menu and overstayed my welcome. Luckily I had the opportunity to follow one of my passions with creative copywriting.

Now in asking me for this piece I don’t think my boss realised the gravity of what he was saying. Within a few short sentences he had validated what I’d always tried to brush past. The years I had spent wandering.

The more I thought about it, the more regrets shifted to pride. Now that I was finally in a job I loved, I could look back at all the alternative experiences in my Bat Belt more fondly. They taught me lessons that show their value day in and day out. With that in mind, I could show myself more compassion for having taken my time.

Life is messy and, for some of us, our journeys will take longer. We’re not all reared perfectly or exposed to all the right ideas. Some of us are influenced towards the wrong paths or make erroneous decisions. We’ll be thrown curveballs that are completely out of our control: lack of connections, problems with family, low finances, health issues, even the loss of loved ones.

It can take time to build up to what you want to be or to even learn what that is. Whichever messy obstacles you’ve had to face aren’t reasons to beat yourself up or look back in regret. We’re our own biggest puzzles, rushing to work ourselves out. I know it’s rich for me to say this, given I didn’t, but try to celebrate that time you’ve spent zigzagging. It has not been wasteful.

All our experiences have value. We’re always learning from them as they continue to make our lives more interesting. Whether you’re developing your work ethic, your understanding of the world, the value you bring to working relationships, your openness to different ideas and approaches. Even the negative experiences are teaching you about what you don’t want.

Had I found my way into advertising at a younger age, I would be deprived of the connections I’ve built across a gamut of industries. Relationships with like-minded colleagues and with sage-like bosses. People who have turned me into a passionate and determined worker.

Nor would I have absorbed the key lessons that came from working with them. The attention to detail and the disciplined routine I developed in film. The variety of skill sets I built in helping run a young start up. As a special-needs carer, I learned not to be squeamish or entitled, and how rewarding it is to do things for others.

The experience from those jobs has inadvertently boosted my value as an advertiser. I know what’s possible to film, from small sets to large ones. I’m able to cheat shots and visualise what will cut well together. From my work with charities, I’ve been able to pull insights about volunteer behaviours that have helped me with brainstorming and pitches. My years spent deep-diving into improv, sketch and scripted comedy have vastly improved the quality of my copy and my ideating.

All those lessons were given to me by people I’m genuinely honoured to have worked with. Sure, stages of the journey were disheartening and often tiresome, but we’re all bound to go through those times. And while it’s important to always acknowledge them, it’s important to draw from those moments that were exciting and illuminating.

When we’re in the thickets, trekking to our desired path, it can be a tough ask to look at our lives with an almost stoic gratitude. But know that you’re going through a tapestry of challenges and memories that you’ll look back on with the knowledge that they made you stronger. That someone might one day hear about them, pull you to the side and say “those make you unique and valuable.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta get back to work. I have to win at Young Cannes Lions before I hit 30!

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Verve Showrunner, Tue, 31 May 2022 07:15:06 GMT