A (Confidence) Shot in the Arm

It’s amazing how little it takes to make me feel like I’m not totally destroying everything I touch. It’s even more amazing how much I can handle while I wait for the uptick that is inevitably, hopefully, coming.

For the past 3 quarters, that’s about 9 months in people terms, I have been treading water. It’s like I somehow found myself in the middle of a water polo game with the Monstars from Space Jam. Partly because I kept aging myself with references like that. I wasn’t sinking, necessarily, but I wasn’t really getting anywhere either. After 4 quarters of exponential growth, I felt I had plateaued. I had honed my skill to the point where they just couldn’t get any sharper and I was just going through the motions, trying not to drown.

At the Circus, the first year is a whirlwind of new experiences. You learn so much so quickly: how to write a headline that doesn’t suck, how to research a product you know nothing about, how to discover interesting insights, how to write body copy that doesn’t suck, how to write tag lines that don’t suck, okay so it’s a lot of learning to write things that don’t suck. And working in teams, learning how to listen and build and create something out of nothing, together. It’s exhilarating to look back at your work from first quarter and really truly believe that you are a different kind of writer. A better writer. A copywriter. 

And then the dark cloud of 5th quarter closes in on you. It wraps you up in what feels like a warm blanket of familiar activity until you realize it’s a straight jacket and now you’re trapped in sameness. It’s like you learned how to ride a bike around the block without training wheels and were then told that’s the only route you can ride on your bike. Ever. Of course there are little glimmers of newness, of hope. Maybe someone moves in across the street and they have an adorable dog so that brightens your day, but left turn after left turn wears you down to the point that you’re not even sure if you ever learned to ride a bike at all.

If you didn’t come with me on that metaphoric simile mess, 5-7th quarter at the Creative Circus is a lot of the same. It’s teams class after teams class, it’s branding and then more branding, it’s another strategy class, another copy class, and it felt to me like I was making zero progress.

My feelings were wrong.

Not to toot my own horn or anything, it’s not like Jeff Goodby called to personally congratulate me for singlehandedly changing the ad industry forever or anything, but I did present a few campaigns to a few choice teachers and students. And I didn’t cry. Not even once. It helped that 80% of my stuff was very well received, but it was more than that.

It was the weight of it all, the weight of pushing and pushing and getting seemingly nowhere, being lifted. It was the sense of accomplishment I felt reading my work to a captive audience with an understanding that this wasn’t the start of something, this was the end (almost). In that moment I saw how far I had come. From single print campaigns that were hardly more than a strategy statement to a fully-integrated campaign for a brand new cologne to benefit the National Parks. Turns out I wasn’t treading water, I was swimming. Just slowly, through a giant lake of molasses.

I guess what I’m really saying, what everyone says, what I’ve said before but never really meant or understood until this moment is: trust the process. Apparently you’re getting better even if you don’t think you are. And if you’re ever feeling like you’re going nowhere and learning nothing, pull out your favorite campaign from the beginning of your career, or your 1st quarter at the Creative Circus, and have a good laugh at that naive little owlet that has since grown into a wise and resilient owl. Or at least some kind of teenage owl, whatever the term for that is. Owldolescent? Forget it.

Peace, Love & Self-Administered Confidence Shots.