Are You Striving to Be the Best in a Category? Or Simply the Best?

Be Careful How You Define Yourself

By Published on .

Derek Walker
Derek Walker
"Are you the very best at what you do, or are you the very best black at what you do?" my client asked, staring me in the face.

I didn't expect that. This client is sharp. Every time we meet or talk he has a new probing question. Not that I mind the questions; I enjoy the conversations they spawn. I told him I was going to write a blog about this one.

Oh yeah, my answer. Without blinking I replied: "I strive to be the best at what I do, period. Why do you ask?"

The client responded, "There's nothing wrong with being one or the other. Folks just need to understand the ramifications of whatever they decide, and be cool living with them. I ask because I don't want the best black guy or the best white guy working on my account -- I want the person who wants to be the best. Period."

We continued to talk but my mind was racing with thoughts about how I feel about this issue. What does my answer say about my agency and myself?

This is not about diversity. Please note this client is black/African American.

I have to admit that I've struggled with writing this post. I've gone back and forth about which direction I should take it. I wrestled with how deeply I wanted to delve into this subject. Then, I decided I'm just going to write this and let the chips fall where they may.

I love being black. I've been black my entire life. I think I'll remain black until the day I die. It's what I know. However, my skills, talents and experiences are more than black or white or brown or whatever other color you want to throw in there.

I'm a creative. And even that has become a bad thing to be. People in the industry say the word "creative" like it is a curse but it isn't. It is a blessing. There are no words to express the joy of creating something that speaks to people, something that makes folks smile or laugh or gasp or cry or simply causes them to think a little differently about something.

Which makes this even harder.

I've never witnessed a client ask an agency something so straightforward. It is refreshing. I do know of several agencies that have thought about this.

It is easy to say how you might answer this, but does your work and knowledge and passion reflect your answer?

Anyone can claim that they aspire to be the best, but are you really pushing for that?

That's what I struggled with -- making sure my actions match my words.

It's hard. And sometimes they don't, but everyday I wake up thinking, "Today is the day I realize my dream of complete and total world domination. Soon, so very soon."

This is not about diversity.

You can easily substitute any descriptor you want for the word "black." This question is for all of us. Are you striving to be the best period?

What say ye?

Derek Walker is the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising based in Columbia, S.C.
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