The end of 2002 felt diseased by uncertainty and exhaustion. In advertising, we all held our collective breath, waiting to see what would happen next. I was no exception. At work, I faced challenges I couldn't overcome no matter how hard I tried. At home, my husband and I were going through a hard time, hoping for another baby with no luck.
Eventually I did become pregnant, with twins. But after a few months, I lost one of the babies.
I can't put into words how hard that loss was. Exiled to months of bedrest in the hopes of saving the other baby, the whole experience changed my life in ways I could never have imagined. Brutal, important, magnificent ways. I finally learned what it's like to be at the bottom of a deep, dark hole of powerlessness.
I also learned the difference between "good" and "happy." Suddenly, good was no longer enough. I wanted something bigger, and, as it turns out, harder. I didn't want a successful career, I wanted a career worth loving.
During those months, I created two things.
A book, named Radical Careering. And more importantly, a baby girl, named Azalea.
I share this very personal story for a reason. Powerlessness comes in many forms, and our business has lots of deep, dark holes: toxic jobs, impossible clients, layoffs. There's rarely an easy way out of those holes. But once I'd experienced powerlessness for myself, I vowed I'd learn how to build ladders.
For me, climbing out meant starting a second career, learning about business outside of advertising. Writing the book was the first step. Throughout this process, I found myself becoming a crash test dummy, personally tested by everything I was writing. I managed to survive, and so did 100 Radical Truths. But first, I had to re-learn a few of them along the way.
RADICAL TRUTH 19: Being in a crap job isn't your fault. Staying in a crap job is.
Easier said than done, right? Most of us exactly aren't in a position to up and leave. As the sole wage earner of my family, I'm no exception. It took me over two years to start over.
In 2003, I took out a second mortgage, dropped off the advertising map, and studied the business of careers. I took the occasional freelance job, but mostly went to classes and flew to seminars, interviewed CEO leaders and entry-level employees, and consulted with corporations. I met with people like Andy Spade, who'd been a creative director before co-founding a little company named Kate Spade. What taught me the most, however, was going through the day-to-day work of reinventing my own career.
Ahh, yes, I've acquired quite a taste for humble pie.
radical truth 77: Expect people to say you can't make it.
Like my writing coach for instance, who said I was such a pathetic writer that I'd never sell a book. Umm ... ouch.
Be grateful for naysayers. They push you to decide your level of commitment.
radical truth 15: Aspire to be the dumbest person in the room.
Let me tell you, I've gotten really good at being dumb over these two years. But feeling dumb (any other butterfly-inducing emotion) doesn't necessarily mean what you're doing is wrong. It means you're expanding outside your comfort zone. And expanding your thinking is the only way to evolve.
Dumb is good whether you're a creative trying to move into a better shop, or a global agency network trying to move beyond traditional media.
radical truth 60: Remain an underdog.
Unpublished authors are subterranean on the publishing totem pole. I was one of hundreds of thousands of other wannabes with a manuscript in hand. But sometimes you have take a big step backwards before you can take that bigger step forwards.
(Sidenote: If you ever sent your portfolio to me and I didn't get back to you, I get down on my knees and apologize.)
radical truth 18: Invent Option C.
There's a weird disconnect between careers, and career books. While careers have changed dramatically over the past decades, career books are as straitlaced as ever. But why? Who says a career book can't feel as passionate, and provocative, and inventive, and (gasp!) fun as the career it's trying to help you create?
Over and over, I tried to explain to publishing gatekeepers what I was trying to do: A career book that's less Brooks Brothers, more Banana Republic. Less IBM, more iPod. But no one got it.
So I stopped trying to explain, and together with art director Bryan Chiao, spent months creating a prototype. Once the gatekeepers saw this, they got it. "Oh, a career book that's not for guys in red suspenders and tie clips!" Then a bidding war started.
It can be hard to stay true to your vision, especially when experts say otherwise. You might have to trust your gut and do it anyway. When you're right, everyone wins.
radical truth 57: You are not done paying your dues.
Someone told me the book made really excellent bathroom reading. I think that's a compliment?
radical truth 1: Welcome to the Age of Intensity.
Sure, some people love their job. But most don't. Most people fall somewhere on the spectrum from mild dislike to break-out-in-hives loathing.
There's very little research in this area beyond the obvious. To learn more, I enlisted Linda Jeo Zerba of Deputy Consulting to conduct a proprietary study, dubbed "The Radical 1000." Deputy examined 1,000 professionals age 25-45 in seven cities around the country. The results surprised us all.
A few examples:
Which is more important to get from your employer?
Fat paycheck: 11.2% Respect: 88.8%
Which is your idea of professional hell?
Long hours: 3.8% Low pay: 4.7%
Being micromanaged: 15.6%
Disrespectful boss/coworkers: 75.9%
Which would you choose?
A job I HATE but make three times the money I do now: 13%
A job I LOVE and make half the money I do now: 87%
The bottom line was this:
People want to love their careers. And they're willing to go to great lengths to attain that. However, they don't know exactly how.
(See? You're not the only one who complains over beers after work.)
To answer the "how," I consulted with HR managers, recruiters, and entrepreneurs, and created a careering "toolbox." Still, It all comes down to action. All the information in the world won't matter until you grab the reins of your career, flick your spurs, and holler giddyup.
radical truth 39: Write your mantra statement.
Originally my goal was to sell books, but that got old pretty fast. Hmmm... finding ways to help people love their careers? Yeah, that's worth getting out of bed in the morning. So instead of focusing on charging for content, I made it as accessible as possible. For instance I brought in the web development stars at Mindflood to turn radicalcareering.com into a free online playground with 20 microsites. That was so much more meaningful than hawking books for a royalty.
If you're feeling unfulfilled in your work, ask yourself: what can you, and your company stand for that's bigger than the next cash register transaction?
radical truth 25: Make bureaucrats nervous.
I'm rallying booksellers to get give away a free deck of Radical Truth cards with book purchase. They're concerned about people stealing the cards ... Stealing them? What could possibly be better than people wanting this so badly they'd risk prosecution to get it?!!
Really, what's the point of creating anything that isn't worth stealing?
radical truth 48: Opportunity is a more valuable currency than cash.
I chose my publisher, Penguin, not because they offered the most cash, but because they offered the best opportunity for me to create exactly the book I wanted.
That same principle applies to portfolios, agencies, clients, you name it. Any situation, whether grade-A prime or horsemeat, can offer valuable new skills, experiences, friendships, and knowledge.
radical truth 10: The traditional career path went out with gold retirement watches.
My book doesn't have page numbers, so that readers will identify the content by Radical Truth numbers instead. My editor came back to me and said, "We got permission to break the page number rule." I said, "Tell me all the other rules so I can break those too."
Rules are good. Otherwise we'd have no box to go outside of.
radical truth 85: Jump, and a net will appear.
As the book's "packager," I had creative and editorial control. On the downside, I was also contractually responsible for every single aspect of the final mechanical files. Just before the book went to press, the design was still almost right. Almost right, like an Ann Taylor suit is almost the same as an Armani suit. However, starting over on design would be extremely risky and expensive. (Imagine a creative director starting over on a TV spot right before the air date.) But how hypocritical would I be if I settled out of fear?
So I took a deep breath, and jumped.
The design masters at Number 17 went to work, and wove a net. An Armani net.
Sometimes almost is all the difference in the world. Booksellers apparently agree, because when they saw the new design, orders climbed.
radical truth 67: Mistakes are tuition.
I've made big, fat, hairy mistakes in my career. I don't forget them. To the contrary, I value them because they remind me what doesn't work. I wrote certain Radical Truths in the book not because I thought they sounded nice in theory, but because I've screwed them up royally firsthand and learned.
Rarely do you get to choose your mistakes. But sometimes, your mistakes choose you.
radical truth 92: A full life is impossible without joy at work.
Loving your career isn't a luxury. It's not an indulgence reserved for the elite few in hot companies or positions of power. No matter where you work, no matter how much you're paid, you have a right to love what you do for a living. It might not be easy, and it might not be fun. But it's worth it.
To kill time in an uninspiring job, then another, and another, and then one day look back at a lifetime of meaningless effort . . . ohh.
radical truth 100: Make your memoirs worth reading.
The point of careering isn't to work harder or climb higher.
The point is to fully embrace the profound, and glorious, and terrifying, and absurdly difficult but infinitely rewarding process of creating a life worth loving.
Along the way, you might lose something you thought you really wanted. An assignment. A job. A promotion. Or worse. But this I promise. You will get something in return. Something you never knew was missing.
I did. And I dedicated the book to the baby I lost. Because in so many ways, she gave me my life back.
What are you dedicating your life to? Whatever it is, make it yours. Make it worth loving.