A Message For The Next Generation:

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[Note to young, creative types, just leaving college: I wrote this post just for you.],

It’s a very sad and poignant story that’s already been all over the Internet

A British advertising veteran, Linds Redding, a guy not much older than me, gets terminally ill.

Shortly before the poor man dies, he writes a long, heartbreaking, brilliantly savage and honest rant about his thirty years in the advertising business:

So was it worth it?

Well of course not. It turns out it was just advertising. There was no higher calling. No ultimate prize. Just a lot of faded, yellowing newsprint, and old video cassettes in an obsolete format I can’t even play any more even if I was interested. Oh yes, and a lot of framed certificates and little gold statuettes. A shit-load of empty Prozac boxes, wine bottles, a lot of grey hair and a tumor of indeterminate dimensions.

Everything he railed against, I saw with my own eyes during my time in the business. Linds was right on the money. I was more fortunate than he, I managed to get out early; I managed to figure out a way to get paid to do my true calling i.e. cartooning.

But it was tough. I had some pretty bleak, penniless years there for a while. It was nasty. Most people would not have gone through it willingly, I sure as hell didn’t.

Luckily for me, the Internet came along eventually and changed everything yada, yada, yada. But I know a lot of people both inside and outside advertising, some I consider good friends, who weren’t so fortunate (Linds is an extreme example). The world changed, and ate them for breakfast. And now they’re old and frankly, it’s probably too late for them.

But it’s not the being old and being “eaten for breakfast” that’s really heartbreaking. Everybody gets “eaten” sooner or later. That’s just life, we all get old, we all get sick, we all die.

I can’t speak for Linds, I didn’t know the guy, I’m sure he was a lovely fellow who, like the rest of us, did the best he could. I’m so sorry for him and his family.

What is heartbreaking about his story is it reminds me of something that has always haunted and terrified me since I first entered the working world: the idea of getting to the inevitable end of your life, and in spite of all that talent, passion and energy spent working insane hours for decades, you don’t have a meaningful and lasting body of work to be proud of, money or no money.

And that can easily happen, when, early on in the game, you decide to take the easy money. When you let your path be defined by short cuts, short-term needs and the outward assurances of social status.

When you do things just because they look good on paper, just because they impress your peers…

This is not a rant against the advertising business; it’s a great choice for some folk, I personally got a TERRIFIC education out of it.

No, this is a rant against somethiong MUCH larger, i.e. a rant against not “following your bliss”, to quote Joseph Campbell.

Luckily, there’s no law saying that you have to make the aforementioned short-cut decision. There’s another decision you can make.

The question is, will you make that decision? Will you actually follow your bliss?

Only you can answer that.

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Comments

  1. Hugh, When we worked at the same agency, we didn’t get to know each other real well, but I think we liked and respected each other and I was appreciative that you chose to share your excellent cartoons on business cards with me before you became a celebrity. So when I voice some disagreement with this particular essay, I hope you’ll appreciate that, in most ways, I agree with you., certainly in terms of your echoing Campbell about following your bliss.

    I’m not sure about our comparable backgrounds, but I was a poor kid. Dad, a painter, died when I was two, leaving my Mom penniless with three boys to raise. I always knew I was an artist, but since college was not to be a part of my life and I certainly wasn’t sophisticated enough, nor educated enough, to be a “serious” artist, I began my career filling rubber cement pots, running errands and ganging up stats for freelance artists, eventually graduating to paste-up artist in a small fashion agency.

    This was my college education. The art director I worked for, tasked me to read all of Shaw’s plays and discuss them with him. Seeing that, the copywriter assigned Faulkner and Hemingway and our one account guy gave me Einstein philosophical essays to read. In later years, art directors I worked under sent me to museums to examine Sargeant and Picasso and Klee and the world of fine art that I hadn’t been exposed to before.

    In later years, when it was fashionable to laugh at the hucksterism of advertising,
    I recognized that the business gave me the opportunity to work with and learn from top photographers like Henry Sandbank, Irving Penn, Carl Fischer and Richard Avedon and a whole range of great film directors and actors and illustrators and writers, who helped me develop my talents. When you and I were at Jordan,
    I worked intimately with two of the biggest and most legendary creative people ever in the industry.

    And all this education helped me win a lot of awards and to write and illustrate four best selling children’s books published by a major house and to work on a few good products that have been beneficial to the world. Even to get some of my “serious” art into galleries.

    Hugh, I am very proud of you and what you’ve accomplished. I recommend your web site to my own kids and all young creative and insist that they have to read and live by your How to be Creative, but as you pointed out, we all get old and no one remembers or cares about our awards, or books, or the exhibits we’ve had.

    When I retired eleven years ago (very comfortably I should point out), I didn’t stop being an artist and writer. I built a web site, not so much for commerce, as a place to show what I’ve done and what I’m doing now. I make really wonderful art, that I’m very proud of, so much at this point, that there’s little room left on the site . But it isn’t a legacy. I doubt any of it will live on. My four best selling books are long out of print and circulation. I was pleased when a friend who’s son went to the University of Indiana, wrote to tell me one of my children’s books had attained “cult status” among the art majors at the school, but I know they’ll forget eventually.

    I guess my whole point is you don’t have to be successful or leave anything major behind. Just do what you love doing. I guess you’re right. Follow your bliss, but don’t knock being in advertising.

    • Hey Ivan, I don’t see any major disagreement here betwen you and I…

      And your reasons for being in advertising don’t sound that different from mine, nor the stuff you took out of it.

      Adverting appealed to me in the beginning, because I thought, after too mnay years being bored in school, that it would grant me speedy access to the adult/real world. And I was right.

      I’m not saying a life in advertising is a wasted life. I’m saying a wasted life is something worth being terrified of.

      Hope to see you in New York, the next time I’m there… :)

  2. Wow. That post by Linds is haunting. I have to agree with him.

    As I’m putting time and energy into more personal artistic pursuits(which is where I started) and less into my design career I end up being happier and more motivated to find outlets that reflect my real passions and not just manufacturing enthusiasm for business problem solving.

    Not saying I don’t get excited about good design. I do. But it’s diving in shallow water. It lacks lasting depth. It lacks meaningful connection to the people around me and to any inner truth(s) that I cling to (yeah, I know, sounds corny).

    I think Linds did what a lot of us do—got caught up in the race and got so busy that he only looked at what was right in front of him to the absence of everything else.

    • I’m don’t want to pass judgement on Linds- I’m assuming he was a good man. I’m guessing he just did what most of us do: needed a job, then got busy. But it’s an easy pool to drown in.

  3. The question I keep asking is:

    Is it still my passion or has it become my compulsion?

    - m

  4. Hugh. If what you say is indeed heartbreaking, then – believing that – millions of us will begin our eventual decay prematurely. And that, along with our failure to acknowledge that most of us carry out our great work in flashes and moments in our daily lives (artistically or otherwise) and that needs to be enough, is truly heartbreaking.

    Young. Creative. No matter.

  5. Someone sent me here after I went off on a similar tangent. I’m just glad to agree with something.

  6. The benefit of hindsight…if the pursuit leads to gold, it’s bliss. Otherwise, it’s a blunder. No idea what we are leaping into.

  7. Hugh;

    here’s the thing. It’s not too late for anyone to start. And woe to anyone that suggests that.

    I thought at 30 I was finished. That Id’ never do anything more than hustle mortgages or autos or term life or whatever. I thought that I was burried.

    And I wasn’t. And if it had taken me till I was 45 to change, so what. Or 55. It’s never to late to begin the work you’re meant to do.

  8. Funny, I thought I wanted to go into advertising when I finished college, but ended up becoming an engineer, then founding a company. I’ve written scientific articles, published a book, am now leading a team to making a computer game to revolutionize how math is taught. I started the latter venture at 53.

    1. It’s never too late
    2. I don’t know if my work will leave a legacy but I love my life and have raised four good kids. Enough bliss for me.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] in his blog he paraphrased Linds Redding, an Auckland creative who recently died of cancer. I followed [...]

  2. [...] underused word (like the word “grace”). Nice piece from Hugh McLeod at Gaping Void (hat tip to tweet from Dave Gurteen). Message to the next generation to notice the difference [...]

  3. [...] of your current mediocrity, reach a little higher and fall a little further so you can have a few dreams come true in conjunction with whatever waking nightmare you might currently exist in. Don’t tress about [...]

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Hugh MacLeod is a genius.  Genius.

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His work acknowledges the absurdity of workaday life, while also encouraging employees to respond with passion, creativity, and non-conformity...   MacLeod’s work is undeniably an improvement over the office schlock of yore. At its best, it’s more honest, and more cognizant of the entrepreneurial psyche, while still retaining some idealism.

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