Before I decided to become a screenwriter, I had dabbed in and around advertising for some three and a half years.
You see, advertising was my passion until it was not. I used to dream of working in that building where the Big Leagues like Ogilvy and JWT lived. One day, a president from a major advertising firm approached me. It seemed like an exciting opportunity. And guess what, I got to work in that building with other creative people! Three years after I graduated from college, I finally got my foot into the party.
Then came the part where it was left out in the happily-ever-after fairy tale, the level of creativity in my job was minimal at best, even though I got to have my own team. Everything else – the title, the package, the location – were just not strong enough of reasons to keep me there. And what should be like the Broadway stage now felt like a prison to me… And the hardest pill to swallow was: I was the one who turned myself in. All I need to do now was to watch Prison Break again and learn to break out of the cell… The rest is history.
Today I met with the short film director. He once worked in that building too. And that was not the only thing we had in common. Unlike the most ECDs (Executive Creative Director) that I had the fortune and misfortune to meet in Shanghai, he is one of a kind! He won the best awards (from Cannes, One Show to Clio) in advertising and ten times over. If an idea belonged to his subordinates, he would never call it his own.
“You are a unicorn, man!” I exclaimed in the quiet restaurant.
“My work ethics is more important to me. I don’t want to cheat or brag about something that I didn’t earn. That’s all.”
He then showed me the spots he did for clients from Buick to Heineken, from Kiehl’s to Sprite. “What ad men here don’t lack is braggadocio. But most don’t have real work to support the statement, or their spines.”
“And yet, there are more than a few of those live rather comfortably here in the city. With your calibre, you can start your own shop between the blink of an eye.” I added.
“Yes. You’re right. I disassociate myself from the fakers, who are experts in hosting dinners and parties amongst one another so they can feed their bloated egos to keep feeling important and welcomed… in the cocoon.”
“I know exactly the kind of people that you’re talking about.” I beamed as memory flashing back, uninvited.
“I was one of the judges at an advertising festival. Then I stopped going. Because I saw the money exchanged behind the scene. I had better things to do.”
“You know, I once worked at this local advertising festival.”
“Oh, you did?”
I gave him the look.
“You know, we call it Cabbage Award because everyone’s a happy winner of something as long as you paid to enter. Quite a spectacle to see how BIG it grew over the years, isn’t it? I always gave away my tickets.”
I didn’t tell him that just a few days ago I tried to reconnect with the founder of this local festival only to get turned down that he didn’t have time to meet after all. [Here in China, if you don’t get a yes, it’s a no.] The founder is a busy guy, because his festival is so in demand right now that everyone uses it as a crucial networking opportunity given how fluid the advertising job market is. Because I had seen how the sausage was made, I was never really impressed except for the founder’s persistence.
So how do we measure our legacy?
- By how much money have we earned?
- Or, by how many books have we sold?
- Or, by how many people know our name?
- Or, by how many souls have we touched?
In the end, who are you fooling if you’ve never given your best shot, never gone through and under your fear, never removed the mask you’ve tattooed on your face, because you convince yourself that the stake is just too high, now is still too early, the truth is way too embarrassing, and the road not taken is too damn hard that it hurts like a motherfucker… Don’t wait until you’ve run out of time and run into your own deathbed. That is a tragedy without a hero.
Let them have the laugh, the stage, the floor, because if you pan up the camera, you see the puppeteer pulling the strings at them.
But you, you cut loose the strings so you can be the boss of your life.
And more thing, you don’t fake it till you make it. You make till you make it.