You’ve heard the cliche: No one ever says on their deathbed, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” For one advertising executive, that’s really, really true. Linds Redding died last month of cancer, and before he died he wrote a brutal blog post about how he realized his entire professional life was a pointless joke. “So was it worth it?” he wrote. “Well, of course not. It turns out it was just advertising. There was no higher calling.” Caution: Do not read if you’re sensitive, emotional, or prone to storming into your boss’s office and quitting your job to pursue your dreams.
As Business Insider sums it up, Redding’s manifesto primarily addresses the question of whether you can “marry art and commerce” — the essence of advertising — and feel fulfilled. But the question applies broadly to just about any career in which workers make compromises and occasionally work long hours — so, you know, just about all of them.
And here’s the thing.
It turns out I didn’t actually like my old life nearly as much as I thought I did. I know this now because I occasionally catch up with my old colleagues and work-mates. They fall over each other to enthusiastically show me the latest project they’re working on. Ask my opinion. Proudly show off their technical prowess (which is not inconsiderable.) I find myself glazing over but politely listen as they brag about who’s had the least sleep and the most takeaway food. “I haven’t seen my wife since January, I can’t feel my legs any more and I think I have scurvy but another three weeks and we’ll be done. It’s got to be done by then The client’s going on holiday. What do I think?”
What do I think?
I think you’re all fucking mad. Deranged. So disengaged from reality it’s not even funny. It’s a fucking TV commercial. Nobody gives a shit.
This has come as quite a shock I can tell you. I think, I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole thing was a bit of a con. A scam. An elaborate hoax.
Countless late nights and weekends, holidays, birthdays, school recitals and anniversary dinners were willingly sacrificed at the altar of some intangible but infinitely worthy higher cause. It would all be worth it in the long run…
This was the con. Convincing myself that there was nowhere I’d rather be was just a coping mechanism. I can see that now. It wasn’t really important. Or of any consequence at all really. How could it be. We were just shifting product. Our product, and the clients. Just meeting the quota. Feeding the beast as I called it on my more cynical days.
So was it worth it?
Well of course not. It turns out it was just advertising. There was no higher calling.
Devastating. Of course, all of us compromise our “souls” for our jobs sometimes, and even put work above loved ones. As a practical matter, most of us can’t work just 20 hours a week pursuing art and spend the rest of the time staring into our children’s eyes. But this is an important reminder that compromising too much for too long can lead to deep regrets.