Dear 25-year-old me,
On this Valentine’s Day, there are so many things I want to tell you. Right now, you think you know where your career is heading but trust me, there are opportunities coming you never, ever dreamed about. Twenty years from now, you will look back at what seems like a bunch of random occurrences and see them for the perfectly crafted story they are, but before that happens there are some things you need to know.
Have at least 2-3 internships
For your first agency job, it’s important to find a great company where you can learn and grow. But before you jump into an agency that’s a terrible fit, find a few internships to help you learn how the real world works. Try different sizes of agencies and different styles of management. Size matters when it comes to how you’ll get the work done, so pay attention. If you can help it, you don’t want to make the wrong decision and have to job hop right out of the gate.
Find at least 2 mentors
EARLY in your career, find a mentor on your agency’s executive team and work with them to learn every angle of business, advertising, and marketing you can. Then, find a mentor who’s not at your agency—someone willing to offer you a different perspective and a relationship you can carry as you shift jobs throughout your career. When you start a new job, find a new mentor there.
Be prepared for brainstorm meetings
Here’s a creative secret it will take you 15 years to figure out. Creative magic rarely happens in a room full of people brainstorming. It happens in the quiet before the storm. Before you go to any brainstorming meeting, spend at least an hour prepping for the meeting. Read the brief multiple times. Think on your own. Write down fragments. Good lines. Interesting visuals. Before you can connect the dots, you have to uncover those dots. It’s a good practice, and being good in a brainstorm will position you as a thought leader early on.
Say yes when others are too busy
One of the great unlocking moves for your career will be saying yes when others say they’re too busy. One afternoon at 4pm, creative directors from a whole other group are going to ask if you can help concept a full campaign for a client meeting the following morning. Everyone else says they’re too busy. Even the ones you know are really just heading to happy hour. You’ll say yes, stay up most of the night, and knock out really great work. You won’t see a lot of those creative directors after that. But years later, they will recommend you for jobs at two other agencies. Jobs you will get that will change the trajectory of your career and your life. Say yes, when others are too busy.
Know your creative worth isn’t defined by the awards you win
This is a hard lesson to learn, but an important one. Twenty years from now, you will have won gold, silver, and bronze awards at every level. You will have won Best In Show at a national show, had your commercial spoofed on SNL and launched a video that gets a million hits on YouTube. As wonderful as those moments are, in the end they’re not how you will define your career, your success, or your creative self-worth. Awards are fun, but there are far greater harbingers of your success. Trust me on this one.
Dear 35-year-old me,
First of all, congratulations. Ten years into this and you’re ahead of schedule. You’ve settled into an agency you like, with people you love, and you’re starting to do the kind of work you’ve always wanted. TV. Big campaigns. It’s good. But there’s still some more you need to know.
Choose an agency with great culture and lean in
I’m proud of you. You got this one right already, but you need to understand culture is a tricky thing. It’s organic. It evolves. And now that you are part of the agency, you are one of the architects of that culture. Realize you’re not on this journey alone. You will end up working with some of your best friends and they are who will keep you bouncing into work every morning. Clients come and go but the people at your agency are the ones in the trenches with you, fighting the good fight side by side, year after year. Those people, and the culture you collectively cultivate, will be nothing short of a lifeline.
Don’t take things personally
Yes, you’re a creative and you put your heart and soul into everything you do, but there will always be people with opinions. That’s okay. Realize that everyone is just trying to make the work better. As you get older, you’ll thrive on the teamwork that it takes to make really great work and you’ll appreciate the banter that makes the work the best it can be. It’s not personal. It’s the process.
Never stop learning
When you started this crazy ride, people carried beepers. iPhones and iPads were still figments in Steve Jobs’ head and digital had a whole different meaning than it does now. Push yourself to keep learning. Take classes. Go to seminars. Read. Read. Read. And then read some more. There is an endless capacity for what you can learn and apply to the work you’ll do for your clients and yourself. Being the person at the agency who knows things and is constantly on the edge of what’s next is a powerful position to hold.
It’s okay to have a life outside of advertising
In fact, it’s imperative. If you sit at your desk all day and never go out and experience the world, you’ll have no inspiration from which to create. If you have to work late, force yourself to take a break, have dinner with a friend, then get back to work. That one hour won’t set you back and you’ll be refreshed from having a meaningful conversation with someone you care about. On the weekends, get out and experience life. Travel. Go to concerts. Try new food. Talk to different kinds of people and ask them about their lives and experiences. You never know when you’re going to need instant inspiration and without your own catalog of experiences, that lightbulb may never go on.
Dear 45-year-old me,
Two decades sure went fast. But what an interesting ride it’s been. Twenty years ago, you had no idea you’d spend 17 years at one agency. No idea you’d be where you are now, doing the things you’re doing, building the company you’ve helped build. You have an amazing group of people around you, great mentors and friends, awesome clients you’re proud to work for. Life is good. But as you may have guessed by now, there’s still more you need to know.
Use your gifts to make a difference
After all this time, you know where your talents lie. You know what you’re capable of. And you know that recurrent feeling that you could be using your talents for good isn’t going away. I’m not telling you to run off and join the Peace Corps. What I am saying is you have the ability and the platform to create communication that makes a difference in the world. That eases the suffering of those less fortunate. That helps solve problems that have nothing to do with sales, or profits. It’s part of the culture you’ve helped build. Now lean into it.
Never stop learning—about yourself
Don’t forget that learning about yourself is just as important as learning about the business. Maybe even more so. Invest the time to explore the inner workings of who you are and what makes you tick. Understand what drives you, what your expectations and hopes are, what your limitations are, and how many of them are barriers you’ve put there yourself. Learn everything you need to learn to be the best you, you can be. You’ll be happier and better for it, as will all the people who work with and around you.
Now is the time for balance
It’s easy to let this business consume you. But by now you should have everything you need to not let that happen. Work/life balance is something you’ve worked on for 20 years alongside everyone else who’s struggled to figure it out. But now, you know how to schedule non-negotiable time in your calendar. How to keep appointments with yourself. Hopefully, how to say no when you need to. If you haven’t found your balance already, it’s important that you find it now. Not just for you. But for others at the agency who need help finding it too.
Remember, your career is only half over
Twenty years is a long time. When you started this journey, Bill Clinton was still the President. ER, Friends, and Frasier were the top three TV shows and Titanic sailed off with the Oscar for Best Picture. 9/11 was still three years away. A lot has changed since you were a Junior designer, wannabe art director. You’ve changed a lot since then. But with all that’s happened, remember you’re still only halfway home. That can be an exhausting thought, or an energizing one. Something scary, or something empowering. How things go from here depends entirely on which side of that you choose. What would you say to the 25-year-old you? Work hard. Find your purpose. Fight for what matters. And know that tomorrow will be better than today.
You got this girl! Believe in yourself and watch what happens.
TINA TACKETT is the Executive Creative Director at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency. For more about challenger branding, subscribe to our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog