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Sometimes You’re Sh!t and That’s Okay

Posted on September 6, 2012 and read 2,729 times

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kamo Sometimes You’re Sh!t and That’s OkayKamogelo Sesing
Creative Group Head
TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris

I imagine everyone who gets into advertising has someone they look up to in the industry. Mine was a guy called Festus. As we were coming out of Apartheid, this guy wrote an ad that made South Africans really take a second look at each other and the country they were now living in. It was powerful, razor-sharp stuff and year after year he’d always be on stage receiving some or other accolade for his work. I knew from then on that I wanted to be like that, and I’d do anything to get there. So I set out on this endeavor, spending the next few years working my way towards that mountaintop. Eventually I reached the apex and it was nothing short of amazing.

Of course when the sun is shining, you never think about the possible rainy days that might lie ahead. By ‘rainy days’ I’m not referring to the usual problems that plague creatives, but rather to the biggest hurdle I think any creative person can find themselves facing – the day when they think they’re not ‘hot’ anymore.

Now let me explain what I mean by ‘not hot anymore.’ It’s not that you can’t make ads. It’s that you’ve just lost the will to make them. And I’ve found that this happens mostly as the result of an inability to deal with failure on the creative’s part because they weren’t prepared for it.

As an industry we’re always pushing people to win and sell but we never teach people how to fail. We continuously tell people to push boundaries, be innovative and do something new. Something different. Now the thing about achieving those kinds of goals is that more often than not, you’re going to fail a few times before you achieve them. Everyday when we walk into our offices around the world, we all potentially go to face failure, rejection or disappointment from some other person or body – a CD, a client, an award show, whatever. Failing is a big part of what we do, and I don’t think we equip our people with the adequate skills to handle that rejection and disappointment.

I’m speaking from personal experience because I used to take failure and disappointment really hard. That is until I realized and accepted something. And that’s the simple fact that sometimes you’ll be shit. But the real shift happened when I realized that it’s actually okay. Yeah I said it. You’ll be shit sometimes and that’s okay. I think the sooner creatives acknowledge and accept this, the better their lives will be, because fact is you’ll never crack everything. You won’t win everything and you won’t sell everything.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying one must accept that sometimes they’ll be crap and they should sit back, let it happen and wallow in it. I’m saying know that it happens so that when it does, you’re not caught off guard and more importantly, you know how to deal with it.

Here’s another thing about being cognizant that at times you’ll be crap; It actually frees you, because suddenly you’re not creating work from a fear-based point of view, because you’ve accepted that you can and will make mistakes. You’re suddenly not scared to mess up. Now I’m no expert on this, but I’m willing to bet that that’s when a creative is probably more likely to create the kind of work they would like to be creating.

Creative people by nature are insecure, so anything that makes us look weak, unworthy or just generally crap, we naturally want to avoid or ignore. So I realize what I’m saying is a hard and bitter pill to swallow, but consider the advantages.

The difference between someone who’s cognizant of the fact that they will sometimes be shit and the person who hasn’t even entertained it, is that the person who has embraced the possibility of failure will bounce back faster than one who hasn’t, should they ever hit a wobbly. Fact is you can never be put down by failure when you’ve accepted it as part of what you do.

A rut is the perfect example. If you have ever been in a rut you’ll know that you don’t just come out of it. You work yourself out of it. As in you literally have to keep doing work to get out of it, simply because creative people’s moods generally lift and dip based on work. One day you hate the world because you lost a pitch and the very next day you’re bouncing off the walls because you bagged a Lion. If you don’t have a ‘sometimes you’re shit and that’s okay’ or what is essentially a ‘you win some, you lose some’ outlook, then you’re probably going to stay in that rut for a lot longer than you should because you wouldn’t have the will to do the work that would probably get you out of that rut.

I actually experienced this recently where I had…um…let’s call it ‘bad luck.’ Yeah, I had a run of bad luck at award shows and I started to doubt my talent. I nosedived simply because I never accommodated the possibility of failure. It took a lot for me to realize that I was making the same mistake a lot of creatives make; I was confusing a ‘creative cycle’ with creative talent. Cycles can come and go. Sometimes you’re hot and sometimes you’re not. Talent however, remains. If you know this, you will also know that just because you’re not making the right ads at that moment in time, it doesn’t mean you don’t know how to make the right ones anymore, or that even worse, that you’ll never make them again, which is another great fear all creatives have.

This was proven to me recently when I watched a TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert who is the author of Eat, Pray, Love and she said something that resonated with me. Firstly because I thought to myself, “Well if a successful novelist like her can have creative insecurities then I guess it’s okay. We’re all human. Maybe it’s even part of the process.” But what really caught me was when she suggested that every creative person’s greatest fear is that their best work is behind them. That we’re all scared that we’ll never replicate our past successes, and even if we do it will never be to the scale of the work that originally got us to the top.

This made me realize something else. That some of us have become so scared of failing that it’s even affected why we create work in the first place. I can honestly sit here and say that over the years my ‘advertising joy-source’ has changed. A long time ago I stopped living by the creative mantra of ‘do the work that makes you happy and everything else will follow.’ For me personally, the problem arose when I replaced the joy that I got from making cool work with the joy that I got from walking up on a stage to collect an award. So over the years, creating work became this one big agonizing ball of ‘but will the judges love it?’ because we’re scared of failing, especially if you’ve won before. But unfortunately like I said earlier, you won’t always win. So when the work doesn’t, you crash, simply because you considered everything about the work except one important thing – The possibility of failure.

JK Rowling said “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” So don’t be scared. Pursue those new and different and exciting and big things that make this industry everything it is and if you fail, make sure you fail in spectacular fashion.

If you’ve ever done anything good before, know that you can do it again and if you haven’t, know that it’s coming if you keep at it. But also know that on your way there, sometimes you’re going to be shit… and that’s A-okay.





  • http://www.facebook.com/super.puper Evgeniy Danilov

    great !)

  • Shawn Lein

    The first step to solving a problem is admitting that there is one, right? In this case, I think the first step might be convincing the creative that they were crap in the first place. I believe that in many cases, the creative’s natural insecurity has forced some of them to build up a wall of protection so thick that it was never their fault the job failed. In effect, they never failed, they never were crap in the first place. It’s always that “the CD is an egomaniac”, “the client has no vision”, “or the awards are all about cronyism.” Rarely, if ever, is the first reaction “damn, I messed up this time.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/nic.venter1 Nic Venter

    They say a ship is very safe in a harbour, but that is not what it was designed for and it doesn’t get you anywhere.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=549656385 Graham Painter

    Love this article. Thank you Kamogelo. As a CD, I don’t want “Fine” art hanging in the office. People immediately compare themselves to the masters and get blocked. Hanging up self-made art or shite art seems to free everyone up.

    Might take one point to task, though: “…fact is you’ll never crack everything.” I know it’s not meant to, but I find this thinking can be limiting. I remember one of my greatest creative directors pulled me into his office and asked me, “When are you gonna realize your ideas are just as good as mine?!” Truth is, there’s no good or bad idea. Every idea is brilliant (when ushered into an unexpectedly interesting category).  

    I think we can crack every brief. Every time. The award jury might not agree. The client might not agree. But, you know when it clicks. Doesn’t mean to be precious and cling on to it. Just means all the answers are already there in our heads. We just need to dig em out. 

    Going into a concepting session with the intent of regurgitating out your bad ideas is extremely liberating. Besides, anyone can be a genius. It takes a master to be truly, truly shit.

  • http://www.microsourcing.com/ MicroSourcing

    The industry-wide preoccupation with success shows how highly competitive it is. That kind of environment can give impressionable ad creators the idea that failure can be the end of any career. This post could be one of the first steps toward showing how people can cope with failure, or how they can change their attitude towards it.

  • http://twitter.com/NevaldoShepherd Nevaldo Shepherd

    Well said

  • http://twitter.com/NevaldoShepherd Nevaldo Shepherd

    Well said


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