Sometimes, most times, we don't see what's right in front of us.
It's easy to miss the things that bring you joy and make you happy. I'm not talking about big things, like a big promotion, buying a new car, winning an award. Though there's elation that can come from those moments, happiness even, most people would be better-served finding different ways and different reasons to smile.
About two decades ago, I read a book, "The Nature of Happiness," by Desmond Morris. He's a biologist who specializes in mammalian behavior. Please forget how Hallmark the cover of the book looks. There's nothing bourgeoise or prosaic about Morris' thinking.
Morris tells how our ancestors, hundreds of thousands of years ago, hunted. Though it's not how we moderns today find food or sustenance, the evolutionary underpinnings of mammalian behavior haven't changed that much since we came down from our homes in trees, became bipedal and started hunting rather than scavenging.
We formed a group. We assumed roles. We chased and had our ups and downs. And we either completed or abandoned the hunt.
Morris' contention was simple.
The act of the hunt gave us more meaning and happiness than the accomplishment of the hunt. In fact, after we killed the mammoth, the gazelle or the warthog, there was usually a bit of a let-down.
Think about yourself. Sometimes the hunt for a rare book, movie, record album or interesting bottle of wine is more fortifying than actually finding it.
That's why today's current agency mania for awards--with more awards given out than there is good work produced and with the trumpeting of awards won supreme over the actual helping of clients--is so damaging. The happiness that comes from winning is the surge of the drug addict scoring a fix. You might feel good, but your body and soul are imbibing in ruination. You are filling an emptiness rather than accomplishing anything real.
My life as a solopreneur--that was a joke--is very different. First of all, I'm not really solo. I have an account person I work with, and very often an art partner. I also have relationships with clients like I've never had before.
My Manichean dialectic essentially divides the world into two. 1) YOYO. You're on your own. And 2) WITT. We're in this together. My clients and associates WITT our ways through our days and nights. Or at least we half-WITT. But you get the point.
Currently, in one of my 64 side-projects I am working with some partners spread out over 7,000 miles or so, to create an advertising program.
We're planning a school. Not one that teaches how we do our work. But something more important: why we do our work. It's a class about the importance of advertising, what advertising can do, and the need to do it with vigor and creativity.
None of us are educators.
We don't really know what we're doing.
But we have our El Dorado. And we know what we're aiming to do.
Along the way, we're writing things down, figuring our roles, and moving ahead.
We're not much different from the aforementioned ancestors of ours chasing dangerous game. We get together about once a week. We talk, we think, we share, we bicker. We laugh.
Along the way, we notice things about ourselves. Little quirks. Little barbs. Little flashes of unexpected brilliance. All these things are not like winning the Titanium Pupik at Cannes. They are not brief and ephemeral. They go back to our evolutionary fiber--the code in our DNA that leads to meaning and fulfillment.
When I was at Ogilvy on IBM I had grown very close--as you'd expect I would--to three or four clients. They were demanding. At times we got frustrating and conflicting direction. At times we got too much direction.
But each of these clients hung in there. Explained the whys. And often, if you had to stay late to do something onerous and teetering on the capricious, they were there with you.
Every so often I would run into one of these clients in a non-work situation. In the Ogilvy cafeteria, poetically called, "Mouse Droppings." We would usually hug and smile. Many times they'd say to me, "We're sorry, George. You must hate us."
I always responded the same way because I value honesty. "I love you. You do what matters. You say please and thank you. And you're always appreciative."
It never ceases to amaze me seeing all the things companies do to allegedly make people feel good about being treated badly. Today, we have entire departments dedicated to the amelioration of misery. And none of that works.
If we're smart, however, we can be happy. We can find meaning. We can discover it's the little things that make us smile. It's feeling valued. It's feeling heard. It's getting support. It's being allowed to express anger.
It's that WITT feeling.
That's what you get when you have some control over your own destiny and your own career. When the agency-broken relationship between hard-work and pay is restored. When people say please and thank you. When you can push back from your Mac and say, I did a good job on that.
That's what work is about.