It's been almost three years since the head of HR at Ogilvy called me on my cellphone at 4:30 on a Tuesday afternoon and asked me to come down to his office.
The other major firings that day had been completed by 10AM--including two ECDs who ran IBM before my arrival and my ex-partner who had been at the agency for parts of four decades. I had already attended their beery farewells before I got the call.
"You're firing me, aren't you?" I asked. (As a true New Yorker, I ask questions in the form of an answer.)
So, I caught my breath and walked down a few flights to the domain of the un-fired. You know, the floor filled with people who were essentially over-head, not income producers. I entered that domain angry and three years on the anger still burns.
My visceral-ness is a weakness, I know.
But it's also a strength. I feel things. Those things make me a better writer, a better worker, a better thinker and more. Also, I hate bullshit. So how could I not be pissed at the lies the firers told, and the lies they continue to press-release about the agency the holding company milked to near-death.
But none of that is my topic today (not that I ever really need a topic.)
Since I've been a free-agent, I've never in my life been more challenged. I've never felt a greater sense of my own talent and capacity. I've never made more money. I've never felt more needed by clients. And I've never felt more optimistic about my own career longevity.
I've also never felt more alone.
I decided when I went out on my own, that it was going to be me. I didn't want to build an infrastructure. I didn't want to hire staff. I wanted--for once in my life the largest aspect of my life, my career--to be all about me. My success or failure would depend on me and me alone.
Of course, I have hired people. And I work with great art directors, designers, account directors, planners, producers and even financial people. But I do that in an ad hoc manner. GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company is about me.
I had a long talk with my older brother late last week. He's just-less than two years senior to me and has been at the same law-firm in Chicago for almost the entirety of his career. I thought, being kin and all, he might understand my triumphs and travails of being on my own.
"Fred," I said to him, "when you get down to it, what's hard about this is I have nothing to sell but my brain. Clients come to me to get a portion of my brain--the way my brain sees the world, makes sense of things and the way my brain helps me express a company's role in making the world a little better.
"If I were working for an agency, I'd have people around me. If I were a bullfighter, I'd have a rapier and a cape. Picadors would be on-hand if I found myself in trouble. But, I am on my own, I suppose for better or worse, or more accurately for better and worse."
Of course, that could all be a very ego-centric way of looking at this final act in my life story. And if you've just said to yourself, "George, lighten up a bit," you wouldn't be the first to tell me to do so.
And that's fine.
My tendencies run toward the solipsistic.
However, there's a point here.
The goal of learning who you are, of relying on yourself, of marketing yourself, of zeroing in on your strengths and underscoring them while trying to lessen your weaknesses is powerfully important.
It's something--when you're working inside a larger system or organization that you can get away with not thinking about. But I think it's good to think about.
Whenever someone calls me--regardless of their age or occupation and tells me they've been fired, I usually tell them the same thing. Think about what you do, uniquely, better than anyone else in the world.
You might not be able to throw a shot put further but maybe you're the world's best ambidextrous shotputter. Find that thing: for me, it was a combination of being able to simplify complexity and do it very quickly and express it with a bit of empathy or humor. Of course, there are people who are better than I. There always will be.
But I tell clients I specialize in the dump-truck assignments. When they back an 18-wheeler up to my brain and unload 32-tons of decks--you know most briefings, that I can handle better than anyone.
You have good days and bad days. Work through them all.
That's what I've learned so far.