Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Rejection. And how to receive it.

This post will be about six times as sappy as usual.

A long-time friend from the industry wrote to me not long ago. Like me, he is in advertising parlance as old as dirt. And though he's had a long and storied career, winning a veritable truckload of awards--and new business, when he reached 58, he was dismissed, regarded as "too old."

Mind you, Picasso painted "Guernica" at around the same age. So you can create one of the great paintings of all time, but you're considered too long in the tooth to write a banner ad.
Picasso was 55 when he painted Guernica. Most agencies would have considered him too old to re-size a banner ad.
In any event, it's been three years now since, let's call him Paul, was let go. Since then Paul's been freelancing 
steadily--he's barely had an off-week. Paul's also in that time probably interviewed for senior creative positions at twenty or two-dozen agencies.

At some, he's been too senior. At others, they'll tell him he's not digital enough. Most just say they decided to move in another direction.

Paul wrote me not long ago in response to my post yesterday on rejection. 

"I have learned so much over the years," he wrote. "When I was in my 20s and 30s, I was at [the best agency in NY] for 17 years. Then, I was never rejected. 

"Now that I'm so much better than I was, now that I've freelanced at so many places and have so much to offer, I am rejected all the time.

"Naturally, I've learned from these rejections. You learn not to take them personally. You learn to network from them. You learn to keep going. And you never know who's going to pass your name on. Still, it sucks."

"Look, Paul," I wrote (here comes the sappy part.) "There are certain things rejection cannot take from you. 1) A 30+ year history of doing good work. 2) A reputation based on 30 years of honesty and decency. 3) Your integrity.

"Steve Hayden used to tell me, 'The best revenge is a better ad' Maybe in your case, the best revenge is a better job. 

"You will get a job. You will find a place to hang your hat. Or you'll find a way to continue freelancing and returning home at night with a paycheck and your self-respect. 

"No one person can forestall or overcome the ageism of our world, and the general disregard for experience and knowing how work works. Not to mention inspiring people, gaining the confidence of clients and exhibiting taste and intelligence. None of those foundational things seem to matter anymore. 

"We're living in Macbethian times....fair is foul and foul is fair. Truth is a lie. War is peace. Poverty is wealth. Inequality is justice. We're being struck by it too, knowledge is bad, like a cosmic bolt from Tartarus.

"But as Edison said--and here's the sappy part, 'You have not failed. You've just found a thousand places that aren't right for you.' Failure only comes when you give up. And I know you won't. At least you never have."

I know Paul will go home tonight, as he goes home many nights sad and disconsolate. Everyone wants to be at a place where they feel they can have an impact. Everyone wants acceptance. Sometimes, I suppose, you can't get anything more than a paycheck.

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