Friday, February 28, 2020

A fish story.

Since I was fired six weeks ago, I've learned a lot.

Most of all, I've learned not to panic.

Sure, the rug was pulled out from under me. And I thought, given the near-sanctity of my relationships, work and reputation, I would be spared.

Fortunately, I wasn't. 

This might make no apparent sense to anyone but me, but somehow I'm reminded of David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.

"There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says 'Morning, boys. How’s the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes 'What the hell is water?'"

As someone who's spent nearly 40 years swimming in various agency ponds, I never really thought too hard about the water. Maybe I was too busy doing what I thought were the keys to survival: doing a good job, raising my hand, over-delivering, and yes, helping others build their careers and portfolios.

I'm not sure I took enough time thinking about how the water was.

About four years ago, my first boss in the business, back when ECD meant you were an Executive, a Creative and a Director wrote me a note. He left the business back in the late 80s to write movies, TV shows, plays and a series of successful novels, many of them New York Times best-sellers.

"George," he wrote, "are you chasing the same dream at 60 that the 25-year-old George was chasing." That's essentially, "how's the water," isn't it?

But I was too busy being a good corporate citizen to notice the water. I was skipping vacations so I could douse a brush fire. I was skipping other vacations so I could douse a wild fire. I was giving and giving and giving. Misguidedly thinking that even under today's prevailing winds, even the most avaricious of corporate entities would be guided by at least a scintilla of the Golden Rule. 

That is, they would be good to me in return.


I know we don't get wet when it rains and we don't end our careers with black lung or in a mine disaster. Nominally we're allowed to laugh at work, we can put our feet up on our desks and wear torn jeans if that's our thing.

I never had to lift anything heavy. It's hard to wrench your back when all you do is type for a living.

That's all good, I suppose.

But when you're old like I am, and when you've been working most every week of every year for 39 years, maybe you don't realize certain things.

Maybe there are better ponds than the ones I've been swimming in. Maybe with more temperate water, a little more room to stretch, and maybe a little bit more appreciation.


I'm just an old fish.

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