Maybe you suck

Dear New Students,

You’ve heard by now that the secret to being great in advertising is to take risks.
You’ll hear it again.
Everybody says it.
What does it mean to you?

Many students feel that taking risks means to do work that’s bizarre, profane, sexual. That by doing work like this they risk criticism and lack of acceptance.

But how much risk is that?
First, what kind of work is likely to get you more acceptance among your peers than weird kinky stuff? Work pointedly aimed at tickling the fuzzy little antennae of your fellow students is not risky.

Second, and most to the point here is:
To take a risk with your work you’ve got to put something you have at risk.

You don’t have anything.
You got no reputation to ruin.
You got no job to lose.
There’s only one possession you have that you could put at risk as a student interested in advertising:

The dream that you’re good at it.

That’s your sole possession.
You want to be great at making advertising?
Put the dream at risk.

If you do anything in this new school year, I urge you to do this:
Do your work.

Find out if you’re good at what you’re trying to do.
Find out what happens when you do the work you believe is right instead of putting effort into making your work look like what you think everyone else is doing.

There is pressure to do ads that look like what other peoples’ ads look like.
I understand that pressure.
It doesn’t stop at graduation, it increases.
But let’s talk about now.

You’re trying to practice an art form you have little background in.
You’re attempting to conquer a form that has few masters and perhaps even fewer rules that are useful as guides.
So in that void, your brain, in fear, looks about for something to hold on to.
That’s where the devil steps in.
“Here”, he says, “why don’t you relax, and do what everyone else does. Why fight for what you want? Are you the smart one?”

When you give in to that pressure, you stunt your growth.
When you do work that grows out of a desire to do what has been done you are not aiming at doing work that comes out of you.
You are the only person who can do your work.
“Yes”, you must tell the devil, “I am the one doing this. No one else can.”

This is so simply true it’s easy to dismiss.
All it requires is the smallest kernel of courage and, perhaps, a tiny understanding of how life works.

Here’s a way to start:
Read Self Reliance, an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
I know, you read it in high school.
Doesn’t count.
Read it now, when you know enough for your life to be at stake.
Listen to this tiny excerpt in which Emerson says simply & with style what I am only able to point at:
There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion….

That’s the chance you must take.
There is the risk to be run.
To be yourself and to do the work you do.
The reward is you find out whether you can do this or not.
Maybe advertising is your calling.
You should find that out.
Imagine sitting at a desk knowing you’re good at what you’re doing.

Or, maybe you suck.
Equally important to discover.
Imagine sitting at a desk not knowing if you’re any good at what you’re being asked to do.

Put the dream at risk and school can help you find out if advertising—this misunderstood, over-hyped, unholy mix of business & art-form—is where you will find the most traction for your talents, or whether you should look elsewhere for the path best suited to you.

Ernest Hemingway tried his hand at advertising.
He sucked.