Back in the Day

Once upon a time, I was shopping my student portfolio around a few agencies. I went to college in the Midwest at a school that isn’t known as being a hothouse of creativity. My copywriting “skills” were self-taught, and anyone who looked at my book could see that.

I could see that.

I reached out to a connection I’d made at an agency, requested an informational interview of sorts and met with an art director/copywriter team. The art director seemed nice enough, but didn’t have much to say. The copywriter began reviewing my book, hastily flipping through the pages then emphatically shutting it closed.

“This is absolute crap,” she said.

I knew it wasn’t amazing, but her reaction seemed out of place to the point where I suspected she was joking.

“Really, this is shit,” she continued.

Nope, she wasn’t joking.

“How do you expect to get a job with this?”

Well, I didn’t, frankly. I merely expected feedback, plain and simple. Leaving that meeting, I suppose I got what I was looking for.

Perhaps I should’ve specified that I was looking for constructive feedback. Oh well. Next time.

I ended up interning in a different department within that same agency, and I stayed put over the years — possibly because nobody told me ever again that my work was shit, possibly because I really liked it.

I’ve never been someone who needed another person’s validation or praise to be OK with myself or to maintain a positive outlook, and I suppose that’s a good thing. If we look back on our lives, we’ll see plenty of people who not only let the world get them down, but who also felt compelled to drag us down with them. I know that my life has had more than a few of those people.

But to let one of those people burrow under your skin and cause just enough self doubt to not only not try again, but to stick with an easier, safer path in general is sad.

The copywriting incident was 16 years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday.

I remember the copywriter’s sourness like it was yesterday.

I remember telling myself that being in a different department was where I was supposed to be, as though someone crapping on me would be a blessing in disguise. In truth, it’s where I resigned myself to be, and the person wasn’t a blessing in disguise at all. This person was just miserable and negative — nothing more.

But I let that person chart the course for my career.

Do I regret my career? Not for a moment. It’s just that most of us probably have those times in life when we look back and wonder what might’ve been if we’d fought a little harder, pushed more, sought a second, third, fourth or fifth opinion, or given the proverbial finger back to someone who gave it to us.

The portfolio situation is one of mine.

I hit a point in my life sometime around 30 where I realized that I didn’t want to look back on my years and have a pathetic collection of statements that talked about what I wanted to do.

Back in the day, I wanted to be a writer.

Back in the day, I wanted to record my own CD of solo piano music.

Back in the day, I really wanted to travel.

Collections are wonderful things. But when they’re statements about what you’d rather have done with your life or tried harder to make happen, that collection can be a catalyst — which is what it is for me, finally.


Tonight — for catalysts, dreams, hopes and for the wide open oceans we’d like to set sail on — I am thankful.

What are your druthers? How big is your statement collection? Is it looking backwards out your rearview mirror, or is it focused on the future?

2 thoughts on “Back in the Day

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