Scott Boms

The Wrong Message

Back in 2009, I wrote a little piece on Burnout for A List Apart, which, while cathartic for me personally, also it turns out, meant a lot to many others. So it pains me to come across opinion pieces such as the one published a couple months ago by Applied Arts, which suggest that in order to succeed in the advertising/design world you have to be prepared to essentially sell your soul.

I saw and read the article the day it was posted and although I didn’t intend on commenting on it, instead just hoping it might disappear into the ether, it’s bothered me ever since, so here we are.

I’ll give the author, Stuart, a bit of a break insomuch as I’m sure he’s well-meaning and a perfectly fine fellow (we met briefly after I spoke during Typecon in New Orleans earlier this year), but it’s sending the wrong message. Frankly, I call bullshit.

And I quote:

You don’t get into advertising in order to stroll in at 9:26 and stroll out at 4:48. You don’t get into it for the balanced diets or eight-hour sleeps.

No, perhaps not. But it doesn’t mean the expectation is wrong, that it’s not possible to remain excited, to love what you do, and even thrive in the industry without sacrificing a balanced life outside that world.

Sure there are times when an early morning, late night, or spat of weekend work might be required (too often the product of someone’s poor planning or project management), but as soon as that door is opened, it’s almost impossible to close. Such behaviour should be a rare exception, not the norm. As soon as it’s a regular occurrence, you’re in trouble.

Unfortunately, those new to the industry, such as Stuart, quickly fall victim to this so-called reality which perpetuates the problem. It’s a slippery slope and a one-way ticket to burnout.

The worst part is that he knew going in. He was explicitly told to expect it. That it’s normal — be ready to give up your life so someone else can reap the real rewards.

Before I accepted the offer, I called a couple friends who were familiar with the agency, who uniformly said one thing: So long as you’re ready to work late and on weekends (if needed), Prox is a great place to work with a killer atmosphere.

A “killer atmosphere” is nice, but it’s hardly everything. It’s not enough to make up for what you’ll sacrifice in the process — something typically not apparent until it’s already too late. It’s not enough when you’re automatically nominated to be a punching bag for the agency (or their clients), or subject to someone else’s misguided sense of normalcy.

The only way to truly put an end to the problem is to say “no” to this reality. For yourself. For everyone that will follow after. Unfortunately for Stuart, he went in anyway, which meant he was already screwed.