By Trent Rentsch
I’ve only felt like giving up twice in my life, once personally, once professionally. The personal decent includes memories that I’d rather not think about, much less share. Let’s just say that I am fully aware that some people thrive on being completely evil to others. Lesson learned, somehow I survived. The professional downfall is easier to write about, even if there was an unintentionally evil person involved, and even if I did take it personally.
Shortly after I had left the world of radio fulltime, I found myself employed as a Producer in an advertising agency. It certainly seemed like the culmination of all the creative skills I had at the time, and I was excited at the prospect of adding pictures to my words in a position that included producing TV commercials. I was only there for a short time before it became obvious that they weren’t sure what to do with me, nor I for them. I wrote scripts, only to have them shot down. I’d bring up creative concepts at our brainstorming sessions and watch them trampled on. There was little to no direction, just products and a need to be creative. In radio, that had been enough most of the time; here it only added to the frustration. I remember being thrilled at my first chance at writing and directing a TV commercial. I spent an insane week planning, getting actors lined up, heading out with the crew to shoot it all, even working to produce an original jingle for the spot. In the end, we had a nice, high-energy piece—looked good, sounded good. At least it did to me. To the owner of the agency, it was wrong, all wrong. There didn’t seem to be one thing about it that he could find a positive word for, and since he was the one that pitched work to the clients, it was buried. After that, I remember dreading every morning that I went to work. I would pray that the owner wouldn’t be at our daily staff meeting. It had become painful to even look at him, to wonder why he let me continue working there. Then, just as things seem to do when I think they can get no worse, they did. Our biggest account, our bread and butter, yanked the rug out from under the agency. Being the last one in the door, I knew who would be the first to go, so it was no surprise when the owner called me into his office. In fact, it was a relief, at first. Yes, the agency and I were going to part company, but not once during the meeting was the loss of our main account mentioned. It seemed that I wasn’t what he wanted for his agency. In fact, it seemed that I didn’t have any talent for it. Further, I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. He found it difficult to believe that I had even written and produced the spots on my demo. As I found the strength to stand, to escape from this onslaught, he said, “I hope that you can find something that you’re good at.”
The next days, weeks, months were hell. The sting of being laid off, of being without a job for the first time in my adult life was horrible, but nothing compared to the jagged, open wound the agency owner had left when he tore the soul from my body. My creative work had been everything to me for years, everything! Yet, in 3 or 4 minutes he had made me believe that it was nothing. All that was left was doubt, doubt of my talents, doubt of my skills, and because I tend to find my identity through my work, doubt of myself. It was a scant few weeks before I was working again, but it wasn’t a creative position. In fact, the Assistant Manager position I took at Midco’s Call Center was as far from creative as you can get. I told myself that it was what I needed, for a while. Lying awake, night after sleepless night for the months that followed, I also told myself that I didn’t deserve to be in a creative position again, ever.
Poor, poor, pitiful me, huh? Big whiny baby that can’t take a knock or two without getting all bent out of shape and giving up. So busy feeling sorry for myself that I couldn’t take a step back and look at the big picture. Maybe my work just didn’t fit his needs, or taste. Maybe he was just plain wrong, and all the clients, co-workers, friends and Addy judges had been right all those years. Maybe I really did have something, and he just didn’t appreciate it. Guilty as charged, to all of it.
Funny how we brush off the business with statements like, “it’s not brain surgery,” when the truth is that, if we really are creative and find our outlet at work, it damned well does play with our heads. How can we not take things personally when we put so much of ourselves into the work? The answer, if we really do care is, we must.
I’ve slowly come back. It started with a free-lance job or two, nothing exciting, just confidence building. As time has passed, I’ve shaken the self-doubt, more or less. Memories of my own personal Boogie Man at the agency have mellowed to the point that I laugh to myself about it all, that I would let opinion of one man, running in fear of losing his company, destroy what faith I had in myself. I’ve also learned that I’m not alone. Opinions, given by those without talents or skills themselves, have all but destroyed the careers and lives of many truly talented, skilled creatives. Whatever the motive, jealousy, wielding power or just being mean, it’s wrong. That’s the one thing I would encourage anyone on the receiving end of this abuse to remember. The bastards might be able to take a job away from you, but they can’t take away the truth.