8 for 8: Press on and the power of persistence 

The purpose of the “8 for 8” series is to share the wisdom I’ve received from past generations. It draws upon the conclusion of a study citing “advice” as the thing Millennials most want from their elders.

In my experience, one of the most difficult transitions from the privilege and sanctuary of an undergraduate education is adapting to the workforce amid the abrupt loss of community. However, I was fortunate to land at a company whose founder spoke often about the virtues of collaboration, which in business is an oft-used substitute for community. And like undergraduate colleges, the term can become as ubiquitous and meaningless as the ideal of community if not maintained, nurtured, and occasionally challenged.

My first job included an extensive new-employee orientation. The two-day program included an overnight in a posh hotel suite far nicer than any apartment I’ve ever been able to afford as well as a series of seminars designed to immerse a mix of both first-year and newly-acquired yet seasoned talent within the agency’s culture. 

Like first-year orientation at my liberal arts alma mater, the company also liked to instill a sense of purpose — albeit a very privileged one — into its employees. And its founder was one of the first to outright acknowledge this sense of privilege. 

He said, “Advertising is not hard work. It is mentally and emotionally taxing, but it is not hard work. We sit comfortably. We can get a cup of coffee whenever we please. Advertising is challenging, but it is not hard work.” 

It was a humbling way to kick off my career. Part of a slightly older, more experienced me believes I’ve been fighting this perception ever since, trying to elevate and enhance the value that advertising delivers to its clients — all to convince myself that this business is, in fact, hard work. After more than eight years, I assure you, it’s not. 

The founder was right. Advertising is challenging, emotionally and mentally taxing, but it remains deeply cemented in its privileged, gray-flannel roots of David Ogilvy and Leo Burnett. 

I’ve met only a handful of founders in my life. Most small business CEOs I meet inherit something built from the ground up, but they aren’t the originator. I believe this gives founders unique perspective that other business people rarely obtain. 

Life is short. Something about this founder made him understand this painful yet beautiful principle. He also understands that life rarely enables individuals to control much outside themselves. It’s why he urged his company to remember and embody the words commonly attributed to President Calvin Coolidge. 

  

This founder, as long as I can remember, exhibited traits of an intellectual, someone committed to a mission beyond the core function of their own business. 

In today’s data-driven landscape, marketing leaders vie for the ability to foresee their future. Pam Forbus, senior vice president, PepsiCo Global Insights and Analytics, says, “Data and analytics is not about the ability to scientifically predict the outcome. It’s about improving the chance of beating the odds.”

Ultimately, that’s what Press On and its principle of persistence mean to this Millennial today. That’s what community and collboration are all about: working together around a unified vision to ensure more people are empowered to beat the ever-changing odds. There is no silver bullet nor enough time to solve all the world’s problems. And there is no shame in a career that isn’t innately “hard work.” But, in the words of comedian Conan O’Brien, “If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” 

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Matt says:

    Loved this article!

  2. Michael R. Murphy says:

    Great article David. And great quote. Definitely something I’m going to have to remember. I’ve really been enjoying this series. Thank you!

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