So what didn't I learn in ad school?


What did I learn in ad school? Strategy. Ideas. Tone of voice. 'Yes and…'. Focus. Courage. Competitive edge. 

But I didn't notice compassion on anyone's list. 

Sure, no university has to teach it. It's emotional intelligence. It's up to the individual to search for their own understanding. 

However, I think that educational institutions launching young people into the BIG media industry need to encourage emotional growth in their creatives. Connectivity. Trust. The ability to see positivity in difference. Find empathy in collaboration. Learn to give more than we take. Discover strength in creating our own inclusive networks. Both formal and informal. At the start and the end. 

In an overtly competitive world, it can feel like there's no time for compassion. No space for sympathy. Stopping to help someone might be perceived as weakness. 

Desirable jobs have an unfortunate tendency to become commodities more valuable than their salaries. There’s a perception that the job needs protecting, because of its social status. The sense of self worth attached to these jobs can be all consuming. Especially if you never leave the building, or only socialise within the industry. 

The glitzy jobs can become frightening. Frightening to leave, in case of implied failure. Frightening to stay in, because of the demands. Added to that, these jobs often require of us to exert pressure on other people - people who need our help. 

In fast paced and high pressure work bubbles, love and hate flourish. It's easier to perceive apparent value quickly, and get on with your own projects. Love and hate speed things up. Make the process faster. Help you feel in control. Love that campaign. Hate that strategy. Love their book. Hate their design. That's award winning. That's a turkey. Love that junior team. Hate that freelance team. It's simple and fast. Who is valuable and who isn't. What is cool and what isn't. What's tolerated, and what's intolerable. 

LOVE HATE tattoo on knuckles

A binary view of the world can be comforting when you're struggling to understand what's going on. So you drop the junior team who just aren't getting it fast enough (despite the fact they're super talented). Let go of the older team who keep having the same ideas (despite the fact they're super experienced at presentations). Say goodbye to your creative partner who can't remember why they're in the industry (despite the fact you were their biggest fan at the start). Because stress has a habit of becoming an incubator in which polemic attitudes thrive.

The problem is, for me, I take that attitude home with me. It doesn't stay in the office. In the work emails. In the laptop. It ends up being a part of my perception of everything. Phrases enable it. 'Go with your gut', 'split second decisions', 'there isn't time'.

So getting back to the point. What didn't I learn in ad school?

That the agencies I want to work for are the ones that practice compassion. To their employees. In their creative work. In their choice of ethical clients. 

I've met some wonderful employers over the years. Some have been exceedingly patient with me and given me second (and third) chances. Some employers have perhaps been more inspiring than benevolent, but I appreciate what they've given me too. Ultimately I've learnt...that in order to live a happy life, we need to work with compassionate people. 


(Important caveat: I think Falmouth Uni's Creative Advertising course is wonderful at teaching people how to understand what it is they want to communicate. So much so that it should be part of the National Curriculum.) 

The second instalment of our series exploring what creatives do and don't learn in ad school. Check out the first instalment here


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