While I received a few comments on my blog post about having a career “Plan B”, most comments came directly to me or through Facebook or LinkedIn. I thought I would address a number of issues and questions which came up.
The most common question I received – including two phone calls – was, “I don’t know what I want to do. How do I figure it out?” Of course, I cannot determine other people’s interests and certainly not their passions. My advice? Dissect your life. Make a list of the things you like to do including hobbies. I remember my dad, who owned an agency and who was also a world traveler and photographer (I guess you know where I get it from), starting a travel newsletter which he wrote for travel agencies to send to their good customers. He didn’t make or lose money, but it paid for his traveling.
The only thing I can say is that passions don’t just happen. They grow over time. I had a fellow in here recently who was in his late thirties. He wanted to know if he should be thinking of his own “B” now. I told him that when I was in my thirties I went through a long period of questioning. (I think everyone should read Gail Sheehy’s seminal work, Passages to gain perspective. It is as fresh today as the day it was first written.) It took me a long time to decide that I really liked advertising and wanted to stay in it. I decided to recruit – when I told my friends they all thought it was a natural extension of my personality. And recruiting for advertising was a great way for me to stay in a business I loved without really being in it any more. But it took me many years to get to that decision.
Another common comment was that people are so busy now they do not have time to think about what they want to do next. Honestly, that is nonsense. You must make time for yourself. You cannot lock yourself in a room and think and expect to have a breakthrough. It doesn’t happen that way. Thinking about your likes and dislikes and determining your interests and passions happens over time. It happens on vacations (you must take vacations – in fact, I think I will write about the fools who think they are too indispensable to take time off), it happens in the shower, it happens while you are out with friends. But you have to let yourself think. And when you have ideas you must write them down. I love my Blackberry for that.
Alfred North Whitehead once said, “Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.” It is a brilliant quote that I learned doing an ad for Westinghouse. Thinking doesn’t have to be constant, but it has to be continuous. Ideas will come over a period of time.
I have a candidate who has turned his photography into a successful portrait business. I have another who does drop shipping direct mail; he does it while working full time for one of the major agencies.
My favorite is a fellow I know well named Jack Bloom. I hired him years ago to work for me. He used to disappear all the time. Years after I left that job, Jack told me he started an agency. When he used to disappear, he was out shooting commercials for Potemkin Cadillac which he did on a freelance basis. While Jack had been director of advertising of Panasonic, he was a natural at doing retail. Ultimately, he built a successful small agency and was the inventor of dial “one eight hundred m-a-t-t-r-e-s, leave the last s off for savings”. He had a very successful agency of his own for many years. His “Plan B” was to do just that.
Nowhere is it written that what you start out doing when you are in your twenties is what you will end up doing in your later years. Advertising people are very lucky. They get exposed to multiple businesses and learn all the good (and bad), which, in my opinion, makes them uniquely suited to succeed in second and even third careers.