I am 57 and I am pursuing my next big career move.
I’m both excited and scared by the prospects. I didn’t expect to be here in this place of not knowing what’s next. It’s not how I planned things. I once believed that Adpulp.com and Bonehook could sustain me and when the time was right, both companies would have successful exits. But I didn’t exactly plan for these exits. I hoped for them.
Now that I am moving on and dedicated to discovering and then making my next move, I am hearing voices. Voices of others who are in the same place, struggling to let go of the advertising business and warm up to something new. It’s good to know I’m not alone and harrowing to know how many people in marketing communications are struggling to redefine themselves at this moment.
Another consistently positive voice I love to hear from is Rishad Tobaccowala’s. Rishad writes the best newsletter. It arrives on Sunday and when it’s a particularly strong edition, his thinking and words can echo for days and years. His essay from 2020 called “12 Career Lessons” is a helpful and guiding document. Here’s a small piece of what he says:
There are many perspectives on how to fit into and make your mark into the new organization you are joining. But, there is not enough emphasis on recognizing that in multi-decade career there will be many exits. Some forced upon us (hopefully few to none) and some initiated by us. The exits at the end of a good run are particularly fraught.
A few years ago, a very successful person said “Every career has a midnight hour. The smart people leave at five to twelve”. But few do. People overstay their welcome and the end is “icky”. These endings sour the culture and tarnish an otherwise great run.
Smart people leave at five to twelve. That’s solid advice. I think it’s a bit simpler to depart on time as an employee leaving a company. When you run your own business, “how to fire yourself and close shop” is not in the company’s operations manual, although it truly ought to be.
Firing yourself requires the insight to do so, and an extra level of self-confidence. Because the question of “What’s next?” will follow you everywhere, tap tap tapping on your skull.
As I consider my next work act, I know that I no longer want clients. I want customers who ideally will line up to buy the product or service because of its unique appeal and substance.
Customers are my holy grail. This is an excellent starting place. Now, I just need to create the product, service, or experience that people will gladly line up for. To do this well, I will rely on my decades of experience as a creative partner to marketers. I also want to move into Act III with conscious continuity, because Acts I, II, and III are all parts of the same play.
My first career act was as an activist in the conservation movement. What was I selling then? Little more than an idea. My second act as an ad agency worker and owner required that I sell whatever the client of the moment wanted help selling. It was my job to do it effectively every time and eloquently/artfully, when possible. How will this new work I’m about to do connect with what came before? I’m on the road to find out.
Radical Departures and/or Strategic Realignments
Work is a means to an end, not an end in itself. I know this to be true, yet one of my persistent struggles has been placing too many of my chips in the work basket. For instance, I needed Adpulp.com and Bonehook to succeed, and succeed at the highest level before I would dare allow myself to feel the many successes I’ve already had.
I created my own formula and tied myself to years of dissatisfaction in the doing. By design. That’s either self-defeating or totally sadistic. I need the help of others to ascertain which, and to help me untangle the why.
As I move forward, one constant remains and is a source of faith and strength. I continue to see myself as a writer and whatever work I end up doing is the means to this end. I lost sight of this core truth during my first two acts. There’s no time for that now. Act III is about getting the stories out, and seeing the best of them purchased and produced. This is my real work.
Helping Other Artists and Writers Succeed Is Also My Real Work
For years, I’ve had the great fortune to employ writers and artists and to work with many more on a freelance basis. Today, on top of the stories I am writing, I’m also looking for a “next level” idea that will result in funding for creative people and provide the help they need to get their projects across the finish line.
One idea from this camp is a creative residency program in the Lost Pines. To successfully pull this together, I’d likely need to form a not-for-profit arts organization, which would then be dependent on the largess of donors and foundations. It’s not the worst idea I’ve ever had.
A related idea I’m kicking around is the creation of a new arts and culture ‘zine covering Elgin, Bastrop, Smithville, plus Lockhart and La Grange. Austin’s artists and musicians have been migrating southward and eastward for years, and this journal would seek to capture and elevate the best stories from this movement and these places.
Perhaps the magazine can be produced by the not-for-profit arts organization and the resident artists and writers can contribute to it. Synergies matter. I’m also considering other rivers of revenue that will help make these ideas work. For instance, attaching a profitable coffee shop to the arts enterprise provides additional revenue and a public space for readings, for plays, and for displaying art.