Asking The Really Big Questions
Making the rounds in my world this week is an essay by Linds Redding: “A Short Lesson in Perspective.” Linds, a former ad exec who passed away last month from esophageal cancer, spent at least some of the time during his illness looking back on how he had spent his life. And, as is so dismayingly often the case, he was distinctly ungratified by what he saw. Here’s an excerpt (consider yourself warned about the grown-up language):
It turns out I didn’t actually like my old life nearly as much as I thought I did. I know this now because I occasionally catch up with my old colleagues and work-mates. They fall over each other to enthusiastically show me the latest project they’re working on. Ask my opinion. Proudly show off their technical prowess (which is not inconsiderable.) I find myself glazing over but politely listen as they brag about who’s had the least sleep and the most takeaway food. "I haven’t seen my wife since January, I can’t feel my legs any more and I think I have scurvy but another three weeks and we’ll be done. It’s got to be done by then. The client’s going on holiday. What do [you] think?"
What do I think?
I think you’re all fucking mad. Deranged. So disengaged from reality it’s not even funny. It’s a fucking TV commercial. Nobody gives a shit.
This has come as quite a shock I can tell you… I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole thing was a bit of a con. A scam. An elaborate hoax.
Countless late nights and weekends, holidays, birthdays, school recitals and anniversary dinners were willingly sacrificed at the altar of some intangible but infinitely worthy higher cause. It would all be worth it in the long run…
This was the con. Convincing myself that there was nowhere I’d rather be was just a coping mechanism. I can see that now. It wasn't really important. Or of any consequence at all really. How could it be. We were just shifting product. Our product, and the client’s. Just meeting the quota. Feeding the beast as I called it on my more cynical days.
So was it worth it?
Well of course not. It turns out it was just advertising. There was no higher calling.
Linds is not the first to ask questions about the value of his time on earth, nor is he the first to come to the conclusion that he could have used it more fruitfully. Nor is advertising the only industry to generate this sort of regret. But his is a moving, evocative piece, one that can well be used to prompt our own reflection -- which, as it turns out, it did for my friend Christian Long:
“…[I]t is so tempting to see his rant about 'art' vs 'commerce' as being the final point. But I'm not sure it is… You see, when you apply your greatest talents in the service of ‘doing good’ -- really focusing on social-driven innovation + creativity and legit human-centered service -- there is no break with moral purpose later in life/on the verge of death… [T]oday's students -- esp. the ones who truly see what a remarkable moment in time they live in and want to make a truly positive impact on the world right now (not just 'one day') -- do not see it as either/or. They see it as and/and. And expect the 'art' and 'commerce' sides of their internal selves to merge and synthesize into one laser beam of possibility over the course of their life.”
I love writing for Online Spin. And my hope is always that, in our exploration of the latest FaceTubeGramoSoft acquisition, we retain the perspective urged on us by Linds. It is so easy, so extraordinarily easy, to be lulled into a false sense of importance with the work that we do. But it is magical to remember what is truly important.
How do you feel about your job?