Writing is my passion. It is born out of life experiences.
If it weren’t for the pay, I would probably be doing it full-time to support my family. Instead, I fell into advertising and use written words in various aspects of my professional and personal life to create change. I change perceptions. I change feelings. I change opinions. I change mistakes. I change the world around me in small ways every day.
I took a break from university for a bit in the mid-1990’s to follow the Dead, start a family, and see the country. “This is my chance to get a head start on material for my auto-biography!” I rationalized to myself. My search for content; for meaning; for purpose; for experience; shaped who I am today. These experiences didn’t lead to a traditional path, but thanks to my journey, realization came at a young age that life is about experiences. A few papers missed, a few tests failed, a few days of work blown off…but I learned to prioritize my life and focus energy on things that matter to me . No regret will occupy my soul when I part this very intricate and confusing connection of the paths of experiences I’ve been so blessed to encounter on this earth. I refuse to leave doubt in the hearts and minds of those that matter most to me in this world about what they have meant to my life.
A person who achieves mystical experience or apprehension of divine mystery.
Any complex system or arrangement that causes bewilderment, confusion, or perplexity.
College was exquisite prep for both my career and personal pursuits. My eyes were opened to the realization that individual experience is what defines one’s life, and I fine-tuned my skills and passion for acquiring more experiences, more knowledge, more creative ways to consider problems; Problems like the art of persuasion. I convinced my parents to partially fund a bachelor’s of fine arts. They wanted me to get a business degree, but I convinced them it just wasn’t my path. Next, I moved on to asking the government and large financial institutions to fund some very large grants and loans to cover the rest of my Jesuit education at a private university. This was really just a twice-a-year opportunity to cover my college buddies’ exorbitant bar tabs in celebration of my Stafford Loan check arriving; An ongoing, bi-annual floating holiday – celebrated religiously during my 9-year college career. The holiday is no longer celebrated, but quietly observed each month by writing a payment to Sallie Mae that rivals a lease payment on a fünf or sechs series BMW.
Although I didn’t realize it, by the time I was nearing the end of my long and at times, committed, collegiate career, I had learned to negotiate with my professors. Asking them to be mindful of my financial situation, and to consider the fact I was supporting a family while working full-time in order to pursue my degree, I asked for and received, special consideration for deadline extensions and a unique educational experience. These answered prayers resulted in an opportunity to participate in classes at a higher level as an actual business professional and attain some pretty decent grades (despite my lack of mathematical or scientific prowess). I took some classes on campus, and others on-line, as I continued to further my professional career. After graduation, I improved my job hunting skills and “selling myself”…The training of persuasion via the written word seemed to translate well in the real world, so naturally I gravitated toward sales and advertising. My ability to present myself and my ideas was a realized strength. My verbal communication was improving, as well. Many of the literature and theater classes I had taken focused a great amount of the curriculum on public speaking and oral presentation. I earned a management position before ever graduating college and it catapulted my career.
Before my first big break in the ad world at age 23, I was working at the local weekly entertainment rag in Kansas City answering phones taking ads for the “adult section” of the paper making $6.00 an hour. I once took a call from Joe Perry (of Aerosmith) who was dialing in for an interview with our music editor…it was a very strange place, and I loved it. My goal at the paper was to land an editorial internship in the fall, which would ultimately launch my writing career. The summer prior, I had completed an internship with Saint Louis Homes and Gardens magazine doing some basic proofreading and low-level copy, but never had anything published. I had another short stint in the print world with a four-week-debacle at a business magazine which shall remain nameless, but it taught me what pressure was all about. It also taught me to be cognizant of the supporting cast around you, and how to evaluate a corporate culture before committing 50+ hours a week to anything. I returned to the Pitch for about a year in ad sales, where I worked for an amazing mentor and she pushed me to discover the power of punctuation and to fully utilize a fax machine; I’ll document that funny story at a later date. From there, I launched my agency career with Draft working in nightlife promotions for clients in the liquor, tobacco, and music industries (tough gig). I used this experience to work for several other agencies, including the Sunflower Group (West Coast Sales Director and National Event Director), a year as VP of Sales and Marketing for the sponsorship acquisition arm of Braun Racing (now Turner Motorsports), an Account Director for Wunderman, and my current shop, VML, as a Product Director and Account Director. My current gig is probably the best agency on the planet, and I have long-term aspirations to do really big things here…stay tuned and watch.
Agency life just seemed to be my calling. It wasn’t the planned path of writing for a living, but it felt right. I seemed able to deconstruct client and prospect problems with ease, and assert myself / insert my ideas into almost any equation. If I couldn’t generate the answer on the fly, I knew the right questions to ask that would eventually generate the answer — either myself, or by adding more characters to the “story” (in writing, this is called character introduction, but in the ad world, this is RESOURCING). Asking for things and creatively explaining options (instead of telling clients I had all the answers) seemed to come naturally and be well-received. I didn’t sell my ideas – I gave my clients and prospects a story. The story had many options and paths that it could go. I could re-write the story differently each time. Everyone wants to write their own ending, and my ideas and agency’s services allowed this to become reality.
So, back to my original point. You need experiences to develop strong writing. I have had some amazing experiences, but I have yet to transform them into finished pieces. Many of my emotions and learnings are still trapped inside. I believe I have lost about 8 or 10 poems I poured over during a tough year (2005)… they may turn up somewhere, or they may be gone forever. At the time, I didn’t realize the personal importance writing had on my life, but I had a few people read my work (including my then-future-wife) and was told that it was strong. I hope to re-capture that passion this year and start writing regularly, again. 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration — that’s what Dr. Charles Kovich (my college English instructor, mentor, and English chair) always preached. I have done a few things, including a piece that was published in a small business publication, but it was less creativity and more business-focused. My work obviously needs polish, but just the act of writing again is the first step. I remember a couple of lines vividly from those poems a few years back: “Camping near rivers of free-flowing thought. Havoc is heaven. I reap what I wrought” and “Pencil meets paper. Lead crumbles. Magic ensues…” The rest of the lines escape me now, but I will regain that magic and passion I know I still have.
All that said, my advice to any aspiring young English majors out there: RETHINK YOUR ASPIRATIONS. Pick Math or Science. Don’t spend the rest of your life having your livelihood depend upon your ability to convince anyone to give you anything. I’ve been lucky because I am pretty good at it, but some days I question my choices and am left with little time to write. Stay in school, kids. Live vicariously through folks like me and do something to better this world. Or get a head start on that auto-biography… and remember, bad decisions make for good stories, but good decisions make for even better ones. The world needs another author like the world needs another author.