Tuesday, June 4, 2024

On ambition: Not exactly Hikikomori but also not a rat

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Ambition is a beast. Did I have it? Yes, and in spades. Yet paradoxically I also had something else - knowing how much it costs (one is not an economist for nothing I guess). Hikikomori is a form of severe societal withdrawal - one where a person isolates him or herself from society for extended periods (from months to years). The phenomenon was observed in Japan mostly. Do note I am not advocating that at all. I am just pointing out the extreme of the scale am trying to talk about.

The other end of the scale? It's what Lily Tomlin once said "the trouble with the rat race, is that, even if you win you're still a rat". Few industries are as fickle as the creative industries - to requote that famous line from Project Runway "one day you're in, the next day you're out." Maybe it is not as automatic as that but the creative world - and here I am thinking of the advertising/communication world - is full of has-beens. Worse, people who are so has-been they have no idea they are so.

Funnily, a long time ago, someone called me "a washed up advertiser turned blogger". I later reconnected with the owner of the magazine of the person who called me so and not only he had no idea, but actually apologized about it. I still smile when I quote that line. Simply because I went from advertising in agencies to teaching it for a long period of time at universities. I am periodically contacted by acquaintances or former students who vent out about how badly they are treated at agencies by higher ups in the food chain. You know the quote - what a slave wants more than freedom is to own their own slave.

This in effect explains how, by ascending the ladder, and again am thinking mostly of advertising/communication, people become meaner and meaner. Instead of saying - I do not wish to treat anyone the way I was treated, they end up doing exactly that, and worse. To make up for what they endured themselves.

I think I got lucky myself. Picture this situation. The agency I was in was responsible for a mega project. Huge. And one day before the opening, something like after two months of working very diligently on the concept, execution, visuals, texts, in comes the owner of the agency. The meeting is 2 P.M., and here he is - with his big gut and accompanied by a woman who works at his office (high heels, short skirt, and also the fiancee of his son to boot). So anyhow, he starts with - the whole text needs to be rewritten (mind you, the text was perfect), to which I said "so, you come in, one day prior to the opening, and you want the text rewritten?"... And this is where things went even more south. The girl simply said "eh wbaddak tel7a2na" (yes, and you will need to follow us - or follow our directive).

There was total silence. The owner shoved her slightly and bit his lip to indicate that she should stop talking. I gabbed the table, and with full force, I pushed my wheeled chair away from it. And looked at the girl not even hiding my disdain. And then I said "you know what? I am a part-time here. My day ends at 1 P.M., it is now after two. My day is done. See you tomorrow". I turned and left the conference room not even glancing backwards.

Again, maybe it was the antics of someone who was young of age (though I wasn't a spring chicken when this happened). Or those of someone who was rash and bold. Or someone who was able to procure money, or thought he might - in other ways. But, it was also a pattern - despite my ambition, I also knew of the price of it. And how much I was ready to pay, or not.

Look, is it worth it? I mean is it worth injecting all those extra hours for idiotic clients (and I have too many stories to corroborate my words), for hormonal marketing departments, and subservient client-servicing individuals who are more royalist than the king? If you want to do that - be my guest. Perhaps you have insurances to pay and food to put on the table. In my case I always knew when to stop. To go back to that Lily Tomlin quote, I did not want to end up a rat.