I’m happy. I’m friendly. I’m optimistic. I’m polite. I’m positive. I’m nice. Probably too nice. We’re all too something.
But I’m pissed.
Not like I’m going to go all Cindy Gallop on anyone. Sure, I’d love to. The angry version of Princess Unikitty inside me would love to. But the pull to be all the things mentioned above is stronger. I’m not a natural rebel.
I’m pissed because I’m finally hitting my stride professionally. Finally overcoming the things, internally and externally, that have been slowing my rise, holding me back from what I’ve always known I could be.
I’m pissed because I waited for this feeling. And now that I’ve attained it, I’m kicking myself for not having it sooner.
I’m 46, which feels surprisingly younger inside than I imagined, but is not 36, as evidenced by the way I look when I accidentally turn my phone on selfie mode at any angle below my face. Seeing myself from this angle also makes me never want to be on top, which is probably just as uncomfortable to read as it is for me to not edit out, but Cindy Gallop (fabulously 59 and proud of it) would leave it in. So I’m going to.
I dreamed of being a creative director for a very long time. But due to being loyal to a small and top-heavy agency, jumping between staff and freelance gigs, and honestly, getting in my own way, I stayed a senior writer for a solid 17 years. During those 17 years I measured myself against other very talented but very different male writers. I worked hard. I paid my dues. I was determined, but patient, waiting for the right time, when my confidence and experience level coincided with the right opportunity.
It finally happened, two and a half years ago, when I got hired (back) by my favorite agency, Wongdoody, as a CD. I love the agency. I love the people. I love the trajectory that my career is taking in this new role, as the agency grows and changes. But now that I’m here, I also feel like my patience may have bit me in the ass. And that’s why I’m mad.
My normally pleasant, let’s-find-the-good-in-this-situation personality was tipped off to this newfound frustration when I applied for a scholarship of sorts. It’s an amazing program through Cannes, called See It Be It (SIBI, for short.) It’s an opportunity for new and aspiring creative directors who have never been to Cannes to attend workshops and talks throughout the week, giving them the insights and tools to become the "next generation" of creative leaders. (Here’s a thought — maybe the next generation of creative leaders should include people from several generations?) My angle was that while the entry qualifications stated that applicants should have between 6 and 10 year’s experience (and I have 22,) only two and a half of my years are as a creative director. And I feel I could benefit from an opportunity like this, just as much as someone 10 years my junior.
As I pointed out in my entry, it’s no secret I’m older than most of the applicants. In fact, I watched last year’s See It Be It winner highlights video and thought, "Uh-oh. None of those women have visible crow’s feet." But as a late bloomer, I feel I have something to offer beyond the knowledge of what it’s like to get regular mammograms. My years of industry experience and the self-confidence that comes from having been in the room longer, combined with the fresh enthusiasm of being a fairly new CD, gives me a truly unique perspective. And as much as I will benefit from experiencing Cannes firsthand, I can also provide insight and inspiration to other late bloomers. The strides being made for women in advertising are incredible. But those strides need to open the doors for women of all ages and experience levels if we truly want to create equality in the industry.
Earlier in my career, I suffered from the insecurity so many women feel of "not being ready." Now, I’m. So. Damn. Ready. But now, I’m also grappling with the sense that I’m suddenly behind. That in being a 46-year-old newish creative director, I’ve finally achieved this dream, only 10 years too late.
This is the double-edged sword of female leadership. We are supposed to work hard. Show our worth. Juggle career and parenthood (or choose not to.) But get it all figured out preferably by our early 40s, because we might start losing relevance. Success, it seems, has a very small window of opportunity.
I believe the broader the range of women represented in up-and-coming leadership positions, the better for inspiring the next generation of female leaders. So my goal in applying (and hopefully attending) SIBI is to both See It and Be It. Simultaneously.
I found out the other day that SIBI has over 750 entries this year. And I’m sure most of them are amazing, talented, deserving, I’d-be-honored-to-meet women from around the world who also fall perfectly into the qualifications listed in the application. So I don’t have high hopes I’ll be in the consideration set.
But the process of filling out the entry did give me something to ponder. That if I didn’t feel ready before, but now I finally feel like I am, maybe the change can start with me.
I am ready. Exactly when I should be. Exactly when I was meant to be. Not too late. Not too early. And not because I’m nice or patient or amiable, but because I’m me, coming into my own at exactly the right time, offering what only I can offer.
This is true for all of us, regardless of age or experience level. And embracing that truth and sharing it not only feels good, it’s best thing each of us has to offer. It’s how we can all see it and be it every day — for ourselves, and for any other women out there who might be watching.
Jennie Moore is a creative director at Wongdoody.