The advertising business comes with its share of challenging days. We lose pitches. Campaigns get killed. Raises are pushed off. Layoffs happen. Spats with co-workers get ugly. On days like these, it’s tempting to bathe in the pool of self-pity.
But honestly, how bad is our worst day in advertising? A recent project helped me put my bad days in perspective and left me more than a little ashamed of those times I’ve let events at the office get me down.
One of our clients oversees a charitable organization whose mission is to provide financial assistance to America’s veterans. As part of a recent fund raising event, they asked for a series of videos telling the stories of Staff Sergeant Adam Keys, US Army (Ret), his mother Julie Keys, and Medal of Honor Recipient, Captain Florent "Flo" Groberg, US Army (Ret).
I met Adam and Julie at their home near Annapolis. The first thing you notice about Adam is that he’s missing both legs, as well as his left arm, below the elbow. But his smile and positive attitude quickly put you at ease.
Adam knows a thing or two about bad days at the office.
On July 14, 2010, while on patrol in Afghanistan, his armored vehicle was hit by an IED. Though badly wounded, and not expected to live, he was the only survivor. Four others, including his best friend from high school, were killed.
After returning stateside, Adam spent more than five years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He endured more than 140 surgeries. When not recovering from surgery, he was pushing himself through often excruciating physical therapy. When asked how he emerged so positive, he’ll smile and tell you, "There are days when you just have to embrace the suck."
For every one of Adam’s bad days, his mom Julie Keys dealt with a private agony that, thankfully, most of us will never know. Forced to quit her job to be by his side, Julie moved to a strange city, alone with no friends. There were many days she was told Adam would not survive. But for the next five years Julie was there for every surgery, every therapy session, always advocating for Adam. Adam sums his mother up best: "She is strong, stronger than any warrior I’ve met."
Someone else who knows about bad days at work is Medal of Honor Winner Flo Groberg. He is quick to reference August 8, 2012, as "the worst day of my life."
While leading a security detail to protect senior leaders in Kunar Provence, Afghanistan, he spotted a suicide bomber heading toward his team. Reacting quickly, Flo pulled the bomber away from his group of VIPs. When the suicide vest detonated, Groberg was thrown 30 feet and blacked out. He regained consciousness only to realize that his leg was shredded. He would soon learn that four members in his party were killed in the blast.
Were it not for his courageous actions, more casualties would have resulted. Flo attributes his actions to his training. "In our business if you die, but the boss lives, that’s a great day at the office," he says.
Like Adam and Julie, Flo became a familiar face at Walter Reed. To save and repair his leg would require more than 30 surgeries. And, like Adam, he battled anger, resentment and depression. Flo pushed himself to recover both mentally and physically. Today he speaks passionately about the courage wounded warriors demonstrate, and the remarkable strength they muster to endure each new day.
Adam, Julie, and Flo represent a small fraction of the service men, women and family members dealing with challenges that dwarf what we face on our jobs.
We are all truly blessed to work in a business where we can use our minds, exercise our creativity and enjoy our proximity to truly talented people. An art director I once worked with called advertising the "toy department of the business world." That’s pretty accurate.
I’m embarrassed to say that there have been days in my career when I’ve lost sight of how lucky I am. Days when I failed to embrace the suck. Moving forward, if I find myself taking advertising for granted, I’ll know it’s time to take a walk through the halls of Walter Reed.
Kipp Monroe is Executive Creative Director of WHITE64.