Advertising is a funny industry. On one hand, it requires a high degree of craft and training, and then on other is a whole lot of luck and random connections of time and space. We rationalize and post-rationalize both of these on nearly a daily basis.
There’s an expectation that when you enter advertising, you bring a fully formed perspective and voice that will undoubtedly sprinkle all your smarty-smarts over all you encounter — because you know, you’re on the way to the top.
If you didn’t read the dripping sarcasm in the last paragraph, allow me to spell this out: Finding your voice isn’t easy. There is so much self-doubt in this industry, it can be paralyzing. As creative souls (regardless of job title), you’re searching to quiet the voices that say things like: "What if I’m not original or interesting?" "What if people don’t like what I have to say?" and "What if people don’t accept me?"
There are steps you can take to quiet the voices. The first is finding a person to be some clarity and sanity in these moments: a true mentor.
As a woman, it’s not an easy to find this person. It’s a sad state of affairs, but the truth of the matter is that many leaders of departments or teams are male. There are countless studies that demonstrate how this can be a tricky relationship for many (not all) men. I have been really lucky to have several guys step up to the plate and be great leaders and career shepherds without any hesitation, but unfortunately that may be an exception rather than the rule.
So how do you start to seek out this unicorn human?
Lesson 1: You can meet your mentor out of your office. For me, the criteria started with who do you admire? Who’s brain would you love to borrow for a day? It’s not always easy to find that person in your own building. I’m not saying the people around you aren’t intelligent, respectable people, but it’s sometimes easier to go outside your own bubble. I found some of my early mentors (who honestly maybe never really knew they were my mentors) via Twitter.
Twitter five years ago was a slightly different place than it is today. I feel like a lot of us were really actively sharing and chatting, so invigorated by a platform that allowed us to connect so freely and easily over the oceans (much thanks to BBH Labs for making many of these connections).
Lesson 2: Your mentor doesn’t need to be a person in your discipline (i.e., creative to creative or planner to planner). I’ve learned that being in the same group has very little to do with the efficacy of a proper mentorship. I have been lucky enough to have a few creative leaders really step into this role for me.
I think it helps shape your thinking in a more unique way when your mentor comes from outside your discipline. You also become more wise to outside perceptions and opinions on many things — job related and even interpersonal.
I’ve found great female mentors also can also offer up confidence in knowing that you’re not alone in the feelings you’re feeling — even if you’re sat "across the table" from them. There’s a sense of camaraderie that can build which is truly priceless.
Lesson 3: Appreciate their time and generosity. Here’s the thing about great mentors: they are generally incredibly giving humans. I learned a long time ago never to take advantage of a person’s good nature. Appreciate their time, be respectful of their earspace.
But also don’t be afraid to ask the tougher questions. As I start to find myself more in the role of mentor, it’s incredibly rewarding to be asked a question that gives you pause and makes you think about decisions you’ve made, or your own purpose. It’s also the kind of question that is terrifying and makes you feel incredibly vulnerable — but really that means growth for both of you.
Moral of the story: get out there and find someone great to learn from. This has nothing to do with what level you find yourself at. Everyone needs this. It’s a sign of strength and willingness to learn and grow rather than weakness or shortcomings. Be generous with your vulnerability.