Where the hell have you been Justice?
Life has a funny way of keeping us humble. No matter how great you are at what you do, the accolades you receive, or the path you cut for yourself — every now and then you get a reminder that you're still human.
Personally, I'm brave in a lot of ways. However, exposing my personal weaknesses is daunting. I can tell a client a thousand ways to right the ship when it comes to marketing and strategy. But when it comes to myself, it's not always that easy.
WARNING: The following is perhaps a bit more of a therapeutic exercise then educational. I find it valuable to hear real-life case studies. I think that we learn more from how people react when they're behind the eight ball than we do when we observe them during the salad days.
I was laid off from my job in the middle of the year. The company I worked for was purchased through an acquisition by an investment firm. New leadership came in, new structures and processes, and with it sweeping changes. I won't bore you with the granularity because there is too much of it. Suffice it to say, I'm not much different than the vast majority of stories that you've heard from co-workers, friends and family that have also received the axe.
This website, an aggressive speaking schedule, and an intensely active social media graph have probably given most of my followers the sense that I am terribly busy and doing better than ever. Part pride, part professionalism, and part self-branding had prevented me from "outing" my dismissal and raising a red flag for help within my very enthusiastic and supportive community.
Why wouldn't you just ask for help from the start?
This is a very good question that has no discernible answer. Part of me thought I could just immediately get another job. When that didn't occur, I aggressively sought out consulting work. Interesting thing about being as active in social media and content marketing as I am, it plays a disservice to your perception when you actually need support versus the role of supporter to your audience. Consulting freelance work did indeed come my way, and has kept it busy in varying degrees.
Why aren't you just doing your own company exclusively?
I refer to this as the "million dollar question." In countless ways, my personal brand does serve exclusively as my company. While a magical genie does not stroke a check for me on a weekly basis, the combined platform of Big Block Studios, Inc. (parent company) and JusticeMitchell.com (personal brand) have maintained a solid base of clients and supportive former clients for more than a dozen years.
Despite all that, working for an agency or related company offers myriad things that just consulting does not. First and foremost of course, is a steady paycheck that you can forecast against. Secondly, and often in the mind of most creatives even more importantly, is working with the pulse of other creatives. Puritanical marketing folks will tell you that ideation inside of a vacuum, or independently, is far more difficult given that you don't have someone, or a group of someone's to test against.
And then there is the "force factor" that feeds the #FOMO (fear of missing out) to keep up with your peers and ensure that you know what is the latest and the greatest inside of your discipline. Working on an island (or in this case freelance capacity) tends to give you an abstract perception of your familiarity with your discipline at a given time. Clearly when you are working with a company, you have a better sense of where you are in the grand scheme of things and how you fit within that role.
So what have you been doing for the past five months, Justice?
- One of the most important things that I have done is simply wake up every day and keep my normal schedule. I take my daughter to school the same time every day, and I sit down in front of my machine at the same time every day. I look at anything that comes across my desk as a new opportunity to learn or teach. And I dismiss what does not benefit myself for those around me. In the process of reinventing yourself, you will encounter people who intentionally or unintentionally attempt to derail your direction. For those of us who are charitable and humble by nature, these "moments of misdirection" can hinder our success.
- I constructed a social media strategy to launch a "boy band." There once would have been a day, as a heavy metal fan, that I never would have taken this on. Nothing could be further from the truth as I have rapidly, and feverishly become familiar with the audience and the demo of the tween and teen. This is something I would recommend to any upcoming ad junkie or "old dog" that feels they need a shot in the ass. I will also say one of the many intrinsic things that has kept me in advertising for more than 20 years is that each client presents a new opportunity to educate, embrace, and ideate around a new industry, demographic, and creative footprint. It is also fair to say that 99.9999% of the American population would find this more than boring and perhaps a reason to commit suicide. I simply fear normality.
- I took about a thousand photos on Instagram.
- I participated in many local meet-ups. Here in Central Florida I found great value in "1,000,000 Cups," Starter Studio, and various tech mixers. And even though I find myself the aging sober dog in the room, I find the experience essential and liberating. To dovetail off of that, I will also say that you should take every opportunity to challenge yourself within a setting of folks smarter than you are. Athletes say you compete based upon the ability of your opponent. The same can be said in these instances.
- I have asked more questions of others in the past half year than perhaps in the past decade. The reason I put this bullet point down, and in hindsight it may very well be the most important, is that the more "seasoned" a professional seems to become, the fewer questions they seem to ask. As I type this, I shake my head thinking nothing could be more stupid. If you are truly good at what you do, I believe your inquisitive nature should increase exponentially. Bravery in my opinion comes from those who seek the truth and are not afraid to expose what they do not know. That shit that sounds like it should be on a T-shirt!
- I have been knee-deep in launching a brand for a global company. And what makes this instance unique is that I derived the vast majority of my design and enculturation strategy from doing due diligence. I see many folks in the design world tend to "go with the gut," while other design firms such as Starmark and Pentagram have a defined process that they believe leads to success.
- I have the fortunate opportunity to work as an instructor on courseware for marketingprofs.com, creating a wonderful presentation called "storytelling in marketing" for their crash course in content marketing courseware. I highly recommend their material for new and old marketing professionals.
- I have waffled back and forth on half a dozen designs for new tattoo work that I would like to get done. Of course the queen of my kingdom says that that will not occur until the money flows like wine. Wine that I do not drink anymore. Doesn't that suck ass?
- I have listened to countless podcasts.
- I've tested new applications for my mobile device.
- I have re-interpreted and re-launched my personal brand with the Swiss army archetype.
- For the designers of the world, I recommend that you look at new fonts, design styles, fashion trends, color trends, UX/UI trends to compare your competency within the marketplace. I found that I frequently rely on specific tricks, fonts and photographic approaches when it comes to my work because it is often viewed with approval. But this is not reinvention, so embrace what scares you and attempt to pull it off. I promise you it will pay dividends.
- I have actively written for a maximizesocialbusiness.com – spearheading their efforts on content marketing, which has been met with accolades with in the community.
- Next was the process of interviewing for a global hospitality and travel brand that took over 3 1/2 months and four interviews. This too was new to me. More often than not in my career, I have sold myself in a room and started shortly thereafter. Not only must we reinvent ourselves creatively, but we need to adapt and align with whatever position we find ourselves in. The task for me was interesting in that I had to actively reinterpret my position dependent upon the department I was trying to sell myself to. In the end I was not chosen, however I feel that I gained more from that experience than I lost.
- I have eaten dozens of tacos with some of the best marketing minds in the Southeast.
- And now I find myself knee-deep in the nucleus of launching a new advertising agency out of Manhattan, as well as fortifying and re-branding a local agency for a re-introduction to the market. There are countless things I would like to talk about in this last bullet point. However, some of it is hush-hush. Others are emerging and will make themselves known in 2015.
Does that seem like a lot to do in five months?
I don't know. Maybe, maybe not? We all work at a different pace. However, if you live inside of my constantly churning mind, you will know this doesn't feel like I've done anything at all. Perhaps that makes me do what I do. When I embarked on this blog a number of years ago, I decided that I was going to be the antithesis of the vast majority of marketing bloggers.. What does that mean? That means telling you exactly what's really going on and not clouding it with low-hanging fruit and fluffy bullshit.
We will see what 2015 brings for me, but I am more confident than ever that if I want something in this business – I can make it happen.
Maybe you and I will even do something together. I want to do it all!
In the end I think the most important thing about reinvention is to let the fear drive you forward and not put you in a spiral. In many ways I think you advance your abilities at a higher rate of speed during times of adversity, simply due to the fact that you don't have time to get mired down by the "what ifs."