In advertising (as with many professional industries), certain characteristics make a good employee. Dedication and the willingness to put work first are a given. The hours are long, often excruciatingly so. As a result, plans get cancelled. People are left in the lurch at the last minute. It's often impossible to plan anything more than a few days in advance, because you never know when a pitch will present itself, a client will demand a tighter deadline or extra hands will be needed on a last-minute project. Careful planning is a luxury we just don't have.
Being a skilled actor is also helpful. I've sat through countless meetings during which I've wanted to rip my hair out. But the ability to sit, smile and laugh it off is vital. To convince people to believe the emotions portrayed on my face though they often belie my real feelings.
Next comes confidence and a very thick skin. Writing is as objective a craft as it comes. Ten people can read this very post and have varying opinions on my word choice, paragraph length, tone, voice -- even my grammar comes under scrutiny at the hands of each member of my audience. And, because it's always easier to find fault than to give praise, often, the first words out of my critiquer's mouth are negative. It doesn't mean they don't like what I've written. It just means they have suggestions on how to tweak, improve or modify it. At work, my bosses just need something to react to, so they do. That's their job.
That doesn't mean that when I first started in the biz, it didn't hurt like hell each time someone made a change to my work, sometimes politely, many times far less so. It also doesn't mean that there aren't still days that a harsh criticism doesn't make me question my abilities as a writer (I think that's pretty par for the course.) But as a result of this less-than-gentle environment, I've been forced to develop a very thick skin and with that, the ability to defend my work against all odds. Confidence sometimes to the point of arrogance is a benefit, if not a necessity, to succeed.
Finally, as a woman in the business, there's the ever-present matter of sexism. Proof of point is the fact that only 3% of creative directors in advertising are women. This vast discrepancy means that I have to work twice as hard to keep up with the boys, much less sit at the table. Charm helps overcome certain obstacles. Other times, I need to be a ball buster and do as the boys do. Either way, it often requires a less than subtle, feminine touch.
The combination of these qualities makes me fairly competent when it comes to being a writer. Unfortunately, they seem to have precisely the opposite effect when it comes to dating. Here's why:
1. Dedication to my job
Last time I checked, people in relationships, whether new or established, want to see their partners. This phenomenon can be nearly impossible while juggling work deadlines. During busy season (or any season, really), finding a free night can be nearly impossible. A last-minute deadline means dates get cancelled... at the last minute. And on the rare occasion when I do anticipate a free night coming up, I want to plan ahead, sometimes as much as a week in advance. In the world of online dating, where people yearn for spontaneity, requiring making plans so far in advance comes off as pushy -- not a great quality in the "getting to know you" phase of a relationship.
2. Not being honest about how I feel
It's probably true for most people that when you step out of the office, there is a shift in your personality. There's work Jamie and then there's non-work Jamie. There are of course many overlapping elements between these two halves of my whole, but the need to maintain an overall happy demeanor throughout the day can sometimes be exhausting. Which means that when I step out of the office, I sometimes inadvertently turn off the charm. So whoever happens to cross my path at the wrong time, be it family, friends or dates, may get to experience less than savory parts of my personality. On the flip side of this, I sometimes keep the "charade" going into my evening and the person I'm spending time with doesn't get to see the truest version of myself.
3. Thick skin
The final two points mentioned above sort of converge. Part of the beauty of being in a relationship is letting your guard down. Being a bit vulnerable. Letting someone take care of you. In a competitive field like advertising, there's not much room for coddling. You show anyone weakness and it may be exploited. Having a thick skin is great for work. But not great when someone is trying to penetrate that tough exterior to see the soft person waiting beneath the surface.
Don't get me wrong; most days, I like being the ball-busting, thick-skinned champion of my own work. But it sure can make it challenging to turn it off when the occasion calls for it. And as work Jamie merges each day with non-work Jamie, I wonder when they'll learn to work in tandem to create the best possible version of myself
NOTE: I don't for a second think that the challenges I've described are unique to advertising -- they're likely applicable to many professional roles (read: most desk jobs). But since the only biz I really know is advertising, for the sake of this post, I've focused on that. I venture to guess that many of you can relate to what I've described and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading!