Dish: Under Construction


The average person will have seven careers over the course of his or her life. Most people start out with good intentions, degree in hand, and either find a career in their chosen field or fall into something that pays the bills. Advertising and marketing seem to attract a significant number of the latter. But here are two pieces of fantastic news: (1) The industry offers a broad and multifaceted canvas that opens up loads of opportunities for reinvention; and (2) it is never too late to reinvent yourself.

When people speak of the so-called creative class, they may immediately think of fine artists, writers, musicians, and the like. But according to professor Richard Florida, the term’s originator, it also includes scientists, engineers, educators, computer programmers, and researchers. Marketing and advertising are ripe with opportunities for creativity, particularly given the speed with which new models emerge and the industry’s demanding delivery cycles. The truth is, creative possibilities abound in deal-
making, relationship-building, and numerical analytics, in addition to what might be regarded as traditional creative endeavors, such as writing and directing TV commercials. If the past 20 years have taught us anything, it is that yet-to-be-seen marketing paradigms will augment whatever is in vogue today. And guess what? You have an opportunity to play a part in that.

One way to begin the process is to ask yourself what your true purpose is. What is your unique gift—the thing you were put on this earth to do? If you know what it is, consider yourself lucky—most people don’t. Or they know what it is, but choose to ignore it and subjugate that insight in pursuit of money, title, and other trappings of status. If you are among the few who know what your purpose is, don’t ignore it. Ask yourself if you can apply that talent in a fresh way to revitalize yourself personally and professionally.

What is your unique gift-the thing you were put on this earth to do?

That’s easier said than done. A voice inside each of us is stoked by fear, and it challenges the idea that we could actually live out our dreams. Its soul-crushing dirge says things like, “Who am I to exhibit such hubris? What if I fail? What will people think?” Stop and realize that a lot of people feel trapped professionally and are just waiting for someone to show them that it’s possible to break free from a prison of one’s own making. If you believe in Dr. Stephen Covey’s concept of an “emotional bank account” that collects deposits of goodwill over time, you’ll know whether or not you have accrued significant equity among your peers. That currency and support allows you to go forth and be an agent of self-change.

At the recent D2C Convention, a longtime colleague informed me that her employer had summarily dismissed her the previous week after a tenure of some 35 years. She was in Las Vegas to see if she could drum up some consulting business. It is hardly surprising that ageism exists in an industry in which youth is so revered. However, this development particularly galled me because this consummate pro is a true mensch. And yet, after my initial shock, I realized that this person—whom many might consider in the twilight of her career—is a fighter in every sense of the word. Rather than feeling victimized, she bravely made the decision to reinvent herself without missing a beat.

And so we can choose to remake ourselves by proactive design or in response to circumstances outside our control. It is a matter of individual choice and events. But make no mistake: Each of us is undergoing or will soon undergo some reconstruction, and that includes individuals, businesses, and even our trade association. Recognize too, however, just how grand it is to work in an entrepreneurial industry that has fewer rules and constraints than most. People used to ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s time to rephrase the question: What do you want to be when you grow on?

Rick Petry is a freelance writer who specializes in direct marketing and is a past chairman of ERA. He can be reached at (503) 740-9065 or online at and @thepetrydish on Twitter.