Wherever you go, there you are.

A piece of philosophy to build your career on.

“This is really great, but we just don’t think we’re ready to be this kind of brand just yet.”

“We love it, but this might be more of a ‘phase two’ kind of idea.”

“We could see us doing this one day, but right now we just need to play it safe.”

I would bet the farm on everyone reading this having heard these kind of responses to a presentation. A really great, energetic, enthusiastic, positive presentation - with a piece of work that everyone in the room knows deep down is great, but will never see the light of day.

I was listening to Rick Rubin chat with Jon Kabat-Zin the other morning on his podcast. I consider both informal mentors in my life, so was excited to see the two of them together in the same space and time. The conversation mostly revolved around mindfulness, presence, and awareness, and at one point Jon referenced the title of one of his books, ‘Wherever you go, there you are.’

It’s a powerful line of thinking that you can bring to almost any aspect of life, including work and business. Humans spend a lot of time either ruminating on the past or being fearful of the future. And nowhere more than in the workplace. In our business, we over-obsess over data and analytics and templates and systems and everything that has come before, and live in abject terror of the potential pitfalls of trying something new. What this leads to, in life and in work, is never living in the moment and missing the potential greatness that’s sitting right in front of you. The problem with this is that the present moment we’re in is the only one that actually exists. The past is gone and the future doesn’t exist. And whatever it is that we want in the future can only be attained by moving in the direction of it in the present.

“We can’t do this. We’re not Nike.”

“Only a brand like Apple can do something like this.”

I was late to the advertising business. I spent my 20s aimlessly working corporate jobs I hated, just expecting that one day ‘when I was a grown up’ I would eventually like it because ‘that’s what grown ups do’. It was a terribly naive and damaging way of thinking, but I didn’t know any better at the time. It took me until my 30s to realise that you can only get to where you want to go by going there. It sounds obvious, but how many people around you have been ‘stuck’ in a situation that doesn’t serve them? More than you might imagine. Probably all of us, at some point.

My first Creative Director, Alex Fenton, gave me a piece of advice that has stayed with me ever since. Three simple words: ‘Assume the role’. Whenever a situation or a client or a superior placed an expectation on you that seemed out of reach, but was required for success, just ‘assume the role’. Just be it. Become it. Embody it. Brendan Bond, an Alexander Technique practitioner I worked with for many years, suggested inventing a word to remind myself to be present, so that you can form a plan, so that you can co-ordinate yourself in such a way, so that you can move in the direction of where you need to go. Over the years, I started realising that a lot of mentors, formal and informal, in my life were all saying the same thing, just in different ways.

So what does any of this have to do with advertising and these commonly heard quotes from marketers in board rooms?

Nike only became Nike by acting like Nike. Apple only became Apple by acting like Apple. None of these brands, or the people that built them, just woke up one day and went ‘Huh. I guess we’re Nike now. This must be phase 2.’

There will never be a ‘right time’ to be the brand, or the marketer, you want to be. You won’t get where you want to go ‘one day’ by walking in the opposite direction today. There’s no such thing as ‘phase 2’.

Whatever direction you move in today will be where you end up tomorrow. A different destination isn’t going to materialise out of nowhere. You can’t simply wait to arrive there.

‘Wherever you go, there you are’.

If you see the brand you want to be, then be it. If you’re staring at work you want to make, back it. If an ambition burns inside you, run towards the fire.

If you want to do great work, and you recognise great work, then move towards it. If you feel you can’t within your current organisation or role, then maybe you need to move towards a different one. Or win the trust and support of those that can clear a path.

The current advertising model has been crumbling for a while now, and there’s understandable fear in what that means for all of us, but there should also be some excitement in the potential of the new one that emerges. I still genuinely believe that the talent in our business is the deepest untapped well in the commercial world, and the more ambitious people moving in the right direction, the better.

So, my thought for the day, for creatives and clients alike:

You can only do better work, land that bigger job, make that name for yourself, by moving towards it.

There’s simply no other way.

Take that first step.

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