I've been (re)binge-watching all six seasons of AMC's Mad Men. During my second go-round, I find myself empathizing with Sterling Draper Copper Pryce's lead copywriter, Peggy Olsen. It's not because Peggy and I share titles, but instead because I watch her, often unsuccessfully, battle her ego.
Peggy limps about the office, carrying the wounds Don Draper continually inflicts upon her—and it resonates with me. Not the Don Draper part, but the assault-on-the-psyche part of agency life.
When I wrote "What Can Advertisers Gain From Humility," I suggested that "Creativity is collective, and you increase a campaign's depth and distance when you bring a degree of humility to your work and acknowledge that the creative process (writ large) is built on the efforts of an entire team." I believe this to be true, but I failed to acknowledge that it's really, really hard to subordinate yourself to the team, especially when you are prized for your personal creativity.
Part of my job at Belief is to concept on campaigns with the Creative Director. We do this spit-ball style in a room full of whiteboards, scribbling down good (and bad) ideas as we go. I am a primary contributor to any creative thought that comes out of this agency, but I will rarely get any sort of direct accolades or affirmation. I am a subsidiary of Belief, and as such, my work belongs to and reflects the aggregate creative talent at the agency. Is this upsetting at times? I'd be lying if I said otherwise. Everyone wants praise. Everyone wants commendation and applause. Everyone wants to put the ADDY or CLIO on their own desk.
(Don't) Go It Alone
In Season 4, Episode 7 of Mad Men, Peggy desperately seeks Don's affirmation on a pitch, but he refuses to indulge her:
Don Draper: That's how this works. I pay you for ideas.
Peggy Olson: You never say 'thank you.'
Don Draper: That's what the money is for!
Draper's insensitivity aside, he's fully aware, and perhaps trying to get Peggy to understand, the nuances of an agency's creative process. It's cutthroat, and it's collaborative. Peggy cannot do it alone; she needs her team. She needs Draper (and evidenced at the end of Season 5, Draper needs her too).
Not all creative directors are Don Drapers, but most creatives, whether designers, developers, or copywriters, do battle Peggy Olsen Syndrome. When you have Peggy Olsen Syndrome, you fail to recognize—and celebrate—a few things about agency work.
1. Your Work Is Better Because You're Part Of A Team.
My best work always comes from collaboration. I can't point to one single occasion when my work has gone out the door untouched, so it's never completely my own, and it's always been better for the critique and criticism.
2. Your Job Is One-Part Character Development.
I've learned more about myself working at an agency than I ever did as a student. I've learned to be patient, with myself and my coworkers, and I've learned to be confident, in speaking with clients and putting creative ideas on the table. Patience and confidence are life skills that transcend the office space. My personal and professional relationships have grown stronger because of the creative battles I face from nine to five.
3. You Will Struggle.
I have Peggy Olsen moments, as I think most creatives do. It's hard (and humbling) to acknowledge your own creative narcissism, to admit that you do want the accolades and the praise. And at the same time, it's terrifying to make yourself vulnerable. You get assaulted from both sides. But in my own experience, I gain more than I lose. The struggle refines, hones, and sharpens.
There Is No "I" In "Team"
I tell you about Peggy Olsen Syndrome not so we can commiserate about the symptoms, but instead so we can work toward a cure. The remedy is simple: be part of your team. I know it sounds tired and trite, but if you can recognize the three truths of creative work outlined above and act accordingly, you will be more creative, do better work, and ultimately, be a better person.