Don’t Worry, Be Happy

My wife sat next to a fellow copywriter at a buddy’s wedding one time. They started talking about copywriting, and like everyone else who ever got an A in a Creative Writing class, she told him, “I think I could do that.”

He answered, “Could you do it if it was due in an hour?”

And that’s the thing. Anyone can come up with a great idea for an ad or a video or whatever, given enough time. But can you do it consistently? And can you do it when the pressure’s on?

When I was just getting started in the biz, someone in our agency did an ad (I don’t remember if my partner and I did it or another team did), and someone commented, “not bad for fast.”

Then Manual Reyes, an OC design legend and a car guy who flamed The California Kid (read all about it), imparted this wisdom: “No one will ever judge it based on how long it took. They will only judge it by if it’s good or if it’s bad.” That’s something I’ve always remembered. Thanks, Manuel. Enjoy that cold Bud. You deserve it.

The point I wanted to make, though, is that whether you’re doing good work or not-bad-for-fast work, the ad biz is a high-pressure biz. Sure, every job has its share of stress. I’m not taking anything away from anyone. But it’s one thing to have a deadline and you’re scrambling to put together a report or finish building a house or something, and another thing entirely to have a deadline and you have to create something you’re proud of out of a blank sheet of paper.

How do you handle that stress? I have to admit, it’s still not easy. But it’s something I’ve gotten used to. I think I handle it pretty well now, but I picked up a couple of tips from others who handled it better along the way.

As mentioned above, deadlines are one source of stress. One time my freelance partner Scott Mayeda and I were working on a big project that was due the next morning. We were sitting around all day and by about 2 p.m., we still hadn’t come up with anything good. I was totally stressing, but he didn’t seem to be. So I asked him, “Aren’t you stressed?”

He said with a shrug, “Nope.”

I said, “Why not? What if we can’t come up with anything? What if all the good ideas have already been thought of, and the Magic Idea Dispensary ran out just as we got this gig? What if we never come up with anything good ever again?”

He said, “We’ll come up with something. We always do.”

And doggone if I didn’t realize he was right. We always do. And a couple hours later, we did. By the end of the day, we had some killer work, and whatever it was, I’m sure the client loved it the next day. We were probably heroes of some type. There may or may not have been a parade involved. I can’t remember. But I do try to keep that in mind when I’m not coming up with anything and the deadline is getting closer. I just keep going, and I always come up with something.

As much as I try to remember that story, though, there’s another one I try to forget. A friend told me about a copywriter at a big agency in L.A. She came to her Creative Director complaining that she couldn’t think of anything. He said, “Come here” and motioned her over to the window of the high-rise they were in. They looked out the window at the street below. He said, “See all those people out there? They can’t think of anything either.” Ouch.

I learned to handle another type of stress from my buddy Glenn Miller. No, not the big band leader. But go ahead and ask him if he’s ever heard that one. Pretty sure he hasn’t. Anyway, this type of stress had to do with things out of your control.

We were on our way to a radio session in L.A. one time and we hit traffic. The thing with radio is you start paying when the session is supposed to start. If you’re not there, not only are you wasting your client’s money, you also might not have enough time to finish your job. You might have to sit and wait for hours until studio time is available again.

So traffic is crawling along, and Glenn is driving, and he’s just chatting comfortably away. I’m about to jump out of my skin. I’m ready to get out and start running on the Hollywood Freeway and get there faster than we can drive there. I finally interrupt him and ask, “Aren’t you stressed? Our session starts in 20 minutes.”

He seemed surprised. “No. There’s nothing we can do about it. We can’t go back and leave earlier. We’re here right now, and we’ll get there when we get there. If we’re late, we’ll work faster. But we’ll get it done, and it’ll come out great.”

Wow. More words of wisdom that blew me away.

Maybe Scott and Glenn thought their comments were innocuous at the time, but they had a big impact on me. Their way of looking at things have crystallized into my own way of approaching things. If I’m faced with a stressful situation, first I think, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” Then I think, “can I do anything about it?” If the answer’s yes, I do what I can. For example, if I’m stressing about not having enough work, I reach out to people and try to get work. If I’m stressing about being swamped, I just dig in and start getting it done. I do what I can.

If the answer’s no, there’s nothing I can do about it, then I try not to think about it. If worrying won’t do any good, then why worry? “Worry is the interest paid on trouble before it falls due.” That’s something I saw on a quote-of-the-day calendar when I was young that I’ve always remembered. Someone named William Ralph Inge. (I had to Google it. Sorry, Willy Ralph.)

If lying in bed thinking about it can solve the problem, that’s what I’ll do. Try to solve it. But if lying in bed thinking about it can’t possibly contribute to a solution, I won’t think about it. I’ll think about the Circle of Fifths instead.

St. Padre Pio has a famous quote too: “Pray, hope and don’t worry.” Not to be confused with St. Bobby McFerrin, who said, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Stress is a killer. We all face it. Try to handle it like Scott and Glenn. Do what you can and don’t worry about the rest. And remember to laugh a little. Works for me. So far.

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