TS issue #11: the advertising artist's way

Dear Tech Support, 

After stumbling on the new Fortune 40 under 40 list in an insomnia-slash-anxiety spiral the other night, I’m curious to know what you think about the importance or not of building one’s personal brand. It sounds cringe, but I wonder if a more self-designed, self-directed (and yes, self-promotional) approach to work cracks the “meaning and impact” problem a lot of us seem to be facing. 

Being a longtime, successful employee at a major technology company has always been a point of pride for me until the past couple of years (thanks to you and others ;). I like what I do and the people I work with, but describing it to anyone without familiarity with big tech’s inner workings is complicated and boring, and the simple ways to put it are either complete bullshit (“help businesses around the world grow to their full potential”) or completely depressing (“display some more ads”). Nothing I’m doing tells a clear story that sets me apart from anyone else in humanity. (Yes, I’m aware that humanity has bigger fish to fry at the moment). 

I’ve always considered myself a creative person; I did a lot of creative writing in school. Over the past decade (!) in the corporate world I’ve had spurts of inspiration to start a blog or a podcast or a business, but never really followed through on anything. I’ve known a lot of people to take tech careers like mine and launch into something that’s more creative, individual, and interesting. I’m sure some of this particular spiral stems from not having all of the distraction and social aspects of the office, which I greatly miss! 

I know this isn’t such a clear question but appreciate any thoughts and reflections on this.

Thanks,

Hoping to make the 100 under 100 list someday

GET IN LOSER, WE’RE GOING SHOPPING (just kidding, of course there are no losers in Tech Support; everyone gets a “Special Angel” trophy just for reading).

You seem to have most of the answers here, Moana; the thing you’ve been searching for has been literally hanging around your neck all along (wow, is the message of Moana that one’s personal truth is actually a millstone?? that is….extremely deep), so I will just spend some time here reflecting back what you said with my own little twist on the off chance that’s edifying for others and that’s how the sausage is made I guess??

So I understand the use of the term “personal brand” here but I don’t think the heart (of Te Fiti—GOD I’ve seen Moana a lot of times, hashtag toddler parent) of the matter is whether or not you want to develop and promote the hell out of a Tim Ferriss-style lifestyle LLC (though I love that arc for you), but rather just the basic “what am I doing with my life?” question. To that end/answer, I guess there are no shortcuts. If you’ve got “the sickness” as a writing workshop teacher I had once referred to it, the thing where you’re going to feel blocked and frustrated until you’re regularly in a creative practice, then you should go do The Artist’s Way and start the process of peeling back all the layers of bullshit, self-doubt, and self-limiting beliefs of how a person should be (f*cK soCieTy!!!!). This is maybe a silver lining of tech offices–all the kindergarten color-palette stimulus and whiteboards and chocolate, the sense that you’re extremely special just for having a badge that opens the door, even if what you’re doing is, I’m sorry to say, what you are doing, which is selling ads while the world burns–not really existing anymore. There’s no distracting away the ennui anymore (the years of my life that zipped by in the Google microkitchens, throwing snacks and office gossip at the void/place where my soul should’ve been…I do find that I miss it). You have to look your existential unrest straight in the greenish dead Zoom eye, and that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. Careers are long and there’s no time like the present to start feeling even a modicum more honest about what you’re contributing to the world.

In the meantime, I would probably try to avoid externalizing things too much. Figuring out a “clear story that sets you apart from the rest of humanity” is too intense of a brief for the moment we’re in. And also embarrassing, just structurally. It’s like stumbling upon the bio of an acquaintance that’s in the third person even though it’s obvious they wrote it, describing them as an industry pioneer or creative visionary or noting their spirit animal is “naturally, a cross between Stevie Nicks, Spike Jonze, and Oprah” (that’s from a real bio I read the other day so I’m actually typing this posthumously). To me the Fortune list is like that on a larger scale—I just feel a bit depressed by the posturing and aggrandizement of it all (though all due respect and congrats to those acknowledged especially Beyoncé [for whom I’m sure this is huge!], Sarah Huckabee Sanders [appreciate the commitment to finding ‘total rockstars’ on both sides of the aisle in these polarizing times!], and my IRL friend Erica Anderson who is genuinely rad and kind). Anyway, you may think these people are happy but I guarantee you the person who wrote the thing about Stevie Nicks and Oprah being their spirit animal probably isn’t, or maybe they are and that’s great and we’re not thinking about them anyway because this is about YOU (and Moana).

Good luck on your way <3

Additional troubleshooting:

  • The spiritual consultants have arrived to save capitalism. Incredible how far corporate America will go to avoid just being good managers.

  • Deeply cynical shit in the fight over Prop 22 and gig worker status: how Uber and Lyft funded a disinformation campaign against one of its most vocal critics, the law professor and person I like/admire very much, Veena Dubal

  • That the main theme of the Discourse around this profile of Miranda July was not that she sounds completely unhinged (the frying pan anecdote!!!!) is surprising but she went to my high school, we generally stan, and damn, talk about living ~the Artist’s Way~

  • I’ve watched all the Jordan Firstman impressions with such fervor I’m starting to feel like I’m cheating on John Early, even as I remind myself that true lols, as precious and rare as they may seem, are not a finite resource unlike literally everything else on the planet. lol!

*fielding further questions here: askclairest@gmail.com*