AI Inspired Storytelling

By Raymond Smith

Manage Your Stress

This is installment 7 in my series of things I’ve learned – and would love to share – in my 25 years in advertising. This one’s a biggie: stress management.

They say that stress is the silent killer. They also say that about sitting too much. And about eating too much salt. Blood pressure, man…it’ll get you. But my point is about stress, and yes, absolutely, advertising is a stressful business. Timelines are tight and getting more so each year. When I started 25 years ago, you’d get two weeks from brief to client presentation. Now you get closer to two days. That’s bound to take a toll.

What’s more, expectations and standards are high in the industry. Think about the words we use; “So-and-so is a rockstar…” and “Our teams are incredibly talented…” and “We go above and beyond for our clients”. You hear them every day, and they work to let you know that above-average is the new average and exceptional is pretty much expected. But it’s unrealistic and it’s unsustainable, and it contributes to high stress and burnout.

So, what’s a relatively new employee to do?

First, learn to be honest about your ability to deliver on ‘the ask’. When someone says “Can we see something on Tuesday afternoon?” and you know that’s impossible, tell them what is realistic. “I think Wednesday afternoon is more like it.” You may feel like you’re letting someone down, but what you’re really doing is providing a workable deadline so that they can plan all their other duties – internal presentations, client presentations, production and delivery dates, etc. more honestly. The benefit to you is that when you have more control of your workload, your stress levels will drop.

Second, learn and maintain healthy ways of managing your body stress and your mind stress. Do you get enough good sleep? Are you eating properly and exercising? Are you practicing healthy self-management through yoga and meditation vs. (sorry…gonna sound judgy) unhealthy ways like alcohol, drugs or food? Are you taking breaks throughout the day…stepping away from your laptop…going on walks around the block…talking to people about things other than work?

Third, keep perspective. We spend our days advertising phone plans and pickup trucks and bank accounts…this ain’t curing cancer. If you do something poorly, it might impact a deliverable date, but nobody is going to die. Also, your family and friends will still love you even if you don’t win lots of awards, and how much money you earn is a very poor indicator of happiness or worth. This is what you do; it’s not who you are. Perspective.

Fourth: recognize a sweatshop when you work at one. If you simply have too much work to reasonably do in a day, speak to your supervisor. If they don’t help to find a real solution – one that doesn’t involve you working until 9 every night – it’s probably time to move to a more humane company. Sweatshops have their role in your career; they’re great places to learn a lot quickly. But you can’t keep up the pace forever. Only you will know when you’ve had enough and it’s time to flee. (I once worked at a place where I had to sneak out at 6:00 PM using the fire exit. If I left via the lobby, someone would ask “Where are you going?” Unsustainable.)

Fifth: plan your exit. Having an ‘out’ is an incredible stress reliever. Are you a writer working on a script? Are you an account manager planning to be a personal trainer? Is your wedding photography side-hustle looking more like your main hustle? Have an exit plan…even if you never use it. Knowing you could pull the rip cord at any time might give you enough mental leeway to tough it out another week…and then the stress passes. And if it’s time to pack it in, at least you’ll have the rough outlines of a game plan that leads to your next chapter.

 The bottom line is that stress exists in every job, and everyone’s ability to carry, deal-with and manage stress is different. Listen to your mind and body; you’ll know – soon enough ­– what your own limits are. Do what is right for you and you’ll be much happier in the long run.