"So was it worth it? Well, of course not. It turns out it was just advertising. There was no higher calling. No ultimate prize."
That's one conclusion drawn by Linds Redding in "A Short Lesson in Perspective," a 3,000-word essay the longtime creative executive wrote on his blog earlier this year, republished by the San Francisco Egotist. Redding was diagnosed with esophageal cancer last year. He died last month at age 52. The piece finds Redding—an art director, designer and animator—taking serious stock of his personal and professional life. He opens with "The Overnight Test," recounting how, in the early 1980s when his career began, he'd spend the day pinning campaign ideas to the office wall, returning the next morning with invaluable fresh perspective allowing him to gauge the true merit of his efforts and renewed enthusiasm for the projects at hand. Redding laments the subsequent technologically driven homogenization of creativity, arguing that creatives became—or more accurately, in his estimation, allowed themselves to become—abused by a system that exploited their propensity for putting in endless hours to generate and refine ideas, while receiving progressively fewer rewards in return.
Redding spreads the blame, castigating both the corporate world, which naturally exploits human assets to maximize profits, and the worker drones themselves, blinded by golden trophies and expanding paychecks until they lose sight of what's really important. Many practitioners fell into anxiety-laced depression, alcoholism, drug abuse and worse. Their home lives and health collapsed in the endless striving for creative kudos and a misplaced desire to please a bottom-line-obsessed system that could care less about their suffering. Ultimately, he calls into question his 30-year professional existence—his entire adult life, essentially. "I’m not really sure it passes The Overnight Test," he writes.
It's a sobering diatribe, but compellingly written, with such straightforward language and clear-eyed observation that it manages to sidestep maudlin self-pity. It fits all hard-charging workplace cultures, not just the ad biz. In the end, Redding advocates personal responsibility: "If you're reading this while sitting in some darkened studio or edit suite agonizing over whether Housewife A should pick up the soap powder with her left hand or her right, do yourself a favor. Power down. Lock up and go home and kiss your wife and kids." RIP, Linds. Your desire to share the wisdom of tough lessons lived and learned was well "worth it," and your heartfelt effort to help others gain some perspective passes The Overnight Test with flying colors.