Take my advice: ignore advice
A view from Nathalie Gordon

Take my advice: ignore advice

The advice we give to young people is bullshit.

Be suspicious of anyone giving you free advice about anything  including me and this column. This is for the few. The young of mind or body.

You aren’t going to like this, but I’ll say it anyway: the advice we give to young people is bullshit. It hasn’t always been, but it is now. 

Creative leaders have become sterile. We dish out advice like we are the Dalai Lama. Except what we are saying is clichéd, monotonous and old-fashioned. Imagine how you would feel making a pilgrimage to McLeod Ganj, India, to hear His Holiness tell you to "be memorable". 

Why are we offering up one-size-fits-all Clintons-card quotes like they are new?

"Be nice". "Shake it up". "Follow your heart". "Put in the hours". "Make great work". "Dream big". "Keep trying". "Stand out from the crowd". "Don’t take it personally". "Make a difference". "Never give up". "Learn from your mistakes". "Be yourself". Blah blah blah.

In this industry, everyone is an authority figure. Everyone believes they’re John Keating. Everyone has something profound to say. But what is coming out is lazy, self-serving and impossible to follow. 

We are all different. Different jobs. Ages. Genders. Mindsets. Desires. Abilities. When we’re prescriptive about career progression, we stunt the progress of the whole industry.

I don’t want to piss on anyone’s party. But I worry. 

I worry that we’re teaching students and juniors that it is easy. That we have it figured out. That there is a one-size-fits-all path that leads to a Cannes Lion golden shower. I worry about the gigantic fall we are setting them up for. 

What we should be saying is: we’re in trouble here. 

More people actively unsubscribe to advertising than any other service in the entire world. As Nils Leonard said: "People are paying money to avoid what we spend our lives making." 

There’s no right answer any more. It’s not enough to "do what you love". But leave your blood in every piece of work you do, and you might be OK.

There’s a huge irony to advice. We ask for it because we want to be right. We give it because we want to be right. Well, if there was a time to get it wrong, it’s now. Getting it wrong is a precursor to trying – of doing something original or how it has never been done before. 

I would rather be wrong with a story no-one else has told before than right and forgettable. Most of the advice I’ve ever been given is to give up. When I was a student I was told: "No-one wants to hire middle-class female creatives." The chief executive of the agency where I had my first job told me: "We want famous creatives who make famous work and you’re not one of them." 

I’ve been told I would never win awards without a partner. I’ve been told that pushing back won’t lead to good work. I’ve been told to lower my expectations. To not be so emotional. To not take it so personally. 

I’ve built my career by ignoring this bollocks. 

Ignoring advice doesn’t mean you are better than anyone. I am certainly not. But I am on a quest for an extraordinary career. 

One where I don’t make TV ads, I make art. One where I change lives, not people’s toilet-paper brands. One where real people, not just awards juries, like what I make. 

This career is uncommon. No-one knows how to get there. So why ask every man and his dog for directions? 

Stop seeking approval from others so easily. Stop looking for positive affirmation of your own thinking. Be so fucking hungry for this industry you’ll trade your soul for a sandwich. 

But I am a no-one. And you haven’t asked for my advice. So here’s Rainer Maria Rilke’s advice to a young poet – take the lesson from him instead: "Now (since you have allowed me to advise you), I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that, above all, you should not do now. Nobody can help and counsel you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you [to create]; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places in your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to [create]… If you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple ‘I must’, then build your life according to this necessity."

Nathalie Gordon is a freelance creative at Uncommon.