Are you a worrier or a warrior? This was the question posed at an event by Dawn, the Digital Advertising Women's Network, at the House of Hearst last week. The Champion Your Inner Warrior, Not Worrier event featured speakers from Cosmopolitan, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Campaign and Media Bounty.
Farrah Storr, editor in chief of Cosmopolitan, urged the audience to get comfortable with being in uncomfortable and challenging situations. Storr – whose book on this topic, The Discomfort Zone: How to Get What You Want by Living Fearlessly, is published by Piatkus this week – believes that humans are designed to carry a load.
Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable
Pointing out how often lottery winners end up with miserable lives, Storr explained: "Success is the very tip top of the mountain. Most of life is the grind towards that summit. So you must enjoy the climb. Enjoy the grind, which to me just means challenging work."
Her book looks at the challenges people face in their lifetime and offers the tools to better navigate them, according to Storr. She explained: "For example, no one situation is ever totally uncomfortable. Say, you have to speak in front of 1,000 people. The whole speech won’t be uncomfortable, just certain parts of it."
She believes that there are usually only three moments in any given situation that challenge you and, when you break it down into bite-sized chunks, they become more manageable. "When you realise there are only moments of discomfort, that can be quite comforting," Storr added.
Here are the key takeaways from the panel, as well as their book recommendations.
Farrah Storr, editor in chief, Cosmopolitan
'Get comfortable with being uncomfortable'
Storr said that her entire 20-year career has been challenging – that's something she faced with trepidation at first but now welcomes it as a matter of course. "It hasn’t been the glamour people might expect. I certainly haven’t been sitting in a glass office being sent handbags," she said.
Her first editorship was at Women’s Health, but she described how she very nearly sidestepped the role. The original appointment pulled out and Storr was asked to interview at short notice. She had just moved back to the UK from Australia, taken on a mortgage and was getting married and considering starting a family. She wasn’t sure the timing was right.
"However, editorships are rare," said Storr. "So I went along to interview. Just 30 minutes later, my phone rang and I was offered the role. I thought: ‘This seems too good to be true. There must be something they’re not telling me.’"
Indeed, it transpired that she would have just two members of staff – neither were writers – and would be tasked with selling 100,000 copies of the first issue, with only six weeks remaining until launch. And the salary, at £55k per annum, was far below average for the role of editor. But Storr took a leap of faith and went for it.
"Because of how challenging the situation was, we were bold with everything we did," Storr recalled. "And it went on to be considered the most successful women’s launch of the decade."
Later, Storr was offered another challenge: the stewardship of Cosmopolitan. The job came with the caveat that she had three months to deliver a turnaround.
"The CEO said: ‘I know you like a challenge,’" Storr said. And with 80% of the existing staff departing in a reshuffle, it was certainly not an easy task. "I was glad for my previous experience, as I don’t think I would have responded with the same sense of adventure."
She shared a few tips with the audience about facing challenging moments.
"When you are excited, for example on a fairground ride, your body knows," Storr explained. "When you hold a bank statement and you feel sick? Yes, your body knows that is more than a piece of paper. This is all the money you spent that you shouldn’t have spent.
"However, your body is also very clever in that it can switch states very quickly. I tell myself that nervousness means I am excited, that I feel very challenged. A recent example of this was when I was invited onto a live TV programme for a Piers Morgan debate [regarding Cosmo featuring a plus-sized model on the cover]. I told myself that I was in a challenge state and I actually felt that I was firing on all cylinders."
Book recommendation: The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haight
Nicola Kemp, trends editor, Campaign
Kemp shared that finding her career path in journalism was straightforward – the profession utilised her natural curiosity and love of storytelling.
The real challenges came after having her two children. She took a year’s maternity leave with each baby and found the adjustment afterwards very difficult.
"I got a life coach," she said, "and I’m not sure the advice given was right for me. I was told to say ‘yes’ to everything when doing so meant that I was also saying ‘no’ to something: my family. My take is that I tried to be a warrior when that’s actually not right for me. Your career is a marathon: you must pace yourself differently at different times."
Kemp explained that she has since asked lots of women and some men (who are often bemused by the question, feeling it doesn’t apply to them) how they adjusted to life after family. She then shared the best of what she has learned – from others and through her own experiences – with the audience as four key points.
"The first thing to say is that honesty is essential," Kemp said, explaining that she fervently believes the advertising industry has the capacity to be an agent for change in the world, but only if we are honest about the shortcomings. Speaking up helps others view these issues as a collective, thus giving people courage to address them.
She encouraged the audience to avoid the trap of the "lean in" philosophy. She referenced the Harvard Business Review’s findings that the Sheryl Sandberg book and its ideas create an ecosystem whereby women are held responsible both for finding balance and addressing systemic wrongs.
Kemp also urged the audience to seek out a company that would celebrate achievements and individuality, not simply tolerate differences. "I can’t speak to a group of women and not include a Cindy Gallop quote," she said, moving to her third piece of advice. "Cindy says we have to find a role or career path that gives us agency. And I agree wholeheartedly."
Kemp found that her role can frequently involve challenging conversations and asking "difficult" questions. However, she strives to ask those questions in a way that is true to her values, which include kindness. "In challenging times, we must keep hold of our own distinctive point of view. And if we keep to our values and principles, we won’t go wrong."
"My last point," Kemp continued, "is to hold the door open. Do this for others and do it for yourself. As women, we should actively pursue influence."
Without influence, one cannot powerfully advocate for change. She explained: "If you read some men in the industry’s LinkedIn profile, you might easily assume that he must run the country. A woman of similar experience might say she is ‘enthusiastic’. Wait: is this the profile of a labrador or a seasoned, experienced professional?"
Kemp closed with a quote from Madeleine Morris, a senior creative and copywriter, who shared her experience of being made redundant in her fifties. Morris said: "I put my head in the sand. I worried I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t perfect. My opinion wasn’t valid. I suffered from imposter syndrome, so I didn’t step up. I was shit at self-promotion and I was shackled by fear of failure. All things that women traditionally suffer from at work. So, from now on, I’m going to sing my own praises. I’m going to put my head up and take risks."
Book recommendation: How Will You Measure Your Life? By Clayton M Christensen; Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp
Jake Dubbins, managing director, Media Bounty
'Don’t duck uncomfortable situations'
Dubbins explained how his career path took an unexpected turn when, many years ago, he suddenly lost his job when the boss was imprisoned for defrauding a bank: "We all lost our jobs with no notice and I suddenly found I couldn’t pay the mortgage."
Out of this catastrophe, he and two others established their own agency. "My advice to you all is this: do not be afraid to get stuff wrong," Dubbins said. "We’ve gotten so much wrong; we have run almost three different models of our business.
"And I want to talk about not ducking uncomfortable situations. I have learned over the years to try to grasp the nettle. I find the confidence to face hard conversations by reminding myself that I must do in order to be true to myself and to them.
"One of our business partners left the business recently. We danced around issues for years, feeling the elephant in the room, and it is a grind. We wake with the topic on our mind and go to bed with it still hanging over us. Be authentic, have the conversation and don’t be afraid to get it wrong."
Dubbins continued: "The other thing I would recommend is that if you see problems – and there is a lot wrong in our industry as well as in others, including rampant sexism and racism – speak out. We all are busy and have full lives to lead. But I’d like to encourage you all to say something. And, if possible, collaborate with others to try to address these wrongs.
"I’m doing this with one of the Dawn founders, Cat Agostinho, with the Conscious Advertising Network. We’re part of a group developing a set of guidelines to help advertisers avoid funding hate, fake news, exploitation of children and ad fraud, as well as ensuring advertising is diverse and consensual. We want to make a difference.
Book recommedation: The Brain Book by Phil Dobson
Nikki Lindman, creative director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty
'If I’m not worrying, I’m not working'
"As a creative always does, I’ve tweaked the brief," Lindman said with a smile during her talk. "I actually believe that worrying powers my career."
One of only two women among BBH’s 33 creative directors, Lindman said she’d always wanted to work in advertising but only came to the industry at 28 after completing the Watford ad course.
"If I’m not worrying, I’m not working," she said. "Every aspect about creativity is based on worrying about something: will I crack the idea? Will the CD like it? Will my team support my idea? Will the client buy it? Will the director I think is best want to do it? Is my treatment right for that director?
"As you can see – it’s a cycle," Lindman continued. "I have learned to harness my worrying and used it to support my ambition. But, to do so, I use my newly named ‘Hansel and Gretel approach’."
She explained that each worry should be a crumb, a bite-sized consideration that moves you forward along the path to where you want to go.
"We can’t worry about the bridge until we get to the bridge," she said. "Only then we can see what it’s made of and consider how we cross it or what might be on the other side.
"I would also implore everyone to take time to consider this: don’t worry about past decisions. You worried about it, considered your options and made your best choice already. Let that go and move forward."
Lindman then spoke about the counterbalance to worry: gut instinct.
"I advocate for worry, but you must couple it with your gut. Intuition needs to balance worry. Your gut instinct is the warrior that fact-checks and backs you up. Trust it and don’t ignore it. In tandem with purposeful worry, it can be powerful," she said.
"Acknowledge worry and don’t let it silence you based on fear of what people think of you. Listening to your gut and responding honestly to it can actually be a relief for the people you work with – they will realise they can rely on you and your authenticity."
Book recommendation: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Dawn, now in its eighth year, is run by a committee of nine volunteers who ask influencers to candidly share their experiences, wisdom and advice to help women progress and develop professionally and personally. Dawn produces four events per year that are always free and open to all.
Josyln Head is communications director at Carat UK