Wednesday, November 12, 2008

success and escape

I work for an editing company. A couple of months ago, my bosses took me off editing documents and put me on something very vaguely defined and unstructured. (You may call it business development.) This was because they thought I could add a lot more value and deliver what they wanted. Between then and now, I’ve conceived of and implemented a very important change in the way we edit. I’ve also worked on and launched a new editing service. I’ve written pages of web content and news items and press releases for promotion; created content and design for two ads; written job ads for 4 different positions; created and compiled training material for editors working on the new editing service; written content for internal purposes; worked on the design of a few web pages; held numerous meetings with the most important people in the company; modified work processes and briefed teams about changes; written 45 seconds (150 words) of the script for a show on CNBC in which one of my bosses was featured; and tried to avoid documentation as much as I could.

Today, I was working on case studies. I had to showcase some of the interesting tie-ups my company has had with clients in the recent past. I went to my boss with 4 case studies that I had written. He liked the text but wanted some images to go along with it for impact. So, he gave me 80 minutes—until we met next—to work on it. I decided to try something different. Instead of using flowcharts and diagrams to show how we have helped our clients, I drew stick figures on the back of the printout of each case study. I wanted these stick figures to illustrate the “before” and “after” situations in each of the cases profiled. As I continued to work on it, the idea behind the sketch became clearer and I began to visualize how it would look on a web page. It was only when I was sketching for the last of the 4 case studies that I realized I had something good on my hands. I thought the figures were very different, carried great visual appeal, and conveyed the point succinctly.

When my boss first saw the stick figures, he seemed amused. He looked at them carefully, turned each sheet to read the case study. He seemed ok with the first and the fourth (they were the simplest) and undecided with the rest. After a fairly long time, he mumbled “hmm… very creative.” It sounded more like “good, but sorry we can’t use them.” And they won’t be used.


I enjoy reasonable freedom in my job, and I’ve got a conventionally bright future with my current employer. However, I like the disappointments that arise from working for yourself much more than I like those that come with working for someone else. And I don’t like authority.

I’ve tried to compartmentalize myself into the “work me” and “me.” But I’ve found it difficult to separate one from the other. The work me tries to ignore Sylvia Plath and Charlie Kauffman, but me is absolutely rivetted to them. The work me admires catchlines like “Be Born Everyday” but me detests the sophistry in them. When the work me runs after something during the day, it’s me that feels exhausted in the evening. When the work me has to give something, it snatches part of that from me. And “I” end up poorer. I end up looking for escape in social intimacy and beer.

I don’t want an escape. I want a better life. And all of me.