burnt out bussiness manAfter only a few years, the passion of your ad career can wane. Great work killed by a thousand cuts, office politics and a sacrificed personal life can become a price too high to pay. It‘s no wonder that the idea of continuing this regimen for the next 30 years becomes a horrifying thought.

However, there are a lucky few that avoid such a fate. Their work is continually recognized for excellence year after year. And although this success is contingent upon talent, it is also a particular approach to work that helps these industry veterans navigate through the minefields of our business.

In fact, it is what they don’t do that is key to their success. Here are a few examples that you should follow.

1. Don’t forget why you got into this business.

There is something about advertising that can act like the siren’s song. We don’t feel like we’re working because we love it. That’s probably the feeling that made you commit to making it your career. Don’t let that passion fade. Keep it stoked by studying the best current work. Then fight through another day to do the same.

2. Don’t avoid the truth.

Get brutally honest critiques from your heroes. Ask a lot of them. Very few will offer help. They’re too busy, so it’s nothing personal. But some will help you, and what they will say is worth gold.

3. Don't think the people you hope to work for will see your potential.

This isn’t a business that takes risks on its people. They want a sure thing, so the proof must be in your work. Rework everything in your portfolio until you get the job of your dreams. And then keep reworking it the rest of your career.

4. Don’t expect your daily work to provide portfolio opportunities.

Most of the work in your career will not be portfolio-worthy — maybe 2 percent. This means most of what you put in your book will have to be supplemental. Do pro-bono work. Rework compromised work. Your book should contain what you’re capable of doing, not just what you have done.

5. Don’t stop learning.

It’s sad to watch pros lose their passion to learn. They let the business pass them by and justify it by believing they’ve earned a rest — that’s called retirement.

6. Don’t sprint.

Remember that your career is a marathon. When great work gets killed or when an agency you admire doesn’t hire you, use it as motivation to succeed. This business is not for the faint of heart. But if you approach it with perseverance, you will enjoy more success than failure. Strive to always be in the game, and you’ll experience both success and the admiration of your peers.

A career in advertising can be very rewarding if you plan and navigate it with purpose. Regardless of where you are in the life of your career, if you practice the principles above, you will dramatically improve your work and the satisfaction it gives you at the end of the day.

Originally published Oct 14, 2013 1:00:00 AM, updated June 28 2019