Today marks two years since I ran screaming from the agency business. Here are some things I think I've learned about myself and about agency life since I left:
1. The greatest source of misery was status anxiety: The medium you swim in in agency life is anxiety about where you stand -- both as an individual and as an agency. You may not perceive it because it's all around you, but once you are out of it you recognize how pervasive it was.
2. The greatest freedom is not having to give a shit: Agency people are always bullshitting. Clients demand it. Colleagues expect it. We do it so much we don't even realize we're doing it. We think of it as professional discourse. When you leave, there is a wonderful sense of liberation in being able to say exactly what you think, without a calculation of the consequences.
3. I seem to be better at writing about advertising than I was at writing advertising: I was an OK copywriter, but I think I'm better at writing the stuff I'm writing now.
4. My second career is more gratifying: I was reasonably successful and happy in the ad business, but my second career -- doing whatever the hell it is I am doing now -- has been personally more satisfying. I certainly am not earning anywhere near the levels I was, but I am enjoying it more.
5. When you retire you become Chinese: To a great many people who kissed my ass and pretended to be my friends when I was a ceo, I am now Bob Hu? It is not surprising, but it is indicative of the levels of insincerity in the ad business.
6. I left the agency business too late: I had thought about leaving a few years before I did. I should have. Watching what has become of the business from a distance is amusing. But watching the unpleasant changes going on while I was still in it was painful.
7. The things I am ashamed of still haunt me: On those nights when I can't sleep, the things I did in the agency that I knew were wrong still trouble me. I don't replay the successes, I replay the dishonor.