The best way to find a career you love.

Our planet is full of scary things. The one that scares me the most is lack of planning. What, you’re not frightened? You’re not going to tell scary stories around the campfire about the man without a plan?

Let me explain.

I recently talked to a graduating college senior. I asked him what he planned to do next. He said, ‘Honestly, I have no idea. I’ll see what kind of opportunities come my way.’ To me this sounded like giving up on life. Or letting someone else write your story. Or signing up to become a pawn in someone else’s chess game (a pawn is a chess piece, and not another name for a shrimp, right?).

Reality Check

Without your own plan you will end up in a job that doesn’t fulfill you, in an industry you don’t care about. You will get tossed around like a plastic garbage bag in the wind, with no direction, like the opening scene from American Beauty (or was that the closing scene?). You have to push to find work you are passionate about dong. Even if the money isn’t great. Because not all rewards come in cash.

The Unhappy Drug Salesman

Had I not planned my career I would have ended up in pharmaceutical sales. I studied psychology and journalism at the University of Wisconsin. But before graduation I was approached by some pharma sales people who were recruiting college athletes, because apparently we are competitive people.

The money they offered me was twice what I would earn in an entry-level job in advertising. But I held out for a creative role. Because I had a plan. While pharmaceutical sales is a really great career choice for some people, it did not fit into my plan. Not even a little. Not on a train. Not in the rain. Not with a fox.

I stayed focused, and landed a good, but low paying job as a copywriter with a well-known advertising agency. Over the next 15 years I progressed from a writer to Creative Director to Chief Creative Officer. Then, twenty years after I started my career I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. It was all part of the plan. And I love it when a plan comes together. #A-Team

Start Today

If you don’t have a career plan, or a life plan, start working on it today. Write down what you love to do. Write down what you are good at doing. Then find a way to get paid to do one of those things. Maybe you are already on that track. But maybe you are far away and heading in the wrong direction. You can turn around. But no one else can turn the wheel for you. That’s your job.

If you are a recent college grad, or just got out of the military, or are a career-minded alien who just landed on the planet, start your job search by thinking about your retirement. Plan your entire career with the end in mind. It’s the best way to ensure you’ll make the right decisions, introduce yourself to the right people, continue to properly educate yourself, and finish your career exactly where you wanted to be.

Key Takeaway.

You have to plan your own career. You have to find something that makes you happy. Your career will occupy 50% of your waking life. If you want to be happy in life, you have to be happy in your career. Make a plan and follow it. Don’t follow the money. Because if you love what you do, everything else, including the money, will take care of itself.

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Are you really in control of your career?

It was December of 1999. The world was facing a possible Y2K apocalypse, and I was surrounded by cranberries. I had written a national TV commercial for Northland Cranberry Juice and was now preparing to shoot the spot in their hometown, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. Wisconsin Rapids (just in case you’ve never been there) is to cranberries what Nashville is to country music.

The premise of the commercial we were shooting was that the honest, hardworking people of Wisconsin Rapids put 100% into everything they do. So they would never consider putting anything less than 100% juice into a bottle of Northland. The same could not be said for those villains at Ocean Spray. Their cranberry cocktails ranged from just 17% to 27% juice. Cut to the close up of the Ocean Spray ingredient label, and cue the horror movie music.

The Director

But this story is not about juice. It is about the director. Ashley Lazarus. While Ashley Lazarus is one of the most beautiful names I have ever heard, it belongs to a bear of a man. A South African man. A man best known in America for launching the Saturn car brand with the iconic Spring in Springhill commercials. In other words, Ashley had mad directing skillz.

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Ashley Lazarus and a camera that won’t fit in your pocket.

Location Scouting

My first two days with Ashley were spent scouting for locations to shoot the commercial.  We were looking for the most interesting locations in and around Wisconsin Rapids to capture on film.

The conversation

While driving between locations in the Wisconsin countryside, Ashley, who was in his 60s, turned to me and slowly asked in his deep, South African accent, ‘Adam, how old are you?’

I replied, ’26’.

Not only will I never forget what he said next, it helped steer the course of my career, and my life.

Ashley continued,

‘Adam, eventually you must open your own advertising agency. You will be promised great positions in your career. You may even be offered them. But eventually all creatives are either passed over or forced out of agencies. The only way for you to remain in control of your career is to own your own agency.’

I had dreamed of owning my own agency since I first started my career three years earlier. But now, at 26 years old, I was told I had no choice. If I wanted to be in control of my career and my life’s path, I would have to start my own advertising agency and create my own opportunities.

That advice stuck in my head like a cocklebur to corduroy. I believed Ashley was right. Over the next 15 years I was promoted from Copywriter, to Senior Writer, to Associate Creative Director, to Creative Director, to Executive Creative Director to Chief Creative Officer. But I never forgot what Ashley said. And I wanted the ultimate control over my career path.

The Weaponry

In 2016, when I was 42 years old, I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. I also launched this blog to chronicle the entire journey (if you’d like to follow along at home consider subscribing). Today, I’d like Ashley to know that I listened, appreciated and followed the advice he gave me in the back of that SUV in Wisconsin, Rapids in 1999.

Key Takeaway

What Ashley said about my career holds true for you too. Your career path, and your life path will be determined by someone else if you don’t take control of it. You too should start your own business, or side hustle, or consulting gig. Prepare your own plan B before you need it. It’s the key to writing your own script with your own happy ending.