Three Things You Shouldn’t Be Distracted By

In the ad business, there are a lot of things that will compete for your attention on a daily basis. Sometimes it helps me sort through my priorities by putting them in these categories:
1) Things That Matter/Don’t Matter
2) Things You Can Affect/Can’t Affect (right now)

If you’re into Venn diagrams, it might look like this:


Anything that doesn’t fall into the sweet spot (something that matters AND you can affect right now), is a distraction. Don’t let it be. Focus. Your work, right now, is what matters and what you can affect.

There are three topics that students sometimes ask me about:
1) Salary
2) Awards
3) Title

99% of the time these things are distractions. They fall outside of that center area.

SALARY: You negotiate your salary when you switch jobs and you might occasionally get a raise. But for the most part, your salary doesn’t matter on a daily basis. And the way you affect your salary is to do consistently great work. So don’t think about your salary. Focus on your work.

AWARDS: Award shows are full of brilliant work, but they’re also political, subjective and for the most part arbitrary. So while award annuals can be great for inspiration, trying to figure out why a campaign won an award and how you can emulate it leads to distraction and potentially madness. If you do snag a big award, good for you. It can open doors. But a common side effect is an inflated ego. It’s your prerogative if you want to weld your Cannes Lion to the hood of your Cadillac, but my advice would be a slightly more humble approach: say thanks to those who congratulate you, list the award on your resume, then put it in a drawer and forget you ever won it. Winning awards comes from doing consistently great work. So focus on your work.

TITLES: This may be the most arbitrary of them all. Different agencies have different structures and different systems, and titles at some agencies are more meaningful than others (a black belt under Dan Wieden means more than a black belt under Joe Schmo). Plus, it’s become trendy to rename titles so they sound more progressive (Senior Visual Content Engineer?), so they’re becoming even less meaningful. I’d say titles almost fall outside of the “THINGS THAT MATTER” circle. And the little they do matter, they’re like salary and awards in that they follow from doing consistently great work. So focus on your work.

Focus on your work. Focus on your work. Focus on your work. The one thing that you can impact right now. And it should go without saying that time spent thinking about/discussing the salary, title or awards of other people is an even bigger distraction. Because not only can you not affect those things, they don’t matter.

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6 thoughts on “Three Things You Shouldn’t Be Distracted By

  1. It is easy to get caught up with tasks or concerns which have little to do with the outcome of the day. Focus is key. Designing outdoor advertising campaigns for clients everyday has it own challenges, but at the end of the day what really matters? Did I complete the project on time? Did I do well for the client? Who cares about salary, awards, and so on? If you do your job well these things will come.

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  2. Well said, Durden. It's not that these things don't matter at all or that nobody cares about them, but as you said, “if you do your job well these things will come.”

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  3. True.

    Especially relevant for Gen-Y's who are freshly coming into the workforce, already filled with distorted perceptions of work+life realities, coupled with an immense need for immideate gratification and big sense of self entitlement.

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  4. This reads like it was written by high salaried – upper management executive laying down some law to the peons…. as far as salary mattering or not; it really does matter where morale is concerned. If you're hired at a company that values what you do (based on proof of ability) and is willing to pay fairly for it without trying to “get you at a good price” the result is you really are FOCUSED ON YOUR WORK and in the long run benefit the company.

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  5. That made me smile. I wish I were a “high salaried-upper [sic] management executive.” Don't get me wrong, Anon, I'm not discounting the need to get paid fairly for what your quality work, nor am I arguing that anyone should work for free (Greg's repost of the flow chart that shows when you should work for free–rarely–is a good guide). My point is that your salary follows good work, not vice versa.

    Particularly when you are a junior, choosing opportunity to do good work over opportunity to be paid more is the way to go. And it will pay off in the long run, both in opportunity to do more good work and opportunity to be paid more. Furthermore, stewing over what you make is, to my initial point, a distraction.

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