Thursday, October 1, 2009

Extended Profile

For twenty years I had a career as an advertising “account guy.” Most of that time was spent at Grey Worldwide in New York City. When I left, I had a nicely appointed office with a sofa, country French desk and wall unit, and an Aeron chair. I had a Blackberry and a secretary, and a view of the East River. On a really clear day I could see all the way to Connecticut. In my time in advertising I was lucky enough to travel all over the country – for meetings, focus groups, or commercial shoot. I even got to live in Mexico City for a year while I helped our office there win an account and then stayed to get it up and running. My ads won awards; and I won new business. For a long, long time I loved it. But in addition to all the perks and trappings, I also had prescriptions for Zoloft, Effexor and Xanax. In 2006 I moved my family out of NYC to a more sane life in the mid-West city of Cincinnati. I threw away the anti-anxiety meds and tried to adjust to life in a cubicle.

Then on April 21, 2009, three days before a "milestone birthday," I was let go from my job as Vice-President Account Director; for the second time in a year. Being let go came as a huge surprise because two weeks earlier I had been in the meeting were “we” were going over the personnel that could be eliminated to make up our $2 million budget short fall. As soon as I was called to come to the CFO’s office I realized what was going down, and thought to myself “this makes perfect sense, I should have thought of it.” It was pretty obvious that the job I was actually doing every day could be done just as well (maybe better) by a senior Account Executive for less than half the price. Who wouldn’t take that deal?

I initially thought I’d just move on to something else – something related to my former positions, but a little different. I was pretty burned out. Because my resume includes the golden tickets of large Procter & Gamble brands (and some other big names), I have always gotten any job interview I wanted. With very few exceptions I’ve gotten any job I wanted.

This time was different. There’s a deep recession, agency billings continue to shrink daily, and shops all over town continue to drastically cut staff. I know a lot of people who are out of work. In Cincy and NYC. And come to think of it, almost EVERYONE I know who was once a VP is either unemployed or drastically underemployed.

I’ve sort of had the idea that I didn’t want another big ad job; certainly not with an ad agency. But the money was/is awesome so I continue to try to find something that I wouldn’t totally hate. It did not go well. Largely because I had committed the three deadly sins of an advertising career – “50/50/150.” I was fifty years old, fifty pounds overweight and my salary hovered around the $150K mark. (For those of you who now have your panties in a bunch over that compensation level, suffice it to say that I am rounding. That number in Cincinnati was quite a bit less, the number in NYC was quite a bit more.)

At the sixth month mark of my unemployment, a friend recommended that I read Michael Gates Gill’s book How Starbucks Saved My Life. It’s the story of an ex Ad Guy who always had a passion for, and interest in, coffee. After getting fired from JWT and totally screwing up his life, Gates becomes a happy barista at Starbucks. (Coincidentally he works at the Bronxville Starbucks; which use to be MY Starbucks.)

Like Mike Gates, I’ve always had a passion for something other than advertising. It’s hair! For YEARS I’ve sat in meetings thinking about everyone’s hair. While others were texting, checking their email or thinking about sex, I’d be critiquing haircuts and color – the good and the bad, wondering where they get it done, thinking how I’d change it (if it were bad). When my friends were all getting married in the late ‘80’s I’d give them an up-do for the wedding. The past couple of years I’ve been doing color and styling for friends and family. Several times I’ve looked into going to beauty school. But because of the hours necessary for the big ad job, and the fact that “part time” beauty school is four nights a week and all day Saturday, it was just never do-able.

Luckily for me, I have an awesome, supportive (and pretty cute) husband with a great job that he loves. Also lucky for me was our decision four years ago to get the hell out of NYC. The move allowed us to have a house we love that is below our means (at least it was when I was working). And, while we’ve had to give up some things (HBO, European vacations, regular vacations, new clothes, fancy restaurants, new cars, the gardener, buying books, magazine subscriptions, entertaining, expensive hair cuts & color…..) I haven’t felt a significant change in lifestyle. At least most days.

If you’re going to be following this blog, the other thing you need to know about me is that although I’m passing for Italian now (thanks to that hot Italian husband mentioned above), I was raised by “old money” WASPs. The money, has been long, long-gone. But the way I was raised you’d think we’d had real trust funds – clad in Lilly Puliitzer and Izod we attended private schools, learned to sail at the country club, and thought the open bar on the kitchen counter the entire months of July and August (and December) was something everyone had.

The blog is about how I’m learning to turn my hobby into my new profession. About adjusting to life in the culture of beauty school. As my former colorist (at Bumble + Bumble) told me, “you are going to meet some real characters!”

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