I guess there are a couple of points here:
The first is the obsession with the ‘importance’ of advertising. I know exactly how that feels. For years I obsessed over D&AD annuals, knew every piece of work by every half-decent team in town, and could tell you about every director from every production company on the planet. As much as something can be your life, advertising was mine, but what I didn’t know back then was the tighter I held on to the industry and its whistles and bells, the more it slipped out of my grip. I don’t mean that I didn’t do some good ads, or have a comparatively successful career; I mean that I was focussing on the wrong thing. I was, occasionally, a bit of a dick, and I fully believe that that by taking a step back from advertising I’d have been better at it.
But what the hey… I had a good time and no one got (particularly) hurt. Eventually I relaxed, stopped caring so much about the tiny things that really didn’t matter (hello, Creative Circle Bronze!) and focussed on doing proper work whose objective was to solve a client’s problems. I think that by obsessing over those minutiae less and less I gave myself the room to focus on what actually mattered, both inside and outside work.
Ultimately that’s bordering on the inevitable: you can get up a real head of steam when you start something off, but maintaining the same degree of enthusiasm for the following decades is neither easy nor healthy. Continue to do the best work you can, by all means, but I believe that keeping an eye on the context and the rest of the world is essential to making that happen.
The second point is the one about other halves:
I met my wife (we’ve been married 13 years) when I cast her in a commercial. We got engaged after five days and married after six months. Back then she got drawn into my obsession and ended up working in several production companies, eventually becoming an executive producer. So she ‘got it’. The thing was, after about ten years she became disillusioned with the industry and gave up her job to look after the kids. And she’s never been happier, nor have I and nor have the kids.
So what am I saying? That the path to happiness lies outside advertising? Not at all. But the sense of perspective that my wife and I both found around the same time made me better at my job and her better at being a mum. It’s difficult to be sure of something that never happened, but I’m certain that if I had maintained the awards minutiae drive I’d never have got to the point I’m at now, and I love the point I’m at now.
Where are you? Did an obsession leave you in a crappy place? Has your other half suffered through your dedication to something that ultimately didn’t matter? Have you ever stood at the crossroads of a Cannes Gold and a successful marriage?