See more in Agency Life

The Creative Hustle Isn't Always Worth It

4 min read

I'm Jeremy Carson, and this is everything I wish I knew about the advertising and creative industry when I got started. And everything I'm discovering as a Creative Director today.
LinkedIn Instagram TikTok 

There's this unspoken rule in advertising, that working nights and weekends are part of the deal. That we should simply understand that the work we do, as creatives, will involve lots of dinners at work and lots of skipped birthdays and anniversaries. Some agencies are more habitual about it than others: it could be rare or common, depending on where you are.

But spend a few years in the industry, and you'll even hear people speaking about it like a badge of honor, like pulling 100-hour-weeks is something you should be proud of. That maxing out your "earned" vacation days, because you never take any, is a big gold star.

The industry expects it. And we accept it. Why?

Well, there are some universal reasons: like the fact that lots of us, in any industry, are willing to do anything to get a job. Even though, as a nation, we're at record levels of unemployment, even overemployed (not enough work for people to get paid what they need to live, so they work multiple jobs).

But it's different for creatives. This idea of the "creative hustle." Why is it we're so drawn to it? There's actually a reason why that happens, and it's a similar reason to why we get underpaid.

Creatives like what they do.

Doing it Because You Want To

Now, there are lots of people who are super excited to burn the midnight and weekend oil. Those who got into this creative world because nothing gets them energized more than late-night Thai food eaten off a conference room table with five other people who are just as crazy as you are.

Bless you all. But this isn't for you.

Being a creative is a hell of a job. But it's still a job.

No, this is for those who got into this career because they found they had a knack for finding an insight, developing it into an idea, and forming an execution for a brand. And then decided, "Hey, I would like to get paid to do that."

We Get Paid to Be Creative

I'm thankful as shit that I get to be creative and help creatives grow their own creativity. And get paid for it. It's a hell of a job. But really, it's still a job.

We, as creatives, have passion careers, meaning we aren't doing those jobs that people just have to, to live. We do what we do because we enjoy it. And according to a study, when people are perceived to enjoy their work, other people don't see the time they put into that work as valuable, as those who don't enjoy their work.

In other words, because we're excited to come up with ideas, crack a problem, or conjure something out of nothing, others tend to feel okay asking us to put more time than is reasonable into that task. And we feel okay saying yes to that.

Work/Life Balance

There's always this talk about a work/life balance, and how there's this magical ratio of time you spend working versus time you spend doing anything other than work. The consensus is that the 40-hour workweek is where we should aim: start at 9AM, get done at 5PM, go home, and feed the dog.

The creative hustle should be saved for something you build for yourself. Not something you build for others.

With creatives, that 8-hour day is usually more like 10. And if you're in pitch mode, 12- to 14-hour days are common, if not expected. And forget the weekends, because they're saved for revisions to the deck.

Again, we say yes because we have this responsibility to come up with the solution, the idea, the thing that will win/keep/maintain the business for the agency. And as Hal Riney once said, "The frightening and most difficult thing about being what somebody calls a creative person is that you have absolutely no idea where any of your thoughts come from. And you don’t have any idea about where they’re gonna come from tomorrow."

But we like that. We thrive on the mystery, the unpredictability. We enjoy the fact that we have this weird superpower. So, when our work/life balance is thrown off from the rest of the world, we shrug it off as part of the job.

Don't Be Proud of Destroying Yourself

Just like Cookie Monster's short-lived shift into being health-conscious, singing, "Cookies are a sometimes food!" We need to understand that the "creative hustle" shouldn't be the norm. It should be the exception.

You have a tight deadline? Or a weekend or two out of the year where you all need to pull together to get that amazing project done? Cool, you might need to stick it out. It may suck, it may be horrible timing, and hopefully you'll be paid back for it somehow. But, it may (and probably will) happen.

But don't look to your commonly 100+ hour workweek as a badge of honor. Don't be proud of the fact that you've worked a month straight. Don't brag (or fake complain) that you've never taken a vacation day or sick day for years.

You need to value yourself and your time. And (hopefully) agencies will follow suit.

The creative hustle should be saved for something you build for yourself. Not something you build for others.

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this, say hello @thejeremycarson. LinkedIn Instagram TikTok