17 Days Later

After being on the road for 14 months straight, I feel incredibly blessed that I’m able to look back at the journey with bright, optimistic eyes. So many things could’ve went wrong along the way, yet due to the kind nature of everyone I met, I was able to make it out unscathed and with my sanity intact.

Of course, nothing in life is perfect and there were a few times I considered packing my bags and heading home. Some of those moments were brought on by exhaustion, others from simply missing home. However, I made a commitment to the project and was determined to see it through regardless of the circumstances. In fact, there was only one time those thoughts ever made me pause and second guess our journey.

Before I get into that though, I need to preface it with a bit of backstory.

During my last week in each city, I took time to reach out to local organizations and publications at our next stop. Being that I am only one person, I often relied on those outlets to help me spread the word to other creatives in the area. In turn, many of those people would reach out to me and I was able to connect with so many individuals at agencies and schools around the country. That’s why I’m so grateful for the Creative Group, the Art Directors Club and The Egotist Network. They continually promoted the project each and every month and without them, things would’ve turned out much different.

Not everyone saw the value in our project though. 10 months in, I reached out to the Seattle branch of a prominent “creative” organization—one whose other branches had helped me in several other cities along the way. I sent their President a personalized email describing the project and asking for his assistance in spreading the word around town. It was an email I had been sent many times before. Yet, the reply I received this time was far different. To call it a shot in the heart would be an understatement.

While I no longer have the email (I deleted it), there were three sentences in particular that will linger with me for the rest of my career.

1. “I don’t understand how your project would benefit our members.”

While I try not to take anything personally, especially in this business, this statement took me by surprise. I had explained the project to a lot of people at that point and I actually took pride in my ability to succinctly tout the project’s value. Yet, in my road-weary state, it made me second-guess all of the progress we had made. Were there others who didn’t understand the project? How many opportunities had we missed out because of it? 

2. “To me, your project just seems like a drawn-out attempt to land a job somewhere.”

This is a question I received many times during the first few months of the project. As it continued, however, that question dwindled and I heard less of it with each passing day. But there I was, nearing the 11-month mark and someone was still unsure of my commitment. It, again, brought me to wonder if others still thought this whole thing to be an elaborate resume stunt. If I couldn’t win some people over in a year’s time, would I ever?

3. “You might want to rethink the copy on your site, because I didn’t understand what the project was until you described it to me.”

Now, this sentence came further into our back and forth e-mail conversation. After I was finally able to convince the person why #TGAA was important to me, he placed the blame on my site copy for the misunderstanding. And you know what? I’m really glad he did. His statement made me realize that I didn’t care what he thought. Especially since I described the project to him using my site copy word-for-word. It took any doubt he had placed in my mind and instantly erased it. It let me know that he had passed judgment on the project, without ever looking into what it was about. Sadly, that email didn't come until three days into the whole ordeal. So, I spent several nights wallowing in doubt. It wasn't a good time—at all. 

Once I read that sentence though, it reminded me that we had already met and won over hundreds of other people across the country. My mind snapped back to reality and I realized everything this man was saying to me was personal opinion. I can never change what people thought or continue to think about #TGAA. However, no one can ever take away what we accomplished. The friendships we’ve made, the lives we’ve touched and the places we’ve gone. Fact will always trump opinion.

Was #TGAA a way for me to land a job? In a way, I guess so. Then again, shouldn’t everything we do be a step toward improving our lives or the lives of others? Was it an excuse for me to travel the country? Sort of; but how else can a writer know the world without having seen it? The point of #TGAA was to have a shared experience and see what we could accomplish together.

And that’s exactly what we did.

So, no matter how tough things get; no matter how far you are from home, just keep doing what you love because no one can ever take away your accomplishments… unless you’re juicing... or cheating (Sorry, it was getting a tad too serious there).

-Steve-

Day 394

Since we’re in the midst of that weird lull between Christmas and New Years, I thought I would take this opportunity to peel back the #TGAA curtain once again. With the finish line in view, I can finally say—without a shadow of a doubt—that those I've had contact with over the past year either understand this project or they don’t. There's really no middle ground to the receptions I’ve received from people along the way.

Many applaud us for trying something new that has the potential to help a lot of people. Others, however, refuse to give us the time of day, choosing instead to believe that this is some self-serving attempt on my part to land a job (one month out and I still don't understand it). What I’ve noticed though is that most people who feel that way don’t ever take the time to read the blog or ask any questions about the project.

Throughout it all, the most interesting responses I’ve received have been from people who love the project, but realize it’s something their agency would never go for. I won’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of these shops, but it does open up an interesting line of questions. Why is someone who applauds creativity, working at an agency that does not? Why wouldn’t said agency be interested in such a project? What does it say to jobseekers who go the extra mile to get noticed by prospective agencies? If you ask me, these are all extremely important considering we’re supposed to be working in a ‘creative field’.

Such responses aren’t regulated to individuals either. I’ve also received some interesting replies from professional organizations. On one side, you have the Art Directors Club and the various branches of the Egotist, who have been absolutely amazing to the project the entire time. They’ve helped spread the word, create meaningful connections and even provided a slew of unique insights. They understand what we’re trying to accomplish and I’ll always be grateful to them for what they've done.

On the other hand, some of the more traditional organizations have been hit or miss, based on the their location. Yes, some of them have been rather wonderful. But some—if they even reply—have been completely uninterested and question the project's worth to no end. It’s a weird dichotomy indeed.

Obviously, I don’t expect everyone to support or even care about this project. It's not as if I’m walking around thinking this is the greatest thing to ever exist. Although I do think it’s pretty great. I mean, if I didn’t believe in it what’s the point of even doing it, right? When agencies and organizations that tout themselves as ‘creative-friendly’ and ‘forward-thinking’ won’t give it the time of day though, it does raise some red flags in my book. That's why I'm thrilled to be visiting LA. Utilizing the same tactics that brought 13 other agencies onboard, I could barely get anyone's attention down there. I'm extremely curious to find out what makes their creative community so vastly different from the others. 

In the end, I think the lesson of it all is that you should always research where you’re going and what you’re doing. Don’t believe the hype or listen to any lip service. Draw your own opinions, form your own thoughts—no matter which side of the coin you fall on. And for those of you out there who have helped this project grow and succeed, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. For those of you out there who think this whole project is a waste of time, I thank you too—you’ve helped push me to make this thing bigger and better each and every day.

-Steve-