Reconnecting to Connect
Many agency people might remember this one junior writer. He was brash. Overambitious. Work became his obsession, and calling it an obsession was an understatement. He scratched and clawed with merciless talons to win every creative shootout. Every one. He became an ad junkie. The more he won, the more he wanted. Losing was not an option.
Funny thing is, during this rampage, this guy never really clicked with any of his teammates. He wasn’t an ass or anything. He just did his own thing. At office parties, you’d find him sitting alone amongst the laughter holding a beer, but not a conversation. He shrugged it off. He knew the scoreboard. This guy was the apple in his Chief Creative Officer’s eye, rubbed elbows with celebrities in Vegas, slept in Hollywood’s posh hotels surrounded by the glitterati. He was jaded. He was the ego of egos.
And, he was clueless. He…was me.
In the summer of 2005, everything changed.
My wife Tonja and I decided to add to our family. Already blessed with two wonderful sons, we wanted to adopt a girl, their sister. So after swimming through a year of paperwork, our adoption agency sent us to Russia, where they had strong, diplomatic ties.
First stop: Moscow. Dismiss any notion Mother Russia lays in freezing cold, gray communist ruins. Moscow today thrives as a flashy, colorful metropolitan, mirroring the vibe and energy of Times Square. The Russian capital, however, was not our final destination.
Next stop: Kemerovo. You know it better as Siberia and it’s a far cry from the cosmopolitan Moscow. Take the sun, for instance. Every morning, it rose doused in blood red from the dense pollution, choking the air courtesy of the region’s unchecked industrial factories. Pocked, broken roads took our van past trenches of full garbage sacks, half-destroyed buildings burned and bombed out from past skirmishes, and unemployed men brandishing beer bottles and cold dead stares of hopelessness. We eventually arrived at our no-star hotel, where the door never fully closed thanks to many KGB boots successfully kicking out the bottom.
The following day, our van pulled into Alena’s orphanage. There, first graders stood outside next to rusted, decaying swing sets and glass shards. And yet, these children were happy. They were jumping up and down. Cheering. Waving.
They knew this van. They knew someone was going home.
Then inside, the moment we waited for. The nurses carried out this beautiful baby girl—our daughter. Our Alena. No words could tell the emotions that overcame us the moment we met one another. It was a fairytale come to life. She was everything we dreamed of. She was the perfect addition to our family.
We did notice Alena exhibited some interesting traits, and not good ones. Over and over, our nine-month-old daughter kept flashing those very blue Russian eyes. She was flirting. A lot. Too much. She was craving attention desperately. Then, while eating at a nearby restaurant, we caught her stuffing food into her diaper. You read that right. This little girl wasn’t living. She was surviving. And it became painfully obvious how badly we needed to get her out of Russia and back to America.
Back home, she clung onto Tonja tightly like a spider monkey, never wanting to let go. That was the good news. It was a different story for me. No men worked at the orphanage, so my deep, gruff voice intimidated her. She couldn’t connect with me. She wouldn’t connect with me. I was crushed. I felt helpless. I so much wanted her to know she would never again have to wake up scared. She was safe. She was loved. She was home.
This…was when I woke up. This was the jolt I needed in life to connect. Really connect. It changed my life. It changed me.
Following daddy leave, I returned to the agency a different person. I stopped acting like such as lone wolf, and started reaching out to my teammates. I didn’t just ask questions about concepts or briefs and ad stuff. No. I asked about their families, their lives, their favorite movies.
These connections extended beyond the agency walls. I volunteered for roles with ADCD, Ad Club and Ad2, learning the hopes and dreams of advertising newbies and perhaps I could find jobs for them. My relationships grew tighter, trust levels went up, and—wouldn’t you know it—my work became stronger, too. Winning shootouts no longer stood as priority one. This may come off as cheesy, but I was winning something bigger.
Look at the ways we connect today. We text. We post. We tweet. We reach out to people in amazing ways. They bring all of us closer, but not quite close enough.
I believe there’s something still very powerful about face-to-face interactions. It’s important to do this. I must remind myself to keep doing this. It’s all too easy to be swallowed up by emails, texts, all that stuff. We’re all busy. I get that. But take five minutes to just talk. It makes a world of difference.
Hopefully, you already connect with people regularly. If so, good for you. You figured it out faster than I did. To all the lone wolves out there now, why not reward yourself more by looking up from our iPhones and see a real, live breathing person sitting right there, smiling at you.
Emails and texts can wait. Posts and tweets can wait. Life can’t.
Jay Roth is an Egotist Recommended copywriter, brand builder, story teller, problem solver and idea champion-er. He's available for freelance copywriting and conceptual thinking now. Go hire him.