On Sunday night's Mad Men ("The Monolith"), we saw Don Draper back at the agency he built after being put on ice for a year. But this time, he's on probation and needs to abide by three strict rules set by the partners (if not he'll be terminated from his contract and lose any shares of the company):
- No alone time with clients,
- Stick to a pre-approved script in client meetings,
- No drinking on the job
If you've seen the show before, you know that this should be impossible for Don. First of all, he's an alcoholic. Secondly, he's a genius. And part of that genius is Don's ability to improvise in pitches.
In this episode, Don realizes what these limitations actually mean. He is assigned to write 25 taglines by his former assistant. He asks what the strategy is, but is told Lou Avery (his new boss) prefers strategy after making the copy. In other words, creative is now about coming up with catchlines, as opposed to advertising. When Don senses an opportunity to pitch to a computer company, he is brutally shut down by one of the partners: He is only here because he doesn't have the dignity to leave. They don't actually need him.
All of this sends Don straight to the bottle and has to be secreted out by Freddie Rumsen, himself an alcoholic that used to work with Don before being fired and joining AA. The next morning, Freddie has a come to Jesus meeting with Don: Either continue being a drunk, lose his job at Sterling Cooper, and schlep around like Freddie does... or just "do the work."
The episode ends with at his office punching out 25 taglines at his typewriter.
We live in a narcissistic culture. We've been in one for a few generations now. Narcissists want to look a certain way, without doing the work required in actually being that way. The reality, however, is that the difference between what you think you are and what other people think you are is purely a function of your output. Don Draper thought he would be recognized for his genius and put back in the helm of creative. But all they remember was his breakdown during the Hershey pitch last season. It was a cathartic moment for the character and the audience, to finally reveal who he was. But for everyone else in the room, it was a breakdown. That was the output he gave that led to his diminished role.
What Freddie said to Don, simply, was that if you want to be back to where you were, you need output good work reliably again. And at this point, that means putting out 25 taglines for your old assistant.
We all have been in situations where we felt others weren't recognizing who we were. In reality, they were only responding to whatever output we've given them up to that point. That's a scary thought. That means you have what you deserve, for good and bad. You have the job you deserve. You don't have the girl of your dreams because you didn't do anything to deserve it. You have exactly the number of twitter followers you deserve. You have the job you deserve.
You're not happy with that? Do the work.