They often begin with revealing a weakness.
Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity: an advertising competition in the mystical land of Cannes, France — where all the best, brightest, and ballsiest ad people come together to either:
(a) celebrate their Cannes Lion wins with HUGE Magnum bottles of Rosé
(b) convert their envy & self-doubt into heart-pumping, stomach-churning, chest-beating rage motivation to crush the competition next year.
It was a fascinating experience.
I had never written about my career outside of Presently, so for those of you who don’t know, I am an Art Director at an ad agency (not a writer, so keep that in mind as you continue reading). And I fall under category (b) of those ballsy ad people. I also have OCD and anxiety (which most of you do know).
Imagine this environment for someone like me, whose self-doubt and envy might skip motivation and head directly toward mental breakdown.
And while for most of the week, I was inundated with tons of inspiration from the best of the best in the industry, I’d like to share some of my not-so-inspirational moments. Because — as I learned from watching a good case study — acknowledging our weaknesses provides an opportunity to get creative.
As I checked into my accommodations, the concierge kindly brought my bag upstairs. He’s pushing through sweat and exertion as he explains the ins and outs of the apartment I’m renting for the week. He wishes me luck and closes the door behind him.
A sigh of relief comes over me as I finally have a second to take a breath before the craziness begins. Suddenly, just one flight of stairs away, I hear him yell, “motherf****r, what the f*** was in that bag. Jesus Christ! Woo!”
My feelings were a mix of “omg this is hilarious” and “omg why do I feel so embarrassed right now.”
Lovely start to the week.
I woke up early and had a lot more pep in my step. I ventured to a Reddit panel on mental health. Picture me, standing there like a deer in headlights, contemplating how to approach all these like-minded strangers. Fortunately, I had a check-in buddy to navigate the process with and maybe make my first professional connection with.
After getting coffee and sitting at a table together before the panel began, I thought “okay I guess I do know what I’m doing.” He then (I think) jokingly asks, “so are we like a thing now?” I feel myself turning red, “omg, I-- honestly this is my first time at a networking event, is this not how it’s supposed to go?” The man immediately feels terrible for making that joke to someone who clearly couldn’t take it.
Oddly enough, I didn’t let this awkward encounter break my stride, as I eventually mustered up the courage to walk up to the panel moderator to tell her how much I enjoyed the panel and why I was so passionate about mental health advocacy. She turns to grab something from her bag. It’s a little glass heart that chimes when you shake it. You better believe I took it with me everywhere for the rest of the week.
Obviously, I was on a roll. So I head over to this women-led advocacy group to find a person I had connected with over email a few days prior to tell her about Presently. Using the teeny-tiny email photo, I managed to lock her down and introduce myself.
Our conversation seemed promising but alas, it was BS. She left to “get this coffee to her partner” and assured me she would be back in two minutes.
I — for the first time — had been stood up.
I left this “female-empowerment,” lounge, with my head held high, but not before I witnessed her dodge me and my eye contact on my way out. Self-loathing and embarrassment stuck with me for the rest of the day, right next to the chiming heart.
Imposter syndrome was starting to hit. HARD. Let’s take a step back for a second. Usually, if you’re as young as I am, you only come to Cannes because of your “Young Lions” submission and the potential to take home a trophy.
My situation was different. I was sent by my agency to capture some content of the festival and to learn first-hand what it takes to create boundary-breaking work.
However, because this is not something most agencies do, (and I commend mine for it) a lot of people assumed we had won the prestigious status of “Young Lion.”
The thing about my anxiety & OCD, is that any type of fibbing will bring an insane amount of guilt. So, naturally, I compulsively corrected any misperception about my supposed status, making it super clear that I didn’t think I deserved to be here.
Ah, the infamous boat day. We make it to the water taxi that is supposed to bring us to a yacht party. We find ourselves in the company of some executive creatives from another agency. As I begin to introduce myself, my coffee decided to take an impromptu dive, resulting in a classic, self-deprecating “well, that’s a good way to make a first impression,” joke. What I thought would be a delightful ice breaker turned out to be unmemorable after what ensued next.
The boat takes off. I feel a light mist from the water. This innocent mist turned into a small splash, and some of the passengers decided to shift over.
I did not.
The splashing then turned into what felt like a large bucket of water being thrown in my face. Repeatedly. For like 7 minutes. I try to talk through it, reassuring these very important people, “I’m totally fine.” But I’m starting to taste the salt water and I can’t open my eyes. So, I just sit and wait. But hey, laughter ensued, and I gained unexpected camaraderie.
Just to paint you a little picture, my colleague and I fully thought this was one of those “hoity-toity” yacht parties that would be filled with so many fancy people that nobody would notice us.
We arrive to the catamaran, completely soaked, to be welcomed by 3 people at this casual get-together. “At least you have your bathing suits,” says one of the hosts. “Oh, no I do not,” says I.
We were extremely ill-prepared for the day ahead.
The good news is, all the BS from the beginning of the week must have been power-washed off me, because for the first time all week, I felt like myself. Turns out I’m quite the crowd-pleaser.
We swapped stories, listened to experiences from people who have been in the industry for a long time, and collected some friendly faces to be found in the sea of strangers at the late-night festivities.
The long-awaited mental breakdown had finally arrived. It was the beginning of another night of drinking rosé and chatting with some old coworkers. I had shown someone a Presently business card to poke fun at the fact that I thought “I might need them here.”
Apparently, I only had enough self-confidence for one joke, because the second someone said, “I hope you didn’t show these to anybody else,” the floodgates of tears had opened and there was no stopping it. The events of the week had caught up to me. To be honest, I was shocked I was able to hold it in for this long.
Turns out, my tears were not wasted, because another colleague who came with me to the bathroom to wipe the snot from my nose explained that, although seeing me this way was not ideal, she felt a little relieved that she wasn’t the only one who had moments like these. That's a win in my book.
Keep sharing your weaknesses, kids.
The number of highs and lows that ensued during this entire week was enough to make anyone seasick. However, this well-rounded experience taught me two things:
Imposter syndrome is real. I spent the entire week feeling like I shouldn’t be here. I didn’t deserve this, did I? But by the end of the week, after listening to some very wise people, I realized that it doesn’t matter how I got here. I’m already here. I can’t change that fact. But what I can do is be grateful, soak up all the creative juices, and use it to push myself and my colleagues forward.
I can survive anything. I can survive extremely awkward encounters. I can survive energy-draining embarrassment. I can survive a water-boarding incident in front of complete strangers. Each experience taught me to embrace the unexpected and find humor in the most absurd moments. Amidst the glamour and grandeur, we're all human, imperfect, and capable of creating connections that transcend the boundaries of our industry.
And I’m happy to say that, although it took a little bit longer than most, the self-doubt and envy that I arrived with did in fact turn into that heart-pumping, stomach-churning, chest-beating motivation to crush the competition — and to make something f***ing amazing.