I have always liked Vicky's brother-in-law’s synopsis of Brains on Fire when she first came to work here. He compared it to “a place people work in the movies.” When people find out you work at a place called “Brains on Fire,” their first question is always “What the heck is Brains on Fire?” Their second questions is “What’s it like to work at Brains on Fire?”
I have been here nine months – and in nine months I have learned, experienced and grown so much, I could easily write a book. But for the sake of sparing you all a really, really long blog post – I decided to distill it down into five little lessons. So with no futher ado, I present 5 Things I have learned working in the creative space (and with the creative people) that is Brains on Fire.
This line of work wakes you in the night. When you choose to work in the creative world, you choose to blur the lines between your professional and personal life, if not erase them entirely. There’s no ON switch or OFF switch. Our work doesn’t stay at work. It can’t be arranged in a neat pile or simply filed away. Our work is an organic, living thing. It follows us home and it wakes us in the middle of the night. At times we find it stuffed in our pockets (post-it notes, anyone?) as well as tucked in the wrinkles of our brains. Why? Because to be good at what we do, you have to care deeply. And caring isn’t 9 to 5.
You learn a lot about yourself. That thing you never imagined you could do? You can. You just have to choose to do it. And once you do, you will. Creative work has no room for the meek. It’s sink or swim. Succeed or fail. There is no place for waffling, self-doubt or riding the fence. It’s a place for making things happen and speaking your mind. One of the best pieces of advice I received was “It’s okay to say ‘I don’t know,’ but it’s NEVER okay to say ‘I don’t care.” You better care, because our work is passionate action, and a magic that happens somewhere between heart and head. You learn by doing. If you’re lucky, you do it well. If you’re really lucky, you do it well surrounded by brilliant, talented people who can teach you how to keep getting even better. Listen to them. Each one is an anthology of experience and wisdom. They know what they’re talking about. Sometimes they’ll give you compliments, sometimes they’ll give you a dose of tough love. Whatever the case, trust in them. They will help you become the best you, because they truly want you to succeed.
You gain a new perspective on an old world. When I was little I loved Mr. Rogers. Specifically, because he so often took little adventures to try on other lives. A visit to the Crayola factory. An afternoon spent with an organic farmer.
Working in a creative agency is a constant trying-on of different lives. It’s the ideal field for anyone who has ever experienced occupational-ADD. Every day my job allows me to dip my toe into other worlds – from a land of literary pixie dust to a collective of people changing the world by sharing the stories of everything they have overcome in their lives. Each mental and emotional venture into a new space has taught me something. And as a result, every client has reintroduced me to my own world. I see things differently. I have a better appreciation for the world around me. I have come to know myself better in ways I never could have imagined. All by stepping into someone else’s universe for a day.
You care about your clients – A LOT. “Clients” has never felt like the right word. It’s simply not enough. We don’t just WORK for our clients, we advocate for them by working WITH them, side-by-side, down in the trenches. Their success becomes our success. Their struggles becomes our challenge. We meet, we do a little slow dancing, and after a bit of poking around, we begin to see the best in them, and the potential that lies within them. We fall in love with them. We cheer for them. And, as the best loves are known to leave people feeling, we often experience such a sense of kindredship, we find ourselves wondering how there was ever a time in our lives before we knew them. They feel so much a part of us, it feels as though they’ve been there all along.
As a writer, you will never forget the way you feel the first time you see your work on a billboard. Even more, you will never forget the way you feel when a client you have never met face-to-face comes up to you in the office to give you a hug and thank you for what you have done for them.
Our clients are not just our clients. They are our tribe. Our pack. And our people. They are why we get up in the morning, stay late in the evening and come in on the occasional weekend. They are why we are here doing what we do.
You grow unthinkably close to the people you work with. When I started at Brains on Fire, I remember Robbin talking about creating a company of best friends. At first I thought it was strange she had specifically chosen the phrase “best friends” over “family,” but over time, I have started to understand. Family is something you are born into. Friends are the family we choose. Every day we choose to share our waking lives with the people we work with. We play off of each other’s thoughts, moods and energy. We generate happy moments, push and pull through sticky moments and celebrate awesome moments. We laugh and tease and bicker and help. We dish out tough love when needed, and love-love the rest of the time. When one of us succeeds, we all succeed. And if one of us fails, we all fail. Without one of us, our story is not the same story, because we are a team.
You cannot change the family you are born into. Their blood runs through your veins. But every day we choose the people we will call our friends. At any moment we could leave and walk away. And that’s what empowers a company of best friends to leave an imprint on universe by changing the world – one client at a time. Every day we choose to show up and be a part of Brains on Fire, because we believe in what we do here, we believe in the people we’re doing it for…and we believe in each other.
In conclusion... Thank you to all our clients – and everyone who has allowed me to be a part of their story in 2011. It has been an honor and privilege. A special thanks to my incredible, team at Brains on Fire. You not only rock my world, you rock my universe. On a daily basis. (And teach me new phrases like “son of a biscuit eater” between rounds of LMFAO.)
So, so-long 2011. Greetings, 2012. In the wise words of Jack Kerouac, “we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies...”