It’s Just Like Swimming


          By Yisha Zhang on February 9, 2016


          Originally published in Advertising Creative: Strategy, Copy and Design by Tom Altstiel and Jean Grow

          This August marks the beginning of my seventh year in the United States and the beginning of my fifth year as a strategic planner. There were many points along the way when I thought I couldn’t do this anymore – when I got really homesick one month after I came to the United States for grad school and wanted to go back home; when there wasn’t a permanent position open for me at the agency where I interned for a year and I didn’t prepare a single thing for the job interviews I never thought I needed; and when I threw away eight not-good-enough briefs in the middle of the night and seriously questioned if I had the smarts and ability to be a good planner.

          Somehow, I worked through all these and many more other challenging moments.

          Today, I’m still happily getting paychecks for decoding and manipulating consumer minds – something that I’ve wanted to do since high school. I’m not sure what motivated me to keep on going every time I doubted myself. Maybe it’s because I really love being in advertising; or maybe because my parents already paid too much for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in marketing and it’s way too late to back out.

          Okay, I kid.

          The part that I didn’t kid about is that it ain’t easy to work in advertising, and it ain’t easy to be a good planner. It doesn’t matter whether English is my first language or second. We’ll need … excellent work ethics to go through countless late nights, a thick skin to ignore creatives’ “why should I listen to you” face when we just started, and almost blind self-confidence to believe that we can always write a better brief. Most important, we’ll need the courage for learning to swim, the old-school way: just dive in and try to survive. We all know that our potential is most realized when we don’t have the time to think about what if we fail.

          I constantly get emails from students, mostly international students in the United States, asking whether they should stay here or go back, which agencies they should apply to, and what are the chances that they could get work visa sponsorships. I know they were earnestly seeking advice, but most of the time, I could only tell them that I didn’t know. I didn’t know what the right choice for them was, just like I cannot learn to swim for them. I understand that every now and then, we all have doubts. We all doubt if this is the right direction to go and how far we can go. The truth is, we will never know how far we can go if we don’t go all in in the first place.

          Just dive in and we will all survive. And if we train really hard on a regular basis, we might all be really good at it one day – swimming or advertising.

          Yisha Zhang, senior strategic planner, Team One