It’s tough ‘to know your worth’: Confessions of a creative feeling adrift without a mentor

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This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

After nearly a year of working from home, the difficulty in finding ways to connect with peers and lament workplace issues is getting to some creatives. Without that peer-to-peer connection, the lack of structure and the subjectivity of success in advertising has left one creative feeling adrift without a mentor. In the latest edition of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor, we hear why Covid has made the need for a mentor more obvious and why the lack of structure in the industry can be isolating.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Has it been difficult to find a mentor in advertising?

It’s been quite difficult, especially when you’re looking for a female mentor because there are certain issues and situations to navigate that would pertain to this particular experience. Other people I know have really struggled to find any sort of mentorship. Advertising is a tough industry to navigate, particularly in creative roles. There is a lack of consensus, or infrastructure and most of what we do is highly subjective. The subjective nature of the job leaves us highly exposed: A bad manager, a bad brief, a lack of structure or systems, can all lead to issues that us creatives oftentimes take the fall for. It’s oftentimes tough to know where you stand, know your worth, know how you’re doing and when or where to draw lines.

Is that why you’ve been seeking a mentor? 

Yeah, that’s when a mentor would be useful. Someone who can have an objective view and guide you. The added experience helps as they have a better understanding of the industry, more experience with various ways of working, people, clients, etc. So they’re able to judge a situation better, see it more clearly, see the full picture. And then advice on how to navigate it, with all the unspoken rules and nuances needed to do so safely. I started looking for a mentor last year shortly after starting the role at my current agency. The first few months were the toughest of my entire career. I was overworked, overthinking, my confidence was shot, I was doubting everything.

Do you think Covid and being out of offices, if that mentorship or lack thereof, became more obvious?

I think it became more obvious and also more important. I guess, one exacerbates the other. We used to socialize so you’ve discussed all of these things informally in private with your peers. But now, because you don’t get to have these informal conversations anymore, you realize that you don’t really have people to talk to. Also Zoom or video calls feel a lot more formal and don’t feel like it’s a safe space. It kind of makes you realize that maybe you don’t really have anyone to turn to. Also, I think mentorship is really important for growth.

How did you go about trying to find a mentor?

I emailed a few people. I tried to go more word of mouth with friends or people that I might know in the industry that I know people [who could be mentors but that didn’t pan out]. We’re quite busy at the time and I guess there’s a general industry issue that we are all guilty of where a lot of emails are sent to us [go unanswered].

Why is getting a mentor so important to you? 

I was having a lot of difficulty in dealing with creative directors that had toxic culture and some subtle sexism. For example, where you’re in meetings and you keep being talked down to it like a child, being called a girl, a lot of talking down to. Also, a lot of the bigger projects that were given to the [male teams]. I needed somebody who was unbiased and had an outside perspective to advise on the best way to approach feedback or raising issues. Sometimes you need to [gut] check with somebody, you need somebody who has maybe more experience or an outside perspective to help guide you.

How did that difficulty in finding mentorship make you feel about the industry and your path forward?

It makes you feel slightly isolated and it makes you feel like you are facing these challenges alone. Although if you speak to your peers, a lot of the people actually struggle with the same thing. A lot of my fellow female creatives are dealing with the same issues. So it’s universal, but it’s an issue that’s not being addressed. Nobody is solving it. 

What do you think the important thing for people to know about mentorship in the industry is?

Reach out to your network, whether you need to be mentored or have the capacity to mentor, reach out to people. If you know somebody who’s a junior ask them, ‘Hey, are you okay? Is everything okay? Do you need to speak to somebody?’ It almost seems like common sense and obvious, but it’s just a shame. It doesn’t actually happen.

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