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Brand Strategy Creativity Marketing

An insane guide to being a creative: find your crazy eye, be honest, find the freaks


By AJ Gutierrez, ECD

June 19, 2024 | 8 min read

Vox Media’s AJ Gutierrez puts into perspective just how mad the creative trade really is.

A crazy looking dog

The fact that creativity can be a job is insane. Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy that it is, but it’s totally nuts.

Imagine going back in time and meeting your great-great-great grandfather after he gets home from a long day of helping construct the Manhattan Bridge. Without regard for the rules of time travel, you introduce yourself as his ancestor from the future and go on to unload about your life, the future of your family, and some sound stock market advice. After the initial shock and questions about your wardrobe, he’s thrilled to see you and welcomes you into his crowded one-bedroom apartment in Tribeca.

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He tells you about his journey to America and how he’s given up everything to work one hundred-hour weeks of hard labor, creating a monumental piece of infrastructure that will allow the future generations of his family to succeed.

He finally asks what you do for a living, and you say… “I wrote a script about tap-dancing penguins to sell toothpaste.”

His response is concise, obvious, and full of wisdom. “Penguins don’t have teeth.”

He’s right, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is we get to use our deranged brains to come up with utter and beautiful nonsense for a living. It’s a gift often lost amid the quest for titles, awards, health insurance, and stability.

The difference between our ancestors and today is that there wasn’t as much room for creativity to fester and thrive as there is today. Even compared to when I started, the number of opportunities for a job in any kind of creative field is overwhelming. But no matter the creative field, the good parts of what we get to do are buried beneath long hours, constant pressure, scrapped ideas, aggressive stakeholders, or–the worst of all–self-doubt.

Life and work can sometimes suck. This is an uncomfortable truth about our human experience. In recognizing this, I’ve outlined my three approaches to embracing the joy in our creative careers and reminding ourselves what matters.

Get the crazy eye

We all know the crazy eye. The look you get once you’ve cracked a brief, written the perfect end line, or figured out a way to make Channing Tatum relatable to the everyday man.

The crazy eye is the physical manifestation of the feeling we get on the inside when a great idea sparks. It’s pure excitement and gives you a rush that translates to a crazed look in your eye. It’s the same look a mad scientist gives once they flip the giant metal switch in their laboratory. This feeling is worth working for and is the perfect reminder of why we do what we do.

The thing about the crazy eye is that it can only be achieved when the excitement lies in the idea and not what comes after. If you think your idea will simply please your client, no crazy eye. If your idea might lead to a new letter in your over-complicated job title, no crazy eye.

Your eyes can’t lie, and that’s why they’re the perfect reminder of what matters.

Be honest

Another insane thing about our job is that it’s based only on the taste and opinions of people with big black glasses, cashmere cardigan sweaters, or both. I have one of the two. I wish I had both, but my vision is imperfect.

So, how do you gauge if an idea is good or came from the right place? I rely on honesty. Nobody wants to be lied to, and that includes you. The sad part of being a human in 2024 is that we’re constantly lied to and used to it.

There are lies we consume daily that we’ve learned to live with. Things like Zach Efron’s new face, all shows on Bravo or anything on the news. It’s easy to know when you’re lied to, and in a time when most things are considered advertising, the only way to stand apart is by creating with honesty in mind. Consumers aren’t dumb. They realize most of what they consume is trying to sell them something. But it’s easy to look past that when the overall message is at least honest. This is also why some of the most popular content could be viewed as meaningless or strange. It’s why TikTokers who post videos of themselves pranking their parents, singing in the shower, or crushing things with their faces have so many views. When all else fails, be honest, and the joy will follow.

Find the freaks

Like ducks, freaks fly together. One of the first lessons I learned growing up was that you are who you surround yourself with. So surround yourself with the strangest, most interesting people you can. The people in your circle are the best reminders of who your true self is and what you find exciting. They inspire and will keep you humble. Most importantly, they keep you from losing sight of your freaky self.

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Creativity loves and embraces freaks. It’s why we all get along and why the work is good. We must remember that even with its challenges, creative jobs are homes for all like-minded outsiders to unite and have a sense of belonging. They brought us in from the cold when nobody else would and gave us a platform to utilize what made us this way in the first place.

I definitely don’t have all the solutions, but these have guided me. I am also guilty of losing sight of what matters, creating for the wrong reasons, getting caught up in the corporate hierarchy, and forgetting why I started this job in the first place.

The fact that creativity can be a job is insane. But true insanity “is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” That’s a famous quote from a smart person.

If you haven’t had the fire put out, protect it at all costs. If you yearn for it to be reignited, switch up your scenery. Trust me, nothing is harder than leaving what’s comfortable in search of a new opportunity. But it’s worth it. Your future self will thank you.

I’m currently practicing what I preach. I’m back in search of the crazy eye, creating with honesty and finding my fellow freaks, which is why I wrote this.

We’ll see what happens next.

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