I have been known to joke about my status of “Black Sheep” in a family of do-gooders. Whether it’s military service or nursing or education or medicine, I’m surrounded by people who do very selfless, noble things with their lives while I work… in advertising. No one at my office is saving lives or defending the country, but this week I found a new respect for the people there and for what it is we “do”.
See, it’s all true. We’re in business. And there’s nothing inherently noble about the work we do at Saatchi & Saatchi X. Sure, you can find worth and usefulness and even fulfillment within our walls, but at the end of the day – our success is measured in dollars earned, not lives changed. And, especially considering all the do-gooding around me, that has always bothered me a little.
This week, Saatchi experienced heartbreak. One of our own, a member of our Creative Department, passed away Tuesday night. Justin Leland was a truly special guy and news of his tragic death sent absolute shock waves through the agency and throughout our offices across the country. It’s a workplace typically characterized by the constant hum of productivity and action, but I will never forget what it felt like to walk into that painful, heavy silence Wednesday morning.
As the week unfolded, I watched as the agency became more than a workplace. It became a place in which people were leaning on one another and truly taking care of each other. I watched our management find ways to keep people from retreating to their desks, overwhelmed or confused. They were mindful to get people talking — talking about Justin, talking about loss, talking about heartbreak and anger and grief. I saw people put aside the “job” in exchange for a hug and a moment and a comforting word.
It’s “just a job”. Sure. But it’s a job that requires an “all in” kind of passion. It’s a high-stress, high-intensity place in which things move quickly and it’s really, really easy to get swept up in it all. There always seems to be more obligations than downtime and more sacrifices than rewards. People here win and celebrate together and, evidently, they mourn together. It’s a job that requires too much heart and dedication to really tolerate anything less than total commitment.
It’s a job that produces people who showed up for one of their own this weekend. Past and current Xers gathered Saturday night to love Justin and support one another. I saw faces I hadn’t seen in years. And regardless of what had carried some of those people away from the agency over time, a sense of family and dedication to people brought them back. There were a lot of tears, but there was just as much laughter. There was music and poetry, stories and jokes. On a night that was forecasted to be rainy and cold, we spent the beautiful, clear evening outside against the backdrop of a crackling bonfire.
The deep and genuine friendships among some of those at Justin’s memorial service were incredibly moving. These were not coworkers who had just lost a team member. These were hurting, grieving friends mourning the loss of an extraordinary man.
This week, the advertising industry lost an asset, and the agency world lost a truly authentic creative talent. But this family – this Saatchi family — lost a brother and a son. Employees come and go, their positions are backfilled and their desks occupied. But family members are mourned and terribly missed. And seeing that brutally human element with my own eyes this week made me realize the depth of the dignity and the decency in this place I sometimes like to think of as “just a job”.