Keeping it Real

by mikekarnj on November 28, 2008

Continuing off the recent posts by Clay and Seth on “Finding Something Real” and fulfilling, I thought I would give my two cents. Clay and Seth talk about the role of advertising and their respective jobs – strategy and account planning  – in the fulfillment of their personal lives.  (Note:  They’re the brilliant minds behind Obama Baton and  And they’re not the only ones.  I’ve talked to hundreds and hundreds of people (outside of advertising) that often ask, “what’s next?” or “is this it?”

After getting out of advertising completely, I often get asked about my experiences, etc.  So, rather than writing a lengthy post, I’ve decided to go old school and make a list of five things I’d like to share.  I’ve spent the past 2 years trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life , and hopefully some of these things will resonate with others.

I believe that society and our culture encourages a risk-adverse path in life.  That’s why you see so many talented and creative people working at companies like Accenture and industries such as advertising.  It’s safe and easy to be an account planner or consultant.  And our society even encourages it with college, recruitment, etc.  This has led a lot of people to go down a path they didn’t want to go and becoming completely un-fulfilled.

Disclaimer:  Take this with a grain of salt.  I’m still figuring things out every single day.

1.  Steer in the right direction. The best advice anyone ever gave me as to figure out where I wanted to go 1,2,5,10,20 years down the road and make sure that every decision put me one step closer to that goal.  For example, I want to eventually launch my own startup within the next 3-5 years.  When I had a choice between two jobs: one that paid a lot (not aligned with my goals) and one that didn’t pay a lot (but aligned with my goals) – I chose the latter.  Having a clear direction of where you want to go is the best way to navigate.

2.  Fulfillment. If you’re looking to find fulfillment in your life, watch this TEDtalk by Tony Robbins titled “Why we do what we do, and how we can do it better.”  He discusses the “invisible forces” that motivate everyone’s actions, and even high-fives Al Gore in the front row.

3.  Paypal Mafia. I talk about this article all the time and it’s one that changed my life.  As lame as that sounds, it really did.  I was amazed at how a group of people could leave Paypal and start other companies like LinkedIn, Kiva, Yelp, Going etc.  I knew I had to be in a similar environment.

4.  Make Ideas Happen. In a recent interview with PSFK, they asked what inspires me.  I thought about giving a ton of trite and lame answers but ended up keeping it real at the end.  “But out of it all, I stay inspired by pushing ideas to fruition often against the status quo. There’s nothing more inspiring and fulfilling than making ideas happen (mine or others).”  And it’s true.  At the end of the day, there’s nothing more fulfilling and inspiring than making ideas happen.

5.  Entrepreneurship. To relate it back to advertising, there’s nothing more fulfilling than reporting back to yourself.  When you believe in an idea, you make it happen, and you alone.  You don’t have to put together a 100-slide presentation to “sell it in” nor do you have to go through layers and layers of bureacracy to get something approved.  Like Nike says, you just do it.  Within this environment is when amazing things happen.  I encourage everyone in advertising to get the hell out STAT.  Why build someone else’s broken brand when you can create your own?

Hopefully, this will shed light on some things I’ve learned from the past two years.  The hardest decision for me was to pick a goal 5/10/20 years down the road and stick with it. My entire life was laid out for me: go to UVA for 4 years, go to VCU for 2 years, work here for a year, etc.  But, none of this was aligned with what I wanted to do or with my personal goals.  It took me over 2 years to find my way (I’m still trying to figure it out), and when I laid a goal of where I wanted to be 5 years down the road (it was extremely hard to commit to something so far down), everything else fell into place.

Long story short.
Do something.  Make something.  Stop thinking about it, just do it.
Ideas are worthless.  They are a dime a dozen.  The valuable ones are the ones that happen.

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