Most of my professional life was spent in the advertising industry. Almost 25 years, in fact.
There are a lot of weird people in the ad industry.
As a tender little sapling in “the biz,” I always worked for the wackiest of wack jobs and had the most bizarre experiences.
It’s one of the reasons my college BFF, Jen, who - over the phone, when I’d steal a moment of privacy behind the dark, closed door of a utility closet, I would whisper the latest “story you’re not gonna believe,” she would say to me, through tears of laughter and shock, “Oh my God, did you write this down? You have got to write a book someday - you couldn’t make this stuff up!”
Incidentally, it’s the reason I named my funny memoir, “You Should Write A Book, True Tales Of An Unstable Life.”
Then I found a job where I felt like people were normal.
It was a normal company with a normal boss and normal co-workers.
I actually felt like I was in the Twilight Zone because of how normal it felt.
They had amazing benefits, room for growth, and I vowed I would never leave.
At last, I’d found a place I felt at home, which is important during the early days of an advertising career, because it’s not at all uncommon to spend 12 or 14 hours a day at the office.
I worked there for about six months when I got a call one morning from a co-worker saying that our CFO was missing.
Long story short, he was a day or two shy from being busted for embezzling millions of dollars from the company, so he shot himself.
In one of the meetings in the days following his suicide, we received news that our company did not have the funds to continue.
The agency would close its doors.
As is normal for me in the wake of someone else’s tragedy, I immediately thought of myself.
“No, no, no…,” I thought, pledging to do whatever I needed to to help make sure this agency didn’t go down without a fight.
I remember the room was full of people with tissues, dabbing at their tears, and talking about the demise of this incredible company.
Someone said across the room, nodding in my direction, “Kris, what do you think, is there any way we can….”
I didn’t know this guy all that well, but I reasoned that his slightly-too-familiar way of addressing me as “Kris” was because we were all suddenly so close, having been thrust into a situation that had us clinging to each other like we were on sinking lifeboats.
So I responded in a disgusting, half-choked and desperate-sounding voice that was nasally and congested, and that made everyone turn and look at me.
Wait. Is that why they were looking at me?
As it turns out, the lady standing behind me a bit was one of the company’s principals. She cleared her throat and sort-of gently moved me aside as she stepped around to answer the question.
Her name was Kris.
Ugh, why am I so embarrassing?
My husband’s family chuckles when they remember how, when we were in with the funeral director to make arrangements for my father-in-law’s funeral, I couldn’t contain myself any longer and I burst out to ask what we needed to do to get him a military fly-over.
Sweet Jesus, why do I do stuff like this?
I think I just need to make sure we don’t make assumptions.
Can you imagine if a few months after my father-in-law was buried, we’d be sitting there and someone said, “Oh you should have just asked if you could get him a military fly-over - it’s just as simple as a quick phone call to the President!”?
In another painful example, I’d like to draw your attention to this poem I wrote in 1983.
To my dead cat.
I was 13, as you can surmise from the fat, curly handwriting.
A few days before writing this, I’d been lying hapless across my bed talking on the phone to my friend about whether we believed that shaving the top half of our legs would make our pubic hair grow into a wider swath.
I didn’t know that at the very moment we were hammering out the evidence in favor of versus the evidence against, my fat orange cat was being run over in the street right in front of my house.
I loved that cat, as you’ll see in this poem:
I’ve said a lot of crazy shit in my lifetime.
But I’m glad I speak up and - if nothing else - let people know how much love I have for them.
How sad would life be with the important things left unsaid?
Putting yourself out there in those moments of vulnerability.
Where people can see you.
That’s where the magic of connection happens.
The reward of risking embarrassment by “saying too much” or saying the “wrong thing” is the connection you’re making with the person on the receiving end.
Best case? They respond positively, mirroring your sentiments.
Worst case, you’ve overstepped and turned them off completely. Or maybe just pushed them back slightly, and maybe they’ll come around.
The fact is, by not saying the thing at all, you’ll never know.
You’ll miss the chance to truly connect.
And without connection, what is the point?