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I Should Have Been a Garbage Man.



Back in the olden days, when I was just a young copywriting pup, I took an advanced copywriting class. It was a big deal because I’d finally finished all my core courses and aced the pedestrian intro to copy class. This was it. The big time. The class where I’d create the portfolio that would get me THE job. And I was pretty excited. The professor was some kind of badass, too. One Show pencils, Clios, he was legit.




The rumor was that his classes would routinely start with 20 and end with like, 5. He was savage when it came to critiquing, and he was all about giving us young ‘uns a taste of what it’d be like to present our ideas to a creative director. So what if he made people cry? And quit the class – and the profession – altogether? I had the stuff. I wasn’t scared.


Then we had our first big assignment. A three-ad campaign, which we’d have to present to the whole class. I did my research. My brief was solid. And my ideas were just left of center, funny but relevant. I didn't even have to revise anything. 

I presented with the confidence and swagger of Bill Murray, and taped my ideas to the wall, just as he taught us. I HAD IT, man.

When I wrapped up I turned to face Professor Badass. The exchange we had, in front of the whole class, is as follows:


PBA:    OK. Go back over to your ideas.

Me:      *walks back*

PBA:    Take them down.

Me:      OK. *takes them down*

PBA:    Now, walk over there. *points to door of classroom and trash can*

Me:      *walks over*

PBA:    Drop them.

Me:      Drop them?

PBA:    Yes, in the trash.

Me:      Uhhhhhh… *drops them*

PBA:    Well at least you’ll make a good garbage man, because you’ll never be a copywriter.


I think the class giggled, or chuckled, but I can’t be sure because I was busy falling into a black hole of embarrassment and despair usually reserved for being pantsed at a middle school assembly. I was stunned. In shock, but apparently, I walked back to my desk and sat quietly until the end of class.


When I got home, I considered dropping the class as so many before me had. But then something happened. I got PISSED. Pissed at him for doing that to me. Pissed at myself for not doing better. And pissed that I was even considering dropping the class.


Eff that nonsense.


So, I worked on new ideas. I walked back into class, and even smirked at Professor Badass when he said he was surprised to see me back. And that second round kicked all kinds of ass. And I stayed. And I continued to push myself, to want better, and to do better.


And at the end of the semester, not only was I one of the 8 remaining students, my portfolio (with Professor Badass’ help) got me a job as a Junior Copywriter. And when that creative director eventually lit into me (it happens), I was ready.


It was a lesson hard learned, but one I still think about often. To this day, I never go with the first draft. It’s easy, especially after 2 decades, to bang it out and move on. But I always push for better. And it’s all because I want to prove to that professor – and myself – that I’m no damn garbage man.


Until I found out that those are union jobs with good pay and pensions. Maybe I should have – aw, never mind.


(For the record, I still e-mail that professor every time I win an award.)

© 2017 by Kwame DeRoché 

Kwame DeRoche