At the company off-site, they had tubs of ice cream waiting for us first thing in the morning.
Breakfast of cry-babies.
This day was planned to manage all the upset about the big re-org. To help us lick our wounds…while licking ice cream sandwiches.
There had been rumblings that a re-org (as in, re-organization or restructuring) was coming, but anticipating it didn’t make it easier when it happened.
It was a couple of years into my job at Nick at Nite/ TV Land.
I, like many people on the On-Air side of the 39th Floor, was happy with how things were.
No one who’s happy with how things are wants change. Especially not like this.
Some execs were out. So were a few producers.
Some bosses – including mine – were now under other bosses.
On-Air — the “cool” department I was a part of, which got to create the spots you saw on TV, was now merged with Off-Air — the department we’d always ignored. Their head was promoted to head of everything.
Off-Air made things like one-sheets, corporate sales tapes, presentations for the Viacom president’s birthday. In high school taxonomy, they were the Nerds. And now they owned us.
People variously felt like they’d been demoted, edged out, or traded around like baseball cards.
Some of us cried. (I *might* have.)
What’s next, we wondered. Would they take away the free soda?
Free soda was an inalienable right. They couldn’t do that, could they?
One VP, who’d shepherded the launch of our new network and had now been shuffled to a position that amounted to “Chief Paper Pusher and Nap Taker” wandered the floor with vacant eyes and a cup of free soda (maybe the last ever), saying, “They’re taking away my baby.”
At the off-site, held at a massive sports complex, they put us through team-building exercises led by touchy-feely outside consultants wearing black scoop-neck leotards.
We didn’t do trust-falls, but same kinda shit — like, put our heads together in little groups to reconstruct a box puzzle made of wood and nails; go to different corners of a room based on what we wore to bed.
(The t-shirt-and-underwear corner was most populated. In the “sleep in the nude” corner stood the one person from our department you least wanted to picture sleeping in the nude. “Really?” he said, looking around and seeing he was alone. “No one else?”)
Then, we all gathered in one room and were asked to fill out and wear HELLO MY NAME IS name stickers.
One of the On-Air producers, Danny, loved hip hop and especially loved Sean Puffy Combs AKA Puff Daddy, who’d recently shortened it to just “Puff.”
That’s the name Danny put on his name tag. HELLO MY NAME IS PUFF.
Martha, a tall, woman from HR who was overly trained in the art of empathy, stood at a whiteboard and led the session.
Her head was permanently stooped in a position of listening — really listening — to what a person had to say.
“What are we feeling about the re-org?” she asked. “All feelings are ok.”
Some jerk from Off-Air said, “I’m feeling jubilant.”
“Jubilant,” Martha said. “That’s great.” She wrote it in her dry-erase marker.
Danny raised his hand.
“Yes, Puff –” Martha said gently. “What are you feeling?”
“Pissed off,” Danny said.
“Pissed….Off.” Martha wrote on the board. “That’s good, Puff. So Puff is pissed off. Is anyone else feeling like Puff?”
A bunch of us raised our hands. Martha asked what was pissing us off.
“I got into this because I love writing for TV. That’s my passion. Not writing sales tapes,” someone said, with extra disdain on the words “sales tapes.” It might have been me. (I honestly don’t remember — but it was what I was thinking.)
Martha nodded, eyes closed in theatrical understanding, and wrote it on the board: DON’T LIKE SALES TAPES.
That’s when the top creative exec, a soft-spoken marketing genius named Seth* who did yoga before everyone was doing yoga and quietly masterminded, well, everything, stood up and took over.
“You know,” he said, “When I came in here as a freelancer, I was assigned a sales tape. Not the most glamorous job. Not my passion. Did I prefer to make spots for TV? You bet. It’s easy to make fun spots for ‘Bewitched’ and ‘Father Knows Best.’
“But you know what I did? I wrote and produced the best sales tape anyone had ever seen.
“I came up with a concept no one had ever done for a sales tape, I made it funny and original, and I knocked it out of the park. My bosses noticed. They gave me a full-time job, which led to me being the head of this whole department. I made my name with that sales tape.”
He connected eyes with each of us. I was sullenly licking the length of an ice cream sandwich when his gaze fell on me.
“So before you write off something because it doesn’t seem like the coolest job, why don’t you look at it as an opportunity to do something that’s never been done before? To knock it out of the park?”
I took Seth’s advice. Not because I was smart, but because I had no choice. My job now included stuff I didn’t want to do.
But it so happens, the project that made my name in promos was a sales tape.
And, ever since, I’ve taken projects that didn’t seem all that exciting or sexy — sometimes for the opportunity, usually for the money — and tried to give them a twist.
I’ve made a career out of writing things that are normally boring and forgettable, in a way that makes people say, “I didn’t know you were allowed to write it like that!”
There’s a lot of talk out there about, “Don’t do anything just for the money,” and “Listen to your gut. If it doesn’t excite you deep in your soul, and doesn’t speak to your passion, say no!”
Disagree. Especially for anyone starting out.
When I hear new writers or new what-have-yous saying, “Oh, I’m not interested in doing ____, it’s not my passion,” I want to pull a Seth on them and say, “Do it anyway, and knock it out of the park.”
You might make a name for yourself. And you might find your passion in places you never expected.
That goes for you, too, Puff.
OK, go back to licking your ice cream.
Have you ever opened doors by doing work you weren’t into?
Have you ever participated in company team building led by people in scoopneck leotards?
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS.
*All names changed, as always. To protect me from anyone saying, “That’s not how I remember it” and then suing me.