Photo credit: William Creswell 

I never thought I’d work in an agency. Let me start with that. When I was younger I knew that the idea of razzle-dazzle and day-to-day hustle was just not for me. I came from a traditional publishing background, one that consisted of scientific journals and magazines. Back then, publishing an online version instead of print was considered a disruption of the norm.


Speaking of Old-School Print…

I’ve always loved literature. In high school, we studied a lot of American novels and poetry. I fervently loved and devoured two of American author Mark Twain’s classic books, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I read these two titles again in college, and I re-re-read Tom Sawyer again about a year ago.

The interesting thing about these books is how easy it was for me to make a connection between the characters’ adventures and mine, both as a student and as a working adult. Re-reading Tom Sawyer made me realise that I was boxing myself up so early in my career. Hey! I said. Don’t let this false perception of security and comfort rob me off the chance to live my own adventures, okay?

And so early last year, I braved the agency world — with a little help from Mark Twain and his words of wisdom. Here are just some of the quotes that have helped me out in times of stress.


1. “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

This will never work for traditional publishing. Why? Because it’s all about the keeping to the well-established rhythm of going to print, and executing it flawlessly every single time. And so, the idea of a majority is always good, as we need to function cohesively with every entity in the publishing process.

In an agency, however, always nodding to what most people say will make you question — am I doing this because I’m a good team player? Or am I just afraid of sounding stupid? Wait, why am I overthinking this? Stop. What would Tom and Huck do?


Did You Know?
Twain’s 1875 title The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was the first book ever written on typewriter.

Photo credit: FotoGuy 49057


2. “A round man cannot be expected to fit in a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape.

And so you see on the first point there, adjusting my mindset was quite painful. Maybe, I thought, I should just accept that agency work is really not for me — if at every team meeting and every brainstorm, I’d have to fight my way through my own thoughts to fling an idea across the room. I’m probably not cut out for this job, I sighed.

But as Mark Twain says, I just needed time to modify my shape.


3. “When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear.
This one’s pretty bloody self-explanatory.


4. "He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it — namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain." The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

And I’ve fallen to this one. Like one of the kids who actually painted the picket fence for Tom, I wanted to succeed in agency work because every day I’m chasing after that elusive perfect account — where the client signs off the scope of work on version one, and every first draft of every single deliverable is approved, and we all live happily ever after.


5. “Sometimes you gwyne to git hurt, en sometimes you gwyne to git sick; but every time you's gwyne to git well agin.” The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

These 22 words get me up every morning. It’s the feeling that my work life, much like my personal life, should be about riding that rhythm. I don’t rock up to work just to pay my bills. I’m here to live my own adventures; I don’t want to wait until after office hours to do that.


5 Ways Mark Twain Taught Me to Survive Agency Work

BY Chrizette Larin

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