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SERIES: 2016 is the tenth anniversary of Bill Jensen’s seminal book, What Is Your Life’s Work?, composed of legacy letters — letters from leaders and managers to their loved ones. Each letter describes a life’s work legacy they wish to leave behind. Each letter is published and attributed as it was ten years ago, with 2016 updates as postscript. This is the sixth such entry (out of 10). To view the previous five, click on Bill Jensen’s (author) name to the left or below. It will take you to his previous posts around this topic.

Melissa Gessner

Work: Creates wonders with words and images

Melissa Gessner has made her living in advertising for the last decade. In other incarnations, she has worked as a creative planner, journalist, and political strategist. She’s writing to a friend who turned to her for help in dealing with an emotionally abusive manager.


This business has been fairly good to me, as I hope it will be to you. It’s also driven me witless at times because I can’t be content in leaving the work at the office and letting “good enough” be just that. That’s the nature of creative work, I suppose. If you really want to make this your profession, there are things to remember that might save you some frustration along the way.…

Always roll with the punches. And honey, there’ll be a lot of punches. That means you’ll have to learn how to punch back, and discern when to punch and when it’s better to roll. In the agencies of the “oldguard” network you will have to work harder, stay longer, and earn less than most of your male colleagues. Often talent or even competence (in either gender) are not necessarily criteria for advancement. Know it, understand it, and don’t think about it again.

Don’t expect everyone to share your vision. Sometimes they won’t even have a vision. If you are lucky enough to have one, then have the courage and the passion to fight for it. Just know you might not always succeed, and that’s alright, too.

The kids you didn’t like from high school are still around, and many of them work in advertising. There are also some really wonderfully talented people. You will have to work with all of them, so try to have an open mind. Find something to like about everyone and hold on to that. Hitler liked dogs. Perhaps young Stalin had a pony. Lucrezia Borgia was good at chemistry. Dig deep; you can do it.

Don’t kiss tush. In any business there are a number of frustrated proctologists who believe the care of a boss’s derriere is the surest way to the top. Disgusting to watch, worse when people start doing it to you and something for which I’ve never had the stomach. Console yourself that what you may lose in the easy promotion, you’ll save in breath mints — and your self-respect.

Seek out people you respect and learn all you can from them. The people you may come to respect may not necessarily be the ones most rewarded and revered by the organization.

Beware carnivorous sheep. This is a business built on manipulating and creating idealized versions of reality. Many of the people you will encounter have mastered this on a personal level as well, so be careful in whom you put your trust. The idea thief, the evil genius, the manipulative climber, plus a few more you’ll discover on your own. Be optimistic, but be prudent. It hurts to discover that the little lamb you’ve been pushing for promotion has suddenly developed a taste for your flesh, and the view from your window office.

Listen to lots of music. It keeps things in perspective. There are few things Miles Davis, David Byrne, The Clash and I can’t handle together.

Realize there are more important things in life. I realized all perspective was lost when I missed my mother’s 65th birthday to work late on a project that was going out the next morning. The right thing to do was just walk out. Of course, the meeting for which all the sacrifice was necessary was postponed to the following week. I will never get over missing that time with my mother. She has never mentioned it, and we celebrated later in the week — a very poor substitute for a moment lost. Ultimately, the project was an award-winner, and the little statuette shoved to the back of my bookshelf serves as a constant reminder of the human bankruptcy of my decision.

Never fall in love at or with the work. Both are guaranteed to break your heart.

Find something of value in everything you do. Some of the best projects bring the biggest headaches and the best rewards. It’s up to you to decide which you’ll carry around with you. Remember too, I’m always here for you, kiddo.

Fondly, Melissa

2006: Melissa Gessner has an overwhelming fondness for dogs and shoes, both of which she tends to accumulate. Taking in both lost souls and lost soles, she sometimes finds one in the other.

2016: Melissa is now VP, Creative Director at Doner Advertisting in Detroit.

Want to Write Your Own Legacy Letter? Go here for step-by-step instructions.

About Bill Jensen

Bill Jensen makes it easier to do great work.

He helps companies and teams double their productivity and pursue their passions.

He has spent the past 25 years studying how work gets done. (Much of what he’s found horrifies him.)

Bill is an internationally-acclaimed thought leader who is known for extremely useful content, with a passion for making it easier for everyone to work smarter, not harder.

His first book, Simplicity, was the Number 5 Leadership/ Management book on Amazon in 2000.

His last books — Disrupt! Think Epic, Be Epic and The Courage Within Us — reveal the secrets of success through bold ideas and by unleashing your own greatness. His new book, Future Strong, was published October 2015.

Bill holds degrees in Communication Design and Organizational Development.

He is CEO of The Jensen Group. Among his clients are Bank of America, Merck, Pfizer, GE, L’Oréal Italia, Genentech, NASA, The World Bank, BBC, Philips Lighting, the US Navy SEALS, the government of Ontario, Singapore Institute of Management, Guangzhou China Development District, and the Swedish Post Office.

Bill’s personal life fantasy is to bicycle around the globe via breweries.

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