Vehr_WhenIWas22When I was 22 and the client, I hid behind email. I sat on creative and couldn’t reign edits into two rounds of review. I botched RFPs. I was so self-conscious of my lack of experience that even talking to creative partners on the phone felt confrontational. Statements of Work died when they were sent to me. Most of all, I dreaded giving critical feedback — especially when it wasn’t mine — and often waited until the last minute, sometimes jeopardizing the entire project.

When I was 22 and the client, creative partners and colleagues were mostly kind in helping me get on the right track when I strayed. But, my mistakes sometimes led to awkward footing or going over budget throughout projects.

When I was 22 and the client, I exhibited some behaviors that just didn’t help get things done. To everyone I worked with when I was 22: I’m sorry.

These behaviors aren’t necessarily because I was 22 or because I was the client, but they describe where I was in terms of professional experience. While the six years of experience I now have may be just a drop in the bucket, I have learned that most of what it takes to “work together” with various teams (especially in a client-agency context) merely comes from accumulating experience. No growth (or grit) comes from staying comfortable or stagnant.

Here are some simple, healthy-habit-inducing tips that have helped me grow out of the proverbial 22-year-old-client phase:

Just pick up the phone
Nothing is too big or too small that it can’t be helped by conversation. Then, when the conversation is over, summarize the points and confirm it via email. Oh, if I had just done this in the times I had to deliver critical feedback! Vocalizing delays, hiccups in production, and talking out the next steps saves hours (and days) of waiting for email responses. For most projects, the best case scenario is to chat in person. Just pick up that phone, return those voicemails, and talk it out early and often.

Own where you are
I was really lucky to usually work with people who knew I was “sitting shotgun” or in training for many projects. It helped me own where I was professionally and forced me to do a “Now what did I learn from that mishap?” reflection if a project went south. If you are not sure where you are and how you can own it, refer to #1 and ask a colleague who you trust will give you honest feedback.

Realize you’re part of a big picture …
… But know that doesn’t mean you’re part of an insignificant assembly line. Teamwork in marketing and communications is more than just adding your little piece, passing it on to the next person with a “Cross that off the checklist, it’s their problem now!” gusto. While it’s a habit that can develop ambivalently, it’s not conducive to amazing work. If you don’t care about amazing work, refer to #2 and get ready for a world of frustration and mediocrity.

In our line of work, we are all on our own path of improving what we do and how we do it. Most of us want to create that amazing ad, secure that lucrative media placement, convey a complex message effectively. As someone who exhibited behaviors that may have been frustrating for colleagues and partners, I know we only get better by putting ourselves out (in what feels like a risk) and getting vulnerable while trying. Oh yeah, I also did that when I was 22 and the client.