I’ve built a career in disciplines that require me to be a planner. Every detail, workstream, and potential snafu (real or imagined) needs to be considered in order to be successful.

Ironically, I am not naturally detail oriented. As you can imagine, that’s bitten me in the ass more times than I can count working in advertising. At the onset of my career, I preferred to be a big thinker and to brainstorm for days—leaving the logistical details to someone who relishes in the minutia and is hardwired for that type of work.

Favoring the right side of my brain led to several teachable, albeit somewhat scarring, moments. One forever-humbling incident in particular has stuck with me. Early in my career, I was responsible for placing the product order for the swag bag of a high-caliber editorial event. Imagine my horror realizing I had accidentally ordered 100 sample-size products instead of full-size ones with zero time remaining to correct my mistake. I still cringe at the memory of placing each mini bottle in the gift boxes.

In the years since, I’ve never lost the big-idea version of myself—nor do I want to—but the agency world shaped me into someone my fresh-out-college self wouldn’t recognize. 

Whether out of necessity, simple maturation, or both, I became someone who plans for the plan and vehemently believes in the value of excessive spreadsheets. I still don’t always get it right, but at least it’s (usually) properly tracked. 

This professional evolution trickled into my personal life—or perhaps unleashed something already there as I’ve always had perfectionist tendencies. A vision of my professional career as well as what I felt I should accomplish by certain milestones outside of the office began to crystalize. 

For example, achieve the title of Vice President by 35, start a passion project that makes a measurable, positive impact by 40, and find a doting, ambitious, hilarious life partner by, well, two years ago. I have been adhering to a life plan and admonishing myself when I failed to bring it life—and didn’t fully realize it until it went to complete and utter shit. 

The events of my life in 2019 proved that when you plan, life points and laughs at you—I lost two jobs and experienced back-to-back personal losses. For better or worse, I think that’s a lesson we’re all learning in 2020. 

Case in point, after five months of being mostly unemployed, I started a new job in a global pandemic. 

My first official day with Amélie coincided with the first work-from-home mandate due to COVID-19. The image I had in mind for what my colleagues and I would achieve together immediately looked vastly different by the end of my first full week—or at least how we would approach things certainly did. 

Visions of rolling my sleeves up in a war room (that more closely resembles the situation room with excessive amounts of takeout) with my colleagues to craft the perfect pitch were quickly replaced with video calls from my one-bedroom apartment, which I share with my overly-opinionated cat. 

Instead, I found myself in digital-only trenches with brand new colleagues, asking them to do oodles over and above their day jobs in pursuit of new business—without having met several in person. 

In the months since, we all know what has transpired globally. Lives and livelihoods have been lost, human connection has been desperately missed, and we’ve seen more curveballs than we can field. We are all also now intimately acquainted with our good and bad sides on Zoom, Slack, Google Hangout and FaceTime—and all quickly stopped caring which is which. 

As I pass my 90-day mark with Amélie, I’ve been doing my best to reflect on what can be gleaned from this unprecedented, and hopefully never-to-be-repeated, experience. 

To me, it boils down to: 

Planning isn’t futile, but being inflexible will be. Though I’ve always known how important it is to be flexible in our industry (and admittedly struggle with it from time to time), it’s taken on a whole new meaning. Client priorities and budgets shifted overnight, as did many aspects of my role. I’ve learned that though planning is necessary, trusting yourself when something goes awry is also a must. We’re trained to think on our feet and that’s just as powerful as a well-laid plan.

Carving out time to be human doesn’t make you less professional. I’ve found it so easy to let my workaholic inclinations run wild, especially now that my commute is all of 5 steps and pants are not required. It’s been hard to shut down and take a step away when I’m busy—even though I’m so grateful to be. This experience, and especially more recent events, has confirmed how important it is to find time to be human. My work is just as important (I would argue less) as it is to find time to connect, listen, learn, laugh, and to take a break. 

I also need to acknowledge how spectacularly lucky I have been throughout all of this.

I do my best each day to feel truly grateful, if even for a moment. Grateful that I still have a job, let alone a job where I am challenged, growing personally and professionally, and working hand-in-hand with really wonderful people. 

If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that the experience of life not following the path we carefully lay out for it will not be unique. In fact, it’s guaranteed to happen again—so we might as well plan for it. 

Laura Underwood
Director of Growth & Marketing