It all started with the split in the advertising agency where I was one of the partners. The reason for the split was the account of a powerful multinational company that demanded exclusivity in its services. While two partners left to set up another agency with the purpose of serving that company, the other two, Paulo and I, stayed with the accounts of the old clients, all of them small and medium-sized. We gave up earning good money, but we could maintain a healthy and happy routine, without the cold personal treatment typical of large corporations. I was still satisfied. However, the partner who had stayed with me was not. The reason was the life of the others who left. They became millionaires in the course of a few years. Every time Paulo heard about a mansion, yacht, or some “rich people exclusive” article by them, it bothered him deeply. He always regretted the choice he had made and spent days, sometimes weeks, in a very bad mood. He treated everyone with rudeness and impatience. Even with me the relationship became difficult. He often disappeared from the agency, avoided me and did not even answer the messages I sent him. One day I saw him speaking rudely to an employee. It was past time to set a limit to that.
I locked myself in the conference room with him. I calmly told him that his behaviour was inappropriate in the work environment. The fact that he was the owner of the company did not legitimize him speaking that way to anyone. I asked him to evaluate his recent attitudes and to understand how he had become a person disliked by everyone in the agency. However, if he wanted, it was possible to change this behaviour and regain the happiness he had before. I said that I have always valued a place where people work with satisfaction, in an environment conducive to developing the potential and talent of each employee. When this happens, everyone wins. I remembered that this had been the differential for the agency to have won some awards and a little prestige in the past. Something that had been lost, perhaps because the work environment had become tense and heavy.
Boastfully, Paulo put his feet up on the table and reclined his chair back. He looked at me with resentment and in an aggressive tone of voice said that I was to blame for the fortune he had lost. He was referring to the fact that he had not accompanied the partners who left the agency. He confessed that, at the time, he had fallen for my lies, with those absurd ideas of living lightly. He said that life was hard and the world only admired those who had money. This was the standard of prestige and success for humanity. Without letting myself get off my equilibrium axis, I tried to ponder: “We are, you and I, as far from wealth as from material misery. We have a comfortable existence. A place to live and food on the table every day. Our children are in good schools and are lovely people. This is enough. If we have spiritual wealth, this will make us prosperous.”
Prosperous? He was surprised. I explained, “Unlike wealth, characterized by the accumulation of material possessions, often beyond what is necessary, prosperity is established when we live well with what we have.” Paul interrupted me to say that this was my problem, that I was satisfied with little. According to him, I had the mentality of a poor person and, for this reason, he had to lick the photos and just accept the news of achievements of the former partners.
I argued from another angle: “That’s not true. The success of others will never be an impediment to the joy of my days. I want everyone’s wellbeing, a movement that uncouples my life from the existence of others. If someone’s happiness bothers me, the alarm has gone off that there is something wrong with me. It has nothing to do with the things I have, but with the person I am. In me, never in others, is the source of the pains and delights that spring up every day.”
“I strive to live with the mentality of a free man. For this, I have to free myself from every possible dependency. Whether emotional or material addictions, conditioning that we accept without understanding, without questioning. The less I need, the freer I will be; this is the horizontal axis that leads me. The darkness of the world will not extinguish the light of my soul; this is the vertical line that guides me. This process begins within me and is reflected in my personal relationships. If I do not live well with myself, I will have problems with people.”
Paul opened his arms, said I should follow my idiotic theories and let him live as he wished. My partner was in bad condition. It was as if he was in a dark room. When this happens, we don’t always understand that we need light, but instead we try to bring people to be in the dark with us. It bothers us to admit that we are making wrong choices. This is one of the reasons for our aggressions. Apparently, it is easier to shift the responsibility for the dissatisfaction we feel to others. An ease that deceives. You can’t get out of the quicksand when we stubbornly make the wrong move. Then we sink deeper. Without transformation in our being and our living there is no overcoming any situation that causes us suffering.
“Let me live the way I want”, Paul repeated. It was an attitude of obvious provocation. I could not let him take me away from myself. Without abdicating serenity, I argued: “Each one should be and live the way he believes is best. However, there are limits. This boundary is individuality. It is inadmissible to subjugate others. No one is obliged to be subjected to your dissatisfaction with life when it is manifested in an aggressive way”.
“Although many employees need the jobs that support their families, none of them are obliged to stay with the company if they are not satisfied. However, when they do, the consequences are bad. One has to take into account the terrible working environment that has permeated relations between everyone in the agency. This affects not only productivity, but the lightness that is indispensable to happiness. Delicacy is fundamental and it’s for free”.
I paused, as I would be entering sensitive ground and said, “No doubt, you have the right to live as you wish. However, I don’t want the agency I also run, my workplace, where I spend many hours every day, to be a dark and unpleasant place. Worse, unnecessarily so.” And I reminded him, “I have that right”.
Paulo laughed. He said that I could not force him to be different. I agreed with him: “Actually, I never thought about that. Forcing anyone to do something they don’t want to do is against my principles. On the other hand, I am not obliged to live in a way or place that is disagreeable to me. I came to talk to you so that you would reflect on your attitudes”. Before he could speak, I added: “In the past we always had a good relationship. Everything changed when we separated from the other partners. How about you take a holiday to think about the reasons that make you so unhappy? I believe we can bring back the good atmosphere we once had.”
Defiant, he said he would not go on holiday or change his behaviour. If I wanted to, we would continue like this. Otherwise, I could do what I thought was best. I had no hesitation in affirming: “I think that each one should go his own way”.
With sarcasm, Paul said he would pay to see. Still using common poker terms, he said that I was bluffing. He remembered that he was the one who had the customers. He was friends with most of them. From a certain point of view, this was true.
Paulo had always functioned as a kind of informal diplomat for the agency. He liked to eat and drink heartily, to always have people around him, to tell jokes and travel in groups. At least once a week he would go to a restaurant with a client, for lunches which usually lasted an afternoon. As he was married to a woman who looked like him, he was also in the habit of travelling with his clients as a family. He had become close friends with several of them. His bad mood was restricted to when he was inside the agency. In public, he seemed like a different person.
No, contrary to what one might think, Paulo was not a fake or a carrier of dual personality. The issue was simpler. If man is a social animal, as some philosophers maintain, the agency had become an uncomfortable habitat for him, because of the unpleasant memories regarding the missed opportunities in the split of the old society, at least according to his understanding. Those memories were personified through my presence.
Still defiant, he doubted that I would have the courage to break the society we had, as i had done with the others. This time it would be different, he assured; most, if not all, of the clients would follow him. I would be miserable, he assured me. I told him that the PR work he had done was extremely valuable. However, I had been responsible for creating the campaigns during all this time and some of them had won awards, which contributed a lot to attracting and keeping clients. He replied that he could easily replace me with talented and creative young people. Better still, he would no longer have to share the agency’s profits with me. He claimed that up until then he had been extremely generous, because I would have enormous difficulty in finding someone like him capable of attracting and captivating clients.
I explained to him: “I am very grateful and I recognise the importance of your work. Although it makes relationships smoother, I don’t like the idea of keeping the clientele, above all and only, through friendship. I recognize and value friends as primordial instruments for the joy of life. However, one cannot be professionally dependent on friendships. The work should be maintained by the quality, commitment and innovation with which we commit to it. This is a clear dialogue that I have with freedom”.
He asked sarcastically if I was as master of myself I made it look like I was. Without losing my temper, I replied that I strive to be true to my principles in order to have an honest relationship with life. I added that I would not let fear guide my choices. I concluded by saying, “I do not underestimate your power, but I know my strength”.
Not that I had any extraordinary virtue. Far from it. I just had the awareness that the Way is never closed to the walker who walks it with will and love.
The partnership was dissolved. Before the contract dissolution, the clients were told to decide whether they would work with Paulo or with me. As he predicted, almost all of them went along with him. Only one preferred me to take care of his company’s advertising. As it was a small account, out of common sense, the agency stayed with Paulo, including the spacious house in a noble neighbourhood where it operated. So did most of the staff. I opened a new agency, housed in a commercial room. I was joined by a graphic designer and a general services employee. It was the limit of the financial budget I had left. Even with a single account, it was too much work for three people. As if that were not enough, it was necessary to reduce their salaries. They accepted without complaint. However, I didn’t feel it was fair. That was when I offered them a share in the profits, if any. Despite all the difficulties of space and money we had, our days were joyful, fun and full of hope.
However, life does not follow wishes, but the need to evolve. At the end of the first year, we were running at a loss in the accounts. Unforeseen expenses had arisen and I had to use up a small personal savings to honour the agency’s commitments. One day, the two employees called me in for a chat. Aware of the financial difficulties the agency was going through, they said they would understand my choice to close the company and, in this case, would even give up any severance pay, because they recognized the value of my struggle and how much they had grown during this whole period. With teary eyes, I told them: “It is very important to realize when a life cycle comes to an end. However, we cannot confuse the end of a cycle with the difficulties inherent to life. The partnership with Paulo was a period that ended; my career as a publicist did not. The problems that exist are exercises in creativity, learning and strength”. I paused to wipe my tears and continued: “I believe in myself, this will always be enough for me. It happens that life, with all its infinite generosity, has privileged me by putting two marvellous people to work by my side, during a moment, though difficult, that is very beautiful, because it requires us to go beyond where we have always been. This is transformative.”
The young designer wanted to know if I didn’t have any fears. After all, the future of the agency seemed uncertain. I remembered a conversation I had had with the Elder, the oldest monk of the Order, where I had studied philosophy and metaphysics many years before. He had taught me that whoever walks with love does not need to be afraid of the darkness. For, the light will be within you to illuminate your steps and protect your path. I told them this and added that this was the virtue that moved my life. Giving up was out of the question. It takes work and patience for the magic of life to manifest itself.
The boy who had a position of many functions confessed that they had been receiving constant proposals from Paulo to return to the old agency. The salary was higher and the prospects better. I smiled because I understood where that conversation would lead us. I said that they should do whatever was best for them. I understood the choice. Because I had a deep respect for my freedom, I respected everyone’s freedom. There would be no trace of resentment. They both gave me a tight hug and left.
The next day, perhaps knowing that I had been left alone, the only company that was still with me called me to terminate the contract. I was left with one room, no clients and little money.
To be fair, I had no space left for anger, victimisation or sadness. I was living the inevitable consequences of the choices I had made. Even more, I wasn’t smart either. As long as I have wisdom and love to enjoy it, everything that happens in my life is for my wellbeing. This is a precious mantra to be repeated every day. The way we react to problems defines the power they will have over us. Problems can behave as a canyon that interrupt the road or become the wings that will lead to the unimaginable of life and myself.
As it was still early in the morning, I decided to climb the Pedra da Gávea, a sphinx-faced mountain that some mystics say serves as a sentinel of the city of Rio de Janeiro. It is possible to reach the top after about three hours of climbing without the need for ropes. I used to go there when I was younger. I had always been enchanted by its strange energy. As if there was a portal between dimensions, thoughts were incredibly clear for me there. It was what Starry Song, the shaman who had taught me the ancient philosophy of the native peoples of America, called the Place of Power. A place where connection to the invisible side of the universe is most accessible. Up there, there is a wide plateau, where it is possible to see the whole city. That day, there was no one else at the top; the silence was so absolute that it seemed possible to hear its voice. I sat down and reflected for a time that I cannot specify. I needed to connect with my essence and, as a natural consequence, with the universe; to understand what was happening to me and where I should go.
At a certain moment, the image of Starry Song came to my mind. I remembered a phrase that he always repeated: he who has himself, lacks nothing.
I smiled to myself. The Way indicated a direction. I had, once again, to reinvent myself, reshape my professional career and the agency. When I got home, I slept soundly. In the following months, I took a course to learn how to use sound and image editing programs on the computer. I deepened my studies in psychoanalysis and the unconscious reflexes of customs in social networks. Meanwhile, I was getting in touch with companies, offering my agency’s services. The studies were going well, but the business was still stuck in the same place.
On a pleasant Saturday afternoon, I went to see an interesting show that mixed theatre, dance and circus in the same story. Several narrative styles used to illustrate and deepen a story. Delighted, I wondered how I could use this idea to innovate in my work. Not by chance, I bumped into Paulo and his wife on the way out. I hadn’t seen him since the dissolution of the partnership. All I heard was that his agency was still doing well with its contracts. I went to greet them happily. Despite the consequences I was facing, I felt no resentment. It had been a conscious choice, mature and without any trace of regret; after all, one never regrets the price of freedom.
I was greeted with arrogance. He said he knew that little, if anything, had remained of my agency. He recalled that he had warned me that this would happen. Then he offered me a position in his company’s creative team. He said they were very busy and needed to hire employees. Without a trace of pride, I thanked him and explained that, despite the enormous difficulties, I was sure about the direction I had given my life and added: “The agency is up and, believe me, I am fine”. It was the absolute truth. Paulo gave a sarcastic smile, wished me luck, turned his back and walked away.
I went for a coffee. I met a friend I had not heard from for years. She was with her daughter, a pretty and good-natured girl in her twenties. Maria was the young woman’s name. I invited them to sit at the table with me and soon we engaged in an animated conversation. At a certain moment I asked Maria about her work. She opened her purse and took out two jars. A moisturizer and a lip protector. She explained that they were handmade, without any chemicals or animal products. Entirely vegan, they were beauty products so healthy that they could even serve as food. To show me that he was serious, he opened one of the jars, rubbed his finger on it and swallowed a small amount. Then he offered it to me. I accepted, ate it and said: “It tastes good”. We laughed. I asked if they were effective on the skin. Maria answered that they were great. People who tried them would never stop using them. However, sales were very low and she might have to abandon the project to get a job. This would make her sad.
An idea occurred to me. I said that I could help them if they trusted me. In return, they would help me too. I proposed that they let me create a campaign for the lotions. I would use different narratives to publicize the brand, as I had seen in the show I had just attended. They said it would be wonderful and that they believed in me, but they did not have the money to pay me. We agreed that my fee would be paid through a small percentage of the profits on the increase in sales. If there was no profit, they would owe me nothing. They accepted immediately.
It was the moment to put all my experience and studies to good use. I recreated all the external aspects of the brand. I changed the name to one more appropriate to the subliminal idea of the ingredients used in the lotions; I designed, using graphic software, a new label to personalise the attributes contained in the brand. I used a lot of colours on the packaging. I built a website, with intuitive navigation, so that the public could learn about the ideals that moved the brand, and also to boost internet sales. I created debate groups on social networks. I called a friend, a well-known actress, and asked her to agree to participate in a short video in which she would use a moisturizer while explaining the product’s differentials. I added that I couldn’t afford the cost. As she had already starred in good campaigns with me, at the time of the old agency, she was generous and didn’t haggle. When we were filming at her house, her kitten came over and started licking the cream I had just applied to her hands. She spontaneously rubbed some of the moisturiser on her tongue, smiled at her own mischief and listed each of the ingredients, all natural and edible. I used the unexpected images to emphasize, even more, how, besides being good for the skin, it was healthy and free of toxic additives.
The campaign had an acceptance far beyond our best expectations, to the point where Maria was unable to meet the growing demand. She was soon approached by an investor who offered her conditions for increasing production in exchange for a share in the profits. I began to earn more too. Soon, I started hiring professionals to work with me. I had to rent a room next door. To crown this journey, I entered the campaign in a prestigious advertising festival, which brings together agencies from all over the world. I wasn’t awarded first place, but I received an honourable mention in the creativity category and another in the business model category. That was enough for companies with financial difficulties to start looking for me. They proposed the same type of partnership; the fees would be a percentage of the profit, if any. I accepted them all. A few months later, I had to look for a more spacious place for the agency. This time I took a different route. I went to a warehouse in an industrial neighbourhood in the suburbs of the city. All the professionals who came to work with me earned a share in the agency’s profits. The expansion of a simple idea that united people around the same goal. We worked without walls, in common-unity; everyone had an enormous interest in helping each other and in the progress of each campaign. The atmosphere was permeated with enthusiasm, joy and lightness.
A large circulation magazine did a story on our trajectory and way of working. Before long, I was surprised. The two employees who had to leave the agency to return to work with Paulo came to see me. They wanted to return, but would understand if I didn’t accept them. After all, they had abandoned me at a crucial moment. Emotional, before saying a word, I hugged them. Then I told them that they had been important allies in the first hour and I understood their need to survive. I remembered that I had said there would be no trace of resentment. That was true. I added that the doors were open for them. We cried together. They started work that same day.
The agency moved on. I never got rich. I didn’t make money like Paulo or become a millionaire like the other former partners. I achieved something far more valuable. Intangible and imperishable: when the abyss presented itself in front of me, I learned how to fly.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.