Life as a soft-shell creative.

Life as a soft-shell creative.

I was struggling last night to keep an obsolete piece of software running. It was, fifteen years ago, an important and fundamental (also complicated and temperamental) part of the creative toolbox- Everyone used it and its quirks and constant need for attention was an industry-wide joke.

But now, frustrated, I cling to its increasingly rickety Rube-Golberg functionality, anachronistic technology, and updates that stopped arriving around the time of the last generation iPod. Because it is familiar. And because to give up would be to acknowledge that I have to start over with something new.



I would have to clean out a dozen years of ossified files and folders, take inventory, and worse yet: I would have to learn something unfamiliar.

The new thing may be way easier. More efficient. Faster. But that’s no reason to like it. Because I have to change in order to use it, and I’m not crazy about the idea.

And then I asked myself why that is.

This made me step back, for a minute, to look at myself. And those like me. And our entire industry.

And then I thought of the crab.

The Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus) is a marine invertebrate with a rigid exoskeleton. It lives and grows within a shell of a fixed size, until it accumulates an internal pressure so great that it splits its own constricting skin, shedding the calcified limitations of its old self, forming a new and vulnerable stage, with a soft, malleable carapace that can stretch and grow to a greater size.

An adult male Blue Crab molts up to 23 times in its life. But at some point, it stops. It becomes trapped inside the hardened restriction of its own body, where it grows fetid, static, doomed to remain the same size forever.

We are this crab. If we choose to be.

The ongoing timeline of our industry, whether driven by culture, or technology, or innovation, has created an ever- intensifying cycle of necessary reinvention of ourselves and our businesses, which we can either reject or embrace. Every new stage requires the discomfort of change and adaptation, and in order to continue growing we need to eagerly accept these blessings.

Or we can reject it, and become captive to the rigid shell of our own obsolescence at some point. This happens more often than we’d like to admit.

I know a number of advertising folk of a certain age who do little more than bitch about how things have changed and how awesome this business used to be. And it was- The work was exciting, fun, and what was valued was well established and easy to understand.

I get it. It’s comfy here in the shells we’ve spent our lives crafting, with the wall-to-wall One Show books and mountains of free LA production co. swag. But the world is different now. What is important, how it’s done, and where the goalposts are, are all different.

So we have to be different.

We have to get comfortable shedding our habitual limits, and emerging into the vulnerability of our own soft-shell stage, where we are all walking on the wobbly legs of a baby giraffe, and find the opportunities to take the experience that filled our old shells and use it to grow into our new ones.

And the empty, hardened vessel that once restrained us must be discarded- Clinging to it will only slow us down (Like that damn software.)

So I’ll be downloading some new software today, and living with the uneasy period where shit doesn’t work the way it should as my system adapts to the new reality. And the bandwidth/psychic energy I expended keeping the old stuff running can then be spent in much more constructive ways.

Shed your skin once in a while. It is hard. But it’s the only way to find room to grow.

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