Who are you?
However, you might see yourself, it's almost certain that other people will see you differently. For example, research for this article revealed that people who meet me for the first time generally consider me: "A bit weird, unfriendly and grumpy". Although initially upsetting this also turned out to be remarkably similar to how my friends see me. This is clearly nonsense.
When somebody who knows you tries to explain who you are to somebody who doesn't, there is generally a sound-bite that goes with your name. For example, most of us know a "crack-up" Pete, or a Tricia: "mad as a cut snake"; or maybe a "Creepy Dave with the wandering hands". Prince Andrew is widely known as "Jeffrey Epstein's unemployed mate".
This has been going on for centuries. Kings used to be called The Unready, The Red, The Fat, The Cruel, etc. I presume that names such as "Henry the Impotent" of Castille, or "Constantine The Dung-Named" were unlikely to come with the royal seal of approval. On the other hand, one suspects that the phrase "Richard the Lionheart" was spread around the villages of England by a medieval social media team.
Make a name for yourself
If you're starting out in a big organisation where nobody knows you from a pot plant it's important that you get yourself known for something. In the past, I worked with the intriguing Tony "found in the boardroom with a kitchen whisk up his posterior" and Phil "caught pleasuring himself in the office by his PA". (Names changed to protect the guilty.) More successful was Mark who "put a live dolphin on Trade Me". This incident made Mark famous across several industries and enabled him to carve out a decent career despite his failings. As he would admit, he hasn't done anything nearly as interesting in the 20 years since.
The joy of ritual humiliation
When I worked with my art director, Mike, as a junior creative team in a large London advertising agency we might as well have been invisible. We were non-entities who produced inconsequential ads to go into charity brochures or small space retail ads to go at the back of the paper. Nobody would give us a chance to work on the big briefs because we hadn't proved we deserved it. On the other hand, we couldn't prove that we deserved it because nobody would give us a chance.
Fortunately for us, we stumbled across a way out of this conundrum: Leaving cards.
Within London advertising, leaving parties were important, well-attended social events, in large because of the free booze. After several hours of warming up, the most senior person still capable of speech would balance on a table and summon the victim. There would be a short monologue highlighting the individual's failings and how happy everyone was to see them leave. This was followed by the presentation of a small gift voucher and a large card which was generally highly insulting, but not quite enough to result in legal action.
The next morning, the card, providing it was funny enough, was generally the only thing that anyone could remember. My dad's own leaving card was the only memento he kept from his decades in advertising.
It was up to the creative department to produce the card, but the older lags would often claim to be too busy or just too self-important to be bothered. Eventually, the job would trickle down to juniors like Mike and me, who were not important enough to ever be considered busy.
Try and be good at something
The first time one of our cards was presented was a tense moment. As we slouched nervously at the back, the recipient grimaced while the audience laughed and jeered at their obvious discomfort. Perfect. Before long we were asked to do another card. And another. We enjoyed doing them as they were much more fun to produce than ads for indigestion tablets.
Getting a reputation for producing funny cards meant that before long we would be trusted with other projects: "We love the humour on your cards, could you do something similar on this brief for a toothpaste ad?" Obviously, we couldn't, as base humour and personal humiliation don't mix well with oral hygiene, but we did our best. Eventually, we got some decent ads out and started getting known, at least internally, for being reasonable at our jobs and not just as a threat to Hallmark. Next thing we knew we had a career.
There are other ways you might find to get noticed at work such as being the star of the company's sports team, being physically attractive, or even being interesting to talk to. Sadly, none of these were an option to us so we were happy to make do with "Paul and Mike who do the funny leaving cards".
At least it was better than "Tony 'who had a kitchen whisk up his bum'".
• Paul worked in Advertising at a Quite Good level across New Zealand, the UK and Australia including co-founding an agency in Auckland. This is a series of articles about how to make the best out of maybe not being the best. He is definitely not 'a bit weird, unfriendly, and grumpy'.