Step Outside the Inside? Forget It

I'm staring out the desk-to-ceiling window of my beautiful 12 x 16 square-foot office, contemplating how to creatively maximize my company's new retail initiative through our ever-evolving strategic plan, when I get a call from a dear friend from college. She tells me she needs a root canal and isn't sure how to pay for it. I offer the standard, “Thank god for insurance, eh?” She laughs and asks, “What insurance?” I sigh in response.

People joke about their fears of being stuck in the corporate world: the business-casual dress clothes, the preppy haircuts, the ex-fraternity/sorority mentality. I can understand completely. Yet here I am, enjoying my fresh Organic Peruvian Brew (we drink only the best), reveling in the glory of my recently upgraded 401(k) with stock options. Life isn't so bad from in here. The air conditioner always works; my shiny new Mac hums along to the ring of the latest IP phone next to it. I am definitely not trying to figure out if I need to take out a Heloc against my mortgage to cover the cost of a few new teeth.

Conversely, I am terrified of life outside the “inside.” What agency would want to hire a business-minded marketing creative and production manager? Will I be able to continue to use my head when everyone else designs from their heart? Won't my feet ache from the concrete floors? Do I still know how to switch gears from project to project? Maybe I'm just not as cool as everyone else, in their exclusive design communes.

The truth is, my lifelong design dream would be to work at REI's corporate headquarters. Yes, I am a granola design girl that actually enjoys meetings. I have found my niche. I am the “weird chick” with a fro-hawk who has a Jeep Wrangler instead of a Jaguar (complete with an actual bumper sticker of a white Apple logo). I have a collection of artsy posters and assorted creative memorabilia on my office walls. I bought my Casual Friday shoes online at the Simple website—no Jimmy Choos or designer jeans for me.

Despite the raised eyebrows, there are plenty of reasons why I enjoy my job. I often get to flex my “outside the box” thinking while sitting in all sorts of business pow-wows. People call me when they need a creative business development idea. I have plenty of time to be involved in several committees (gotta love corporations) and belong to numerous local organizations and nonprofits. I get to develop branded product lines, work on both internal and external communication collateral, oversee our corporate culture's look and feel, and get my hands on every creative project our department touches. Let's talk project diversity! I am constantly inspired by the outside world, by what every company could be if they took the initiative. Lucky for me, I'm at that type of company.

If you're debating whether or not you should apply for the corporate marketing associate position you saw advertised in the paper, consider these five questions:

  1. Does every project I work on need to be entered into a design competition?
  2. Do I know how to effectively communicate the importance of ROI?
  3. Can I juggle new project requests, budgets, conception, implementation and production? By myself? On more than 20 projects at a time?
  4. Am I OK with the fact that no one I work with (except maybe my boss) will understand the importance of what I do until the one day I am out with the flu?
  5. Could I wear my shirt tucked in every day?

And let's be clear, it's not always hard—I have plenty of vacation time, and I have earned the respect of my peers having recently become a board member of my local AIGA chapter. I have, though, been barraged with disdainful inquiries: “Oh, you're in-house, huh?” “What's the coolest project you worked on last year, a newsletter?” “Ahhh, I see, so do you actually like your job?” And my all-time favorite: “Couldn't you find anything else?” To answer everyone at once, I absolutely love my job and wouldn't step outside the “inside” for anything.

Plus, I just got my teeth cleaned and it only cost me $10.