advertising, life in general

Can one lead a meaningful life working in advertising? (Part 1)

Many years ago, I somehow found myself in one party, on a Saturday night in a house in Kemang, Jakarta. The host was an American expat working for an international NGO. Understandably most guests there were also expats working for international NGO in Indonesia.

Besides some friends who dragged me to that party I didn’t know anyone there. At that time my friends were already busy with whatever tickled their pickle, so I ended up with a bunch of expats in one corner near the makeshift bar. It turned out nobody knew anybody either, so an American guy came up with this idea of introducing ourselves to one another.

He started, “’I’m Brian (no real names here, of course), now with WFO here, we give assistance on… .” Then another continued, “I’m Ann, now with USAID, my project is …”

The pattern thus emerged, “I’m (insert name), work with (insert an abbreviation of an international NGO) to do (insert important project or noble activity that benefit Indonesians)”.

When it came to my turn, this was how I introduced myself –obviously after several rounds of vodka tonic.

“My name is Mita, and I’m a Y-U-P-P-I-E” (I spelled the word ‘yuppie’ by the letter).

(Naïvely). “Oh, what is that? Never heard that organization before.”

“It’s just yuppie. I’m just an employee in a private sector.”

(Laugh). “But of course you work somewhere.”

(Reluctantly). “Yes, in an ad agency. Nothing to be proud about, I suppose.”

(Polite laugh). “That’s not so bad. So what are you working on?”

(Deadpan). “I work for skin-lightening cream”. A pause and then, “Oh, no. That is bad.”

I suppose it doesn’t take a genius to figure out I left companionless from that party that night.


Thanks to Twitter, nowadays I also hang out with people who are doing important, noble things for Indonesia. They work to influence policies, make better laws. Or to eradicate poverty. Or to fight corruptions. Or to make an honest, competent candidate have a fighting chance in the next election.

I enjoy hanging out with them. They are smart, opinionated bunch. They are passionate about what they’re doing. I find them admirable. They are fully aware they are facing uphill battles. Yet they still keep on trying, as they’re doing this for a better Indonesia.

Seligman, the father of positive psychology, will agree that my friends are living a meaningful life, as they employ their strengths for a purpose greater than themselves.

Yet on the flip side, hanging out with these people get me thinking, “What’s the purpose larger than myself I’m serving by working in advertising?”


Have you ever asked the same question to yourselves, dear reader?
If so, when was the last time you did it?
Do you like your answer?


2 thoughts on “Can one lead a meaningful life working in advertising? (Part 1)

  1. sophialudlowgroup says:

    You could try measuring the meaning of your life by what you do outside of work. Sometimes I think about going into a more purposeful career, but for now I just enjoy what I do and make sure that who I am in my own personal time is what defines me.

    • Thank you for comment, Sophia. Yes, I understand where you’re coming from. I also observe that some of my colleague do the same, i.e. find the meaning outside their advertising day job.

      But by doing so, are we not confirming the futility of living a meaningful life by working in advertising? That advertising will not allow us to serve a purpose bigger than us?

      A point to ponder.

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