Existentialism, Content Strategy and River Phoenix

In Grade 8, my art teacher told the class existentialists believed there was "more to life than work". An over-simplification? Yes, but it hit my 13-year-old soul harder than The Bridge to Terabithia and the knowledge River Phoenix would never love me. 

"But there is, right, I mean there is more to life than that?" my brain hummed. The very IDEA  the future of my existence could be contained into one, grey 9-5 blob chilled me. The idea of sameness seemed equal to The Nothing we all fear - to steal liberally from another hallmark of my childhood - The Neverending Story. 

 You're an existentialist? ME TOO!

You're an existentialist? ME TOO!

That dread followed me through life. As I prepared for university, I thought of what would give me something interesting to do. I needed to discover a cause that provided the notion of "more than", a meaning, a raison d'etre. While I still believed there must be more meaning to be found in existence than what earned you a paycheque, it was hard for me to visualize how to create my intrinsic meaning apart from what I would spend the bulk of my waking hours doing.

I went to journalism school - a good choice for me. Rather than chaining me to one place, this career path offered me the opportunity to meet all different kinds of people and talk to them about all sorts of varying topics. I got to leave the office to do interviews and to try new technologies and tactics to make stories meaningful in the digital world. I found meaning in change and in an absence of sameness.

As journalism struggled and my quest for "more than" expanded to include seeking fulfillment with travel experiences to far-flung places, I turned to agency life and consulting as this universe offered me better, more stable access to more regular cash in the bank, if I may speak crudely.

In this world, I am a Content Strategist, which is a fancy way of saying I work with clients to figure out how to make sense of their world - for their customers - through stories. These stories - content - must provide value, meaning and interest for the customers and can be told through text, videos, photos, lists and published on any number of platforms, from LinkedIn to blogs. 

Side note on why what I do matters: traditional paid advertising is expensive and increasingly irrelevant - THERE I SAID IT. Subscription services mean more people can actively choose to opt out of traditional advertising. Those who still see it, are often annoyed rather than engaged.

"They will listen to your story, but they won't listen to your bragging, praising and emotional manipulation ANYMORE," bellowed respected speaker and story expert Robert McKee at the Skyword Content Summit conference I recently attended.

Determining how to think about a story to make meaning FIRST and worrying about whatever product or service you're selling LATER is the key to success for anyone even thinking about creating a marketing program. </end sidenote>

 This is, literally, a picture of me contemplating my meaning in life ... and also thinking about when I will get to eat nachos next, as they are my favourite food.&nbsp;

This is, literally, a picture of me contemplating my meaning in life ... and also thinking about when I will get to eat nachos next, as they are my favourite food. 

Back to the wretchedness of my soul and its quest for meaning. In this life, the one I've lived for about six years now, I have found new meaning. I meet people, I discuss varying topics. I learn constantly - about a client's business, their problems, their hopes and their dreams. I learn about audiences, what they want, what we can give them that will matter. I learn about cultures and regionality and how every nuance impacts the stories that need telling. This constant movement, this ongoing quest to provide meaning to others through stories, has kept my existential crisis at bay. 

I'm still getting over River Phoenix though.