It should be a duty for every professional (and every human being) to keep on learning, until they die. What exactly it doesn’t matter, because the question doesn’t have as much to do with the fact that the world is constantly changing (although it is), as with the necessity of keeping our brain young, exercised and flexible. With this idea in mind, many people, after they finish their studies, keep on studying. That’s why postgraduate and masters degrees were invented, as an expensive and official version of continuous learning. I, instead, chose to learn from my mistakes, which is a lot more expensive and totally unofficial, but a lot more fun. For everybody else at least!
For several reasons that don’t matter now, a few months ago I moved from Barcelona to London, an opportunity to continue learning almost by inertia.
This was the theory: as a professional of the advertising business, I’ve worked in 3 different agencies in the last 16 years of my career, 3 Spanish agencies of creative inclination, medium to big, and independent spirit. In all of them I’ve learned important things such as the value of a brand, how to synthesise an idea in 140 letters and how to forward an email after having changed its contents without the addressee ever noticing anything.
Now I was to try my luck at a foreign agency, where the language of use was English, and, if possible, a big multinational company with international projects to boot. The idea was to try new things out. And keep on learning.
My agency in Spain, to which I owe my eternal gratitude, made things very easy for me, so much so that they basically picked up the phone, got me a job at the world’s oldest agency and suggested I could still work for them from there. So without any interviews, I now have two jobs, one in Spain and one in England. I was even granted a month holidays in order to have time to move over there without a lot of stress. The fucking business! Now I only had to start making mistakes, that old habit of mine.
The first mistake was the same most Spaniards make: the language. Even though when I was a kid my dad had the visionary idea of hiring a private English teacher for my brothers and me. The good old man, as Director of the Academic Advising Department at the University of Oviedo, knew exactly that the English level acquired at high school wouldn’t be of much use to me in the future, not even to translate the lyrics of Enrique Iglesias, but the truth is that, back then, there weren’t a lot of English Native Speakers living in Oviedo and so the best candidate turned out to be Mr. Simon Brown. BA in Spanish and musician, occasional bass player in some of Los Locos’ tours and leader of local band Dona Kebab. He was the most amazing guy, always wearing square-toed shoes and a leather coat. He was my teacher between the age of 11 and 19. And a while later he confessed that, after our first lesson, he went straight to the bar at the corner of the street and bought (at that time you could do this) one cigarette. And he started smoking again. Thanks to him, I learned by heart the lyrics of about 500 songs in English, and it’s true that when I put my head to it my pronunciation isn’t that bad and I can perform quite well in a conversation, but in exchange I never learned a single thing about grammar. 25 years and 1500 songs after that first lesson, I still make the same mistakes. What an absolute tragedy for an editor. It’s true that the most important thing in advertising is having ideas and all that, but when I tried to tell the team I work with now that I can’t design or write an English text that doesn’t sound as a mixture between Sitting Bull and The Smiths, their answer was: “You’re useless, Pipo”. As it sounds! I better find myself some lessons again. Meanwhile, every time I send an email with more than four words on it I can sense a flare of cigarette smoke coming towards me from some corner of the office…