My Professional Soulmate
In 2010, after six years with my first advertising agency (six years with one agency is a lifetime in the advertising world, especially so early in a career), I bid them adieu. I lived in Brooklyn at the time and had no other job or plan B lined up. But it was the right thing to do.
For the next month, I explored other agencies, interviewing at TBWA\Chiat\Day, Arnold and others, thinking I wanted to move from my boutique agency into one of the big guys. I don't know what I was thinking, but luckily none of that panned out.
Because one day, "working" from my bed (also known as combing the internet for the meaning of life), I put down the laptop to read Tim Ferriss' Four Hour Workweek. I started doodling in my notebook, drawing lines between the things that made me feel most alive, those I was most passionate about. Those three things were unequivocally writing, travel and my career in advertising.
In a flurry of a brain explosion, I devised a project whereby I would travel the globe to six industry hotspots to talk to folks about the state of the industry, and capture the entire experience via blog and the media at the heart of the discussion (this was just as Facebook, Twitter and social media were gaining ground and shaking up the foundation of many industries; advertising greatly so).
Living in New York City at the time, the conversation tended to be inward-facing, about how the industry in New York was affected and changed by this new digital frontier. Being that I have always been curious about "the other," I wanted to know if this kind of conversation was universal elsewhere in the world. And The Saturn Return Project was born.
Within six months, I had my first two agencies and destinations lined up — TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris in South Africa and TAXI in Canada — a contributing hotel sponsor, a speaking engagement and media on the hook across South Africa. Canada was starting to tune in, which is how I came across his radar. I was pitching agencies in Amsterdam, Los Angeles and London and hoping to hit Shanghai, as well. I figured there was only so much to figure out pre-departure and that the rest (fueled by a nice savings account accumulation) would have to work itself out as I went along, hopefully building momentum.
On May 8, 2011, I flew into Johannesburg, South Africa and on May 9th, the project began.
On May 10th, I received the following email:
I had a policy for my project: speak to any and everyone. There was no ignoring emails or second guessing the motive of anyone's outreach. It was a "you never know," "never say never" policy. So I wrote back with a "thanks for reaching out!" vanilla response, then he wrote back and asked to Skype with me. He was (well, is) good friends with the folks who founded TAXI Canada (my second Agency Host) and he was interested in sponsoring my project.
Well, hello then.
But it wasn't like that because I had another policy: no getting romantically involved on this project. It was me, solo dolo on the road. So I wasn't thinking about anything but the sponsorship and blowing up my project with his support.
At that point, I started to research who the hell I was talking to. He ran an advertising website, one of the first of its kind in the industry, that profiled agencies and creatives across the world. He also ran an awards show, a global annual portfolio review and a virtual collaboration agency ahead of its time. The man had a lot going on. And it sounded a bit like what I had going on. An interesting conversation was ahead, at the least, and in my mind, there was a lot of potential for a very cool collaboration between us.
Little did I know, this clever Costa Rican just thought I was pretty.
We Skyped a week later, I on a couch in a tiny conference room in Cape Town, South Africa looking out on Table Mountain as we spoke, and he from a tabletop in his loft in downtown Old Montréal. Conversation flowed with ease. We did, in fact, have a lot in common. Our professional paths and our general life philosophies were shockingly in sync. He was soon off to Amsterdam for an event, and I was in South Africa for the month, but we agreed to meet in Montréal when I passed through en route to Toronto and see what was possible.
I called my parents after I spoke with him, and told them about this exciting potential sponsorship and the stranger behind it.
"It was the most amazing conversation, there are so many parallels," I told my mom. "It's like he's my professional soulmate."
"Professional soulmate?" My mom exclaimed. "What is that? You mean just your soulmate?"
"No, mom," I replied, "That wouldn't be professional."
The day he picked me up near a friend's apartment on a street corner in Montréal's Plateau neighborhood, he was fresh off a flight from Toronto on his way in from the airport. We headed straight to his office. The guys working with him were all friendly, cool, laid-back but knowledgeable dudes, and the vibe of the company was fun. I had a blast talking and hanging out with them, but before I knew it that afternoon, on the eve of my 29th birthday, a ViaRail train whisked me off toward the T-dot. He flew to Cannes the next day for the International Advertising Festival.
I have to confess something right now, though: the first time he walked up to me on the Plateau to help me carry my (six, but who's counting?) bags to his car, I got that feeling. That feeling is kind of like butterflies. Kind of like losing your breath for a second, in an altogether surprising and unexpected way. The one people say you "just know" when it happens, but can't anticipate prior. The one I never thought was going to come my way in this lifetime, because I just didn't believe in that mushy, gushy, lovey, dovey, soulmate strike-of-lightning bologna. He was taller than he seemed in photos on his website, and was much more handsome in person. He had an aura that I would later learn was as memorizing to everyone who encountered him — both personally and professionally — as it was to me. But regardless, I was instantly addicted to his presence.
Still, I didn't give much thought to that feeling because this was just professional.
Over the course of the next seven months our paths criss-crossed the world and each other's travels, as I became involved with his companies and he in supporting my project. He influenced my introduction to many more agencies and people around the world than I would have encountered on my own, but over time I became much more dedicated to his companies and our work together than to my own project. We co-produced his awards show in Amsterdam in November 2011 which was exhilarating and intense madness. It was also challenging because he was such a, how do I say, popular man at the time and so many female fans had shown up to show their support. It was incredible to share the experience, but it almost did us in and again we parted ways, him to Central America and me to Paris this time.
Top left: Ignacio hosting the show. // Top right and bottom left/right: both of us hosting our attendees. Photos by Sigel Eschkol.
In December, we both halted our travel for the year. I was supposed to fly to my best friend's wedding in Thailand, but the trip was cancelled under heartbreaking circumstances. The silver lining of the cancellation was the freedom to spend the month, on and off, with him in Miami. I was there early in December to profile an agency and reconnect with one of my dearest friends during Art Basel (the year before it became the circus it is now), but I returned throughout the month as he repeatedly flew me back to Miami for more adventures each time I left. He would maniacally send me away and then call me back, but I went with it and our one-day-at-a-time budding relationship was quickly shifting from professional to, well, quite personal.
I was running three of his four companies at that point, but the integration of our 'all of the above' was seamless, as I already got along with the guys and our relationship interfered with nothing. In fact none of them, nor our sponsors or most others were even aware of our romantic partnership. Revealing that facet of our lives was important when it was important and it wasn't when it wasn't. The foundation of the habit of hiding or shielding our love would later come to haunt us, though.
In late February 2012, I flew off to Toronto to meet with a sponsor and then to Kansas City to profile another agency. He went to Costa Rica to take care of his mom during a surgery. We were to meet back in Miami.
I rushed to the doorstep of my friend's home in Miami when he was to arrive, only to find a delivery man holding a box of alfajores cookies and an accompanying note, which instructed me to pack a bag. He was not meeting me in Miami, but instead, flying me to Costa Rica.
We fell deeply and unabashedly in love on that trip, and I also with Costa Rica.
Life only got more intense by the day thereafter. We changed cities and countries like clothes, and our hearts, minds and suitcases were light and carefree.
Then he accepted a high profile position in New York City, a transition that instigated a snowball that would roll out of control under the constructs of a lifestyle contrary to that we were used to living. It was a hard transition and it only got harder. It was fast, but it was fun. At first.
For better or worse (arguably either at any particular moment), we have lived a life in four years that outpaces what most can claim in a lifetime. We've moved faster than even our shadows could keep up with. We were fireworks together, exploding with ideas and absolute frenetic, kinetic energy that truly believed we could accomplish anything we imagined, no matter how huge or seemingly impossible. At that point, under those circumstances, we really could pull off nearly anything. Perfectly? No. Without mistakes in our wake? No. But what we've done since 2011 is pretty fucking impressive.
The most impressive of which was creating a life. An unplanned, unexpected blessing that cemented our futures together and has dazzled our lives every day since. A darling who has challenged everything I know of myself and demanded more of each of us in the most innocent and productive of ways.
A life that decidedly turned my Professional Soulmate into just my Soulmate, two global nomads into a mommy and a daddy, and has changed so much for the better in both of our lives since. She is sparkle, she is light, she is sunshine and she is every bit the firework we both were when we met. Because best of all, she is he and I in one person.
At last, though forced, we've slowed down and stopped to absorb the past four years; it's a lot to absorb. And tonight, as the sun sets on Christmas 2015 — a shittastically challenging year for both of us — and we are almost 3,000 miles apart wading through hopeful heartbreak, I wish my Professional Soulmate a very, very feliz navidad from the bottom of my heart!
Here's to healing, health, hope and happiness in 2016 and a new chapter of inspiring insanity. Sane, grounded, intentional, inspiring insanity.