Learn from Mad Men’s Don Draper

Published: November 8, 2013

Don Draper's 'from rags to riches' life story is a striking reflection of the harsh realities of life, of adversities and inner conflicts. He is a reflection of us all. PHOTO: FILE

Don Draper of AMC’s hit TV show Mad Men is said to be one of the most influential and charismatic characters on television. I too am a big fan. Not only do I find him exceptionally good looking, but he has given me a philosophy which many have been unable to convey.

In fact, this philosophy pertains to all of us, to everyone out there who is trying to find the purpose of life. Perhaps this is why so many of us are influenced by him – because we can relate to him. He is a fragment of ourselves; an amalgamation of who we want to be, who we are afraid to be and who we really are.

Like Don Draper, we all go through periods of identity crises where we feel doubtful and fearful of our purpose in life, and yet somehow we try to flee from our regrets and move on towards success. Don Draper’s ‘rags to riches’ story is a striking reflection of the harsh realities of life – of adversities and inner conflicts – something which many Pakistanis today can understand and relate to.

Don Draper is haunted by past ghosts and living in a façade of picture-perfect happiness with the whole works – a family, a house, money and success. Like many of us, he is also a lost individual searching for happiness instead of merely selling it. He is constantly faced by demons from his past, and struggles to move on in spite of them. It seems like he is always either running away from something or running into myriad problems; all the while, as he hides from one form of satisfaction whilst seeking another.

My question is, aren’t we all constantly running away from something such as our regrets, our weaknesses and our flaws which we don’t want others to see?

Aren’t we all running towards our ambitions, our goals and our dreams?

Aren’t we constantly in the pursuit of happiness and motivation?

Like Donald Draper, we are all but wanderers constantly on the move to an unknown destination, hoping that it turns out to be what we want it to be.

Speaking of ambitions, here are a few reasons why Don Draper is an inspiration for professionals as well.

Believe in yourself and your work

Being part of the advertising industry, it is imperative for Don to make an impressive pitch to get the client’s approval. However, Draper does more than that. He is deeply committed to his work and develops a deep bond with the products he sells. Moreover, he instils that bond in his employees as well so that they develop the same motivation and passion for work.

Isn’t this the drive that we, as workers constantly need?

Perhaps, a scene from an episode can better illustrate this:

Peggy Olson: “Sex sells.”

Don Draper: “Says who? Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this. They take all this monkey crap and just stick it in a briefcase completely unaware that their success depends on something more than their shoe-shine. You are the product. You feeling something – that’s what sells. Not them. Not sex. They can’t do what we do, and they hate us for it.” 

Be bold

Time and time again, Don Draper shows us that he is a bold decision maker, one who stands up for himself and realises his mistakes.

In one episode a potential client, Lucky Strikes Cigarettes, fired Draper’s firm. Instead of whining over the lost opportunity, he boldly publishes an article in the newspaper stating that his firm would no longer advertise for tobacco companies.

What do you think this move achieved?

His audacity attracted even more clients!

On the other hand, what would most of us do in a similar situation?

We would either wallow in self-pity or become risk-averse and withdrawn. The lesson here for organisations, entrepreneurs and employees is that they should stand up for themselves and make bold statements.

Make people believe that you’re not to be taken lightly.

Follow your instincts

In another episode Draper says,

“People want to be told what to do so badly that they’ll listen to anyone.”

Ever noticed the indifference in the corporate world towards banality and ordinariness?  After all, this isn’t slavery. Organisations don’t just need work to be done. They need ideas, creativity and out-of-the-box thinking in order to make a difference.

This is precisely what Pakistan needs – people who can think out of the box. However, most employers tend to forget this and hand down instructions to be followed, instead of allowing employees to find their own way around.

Instead of giving them a centuries-old manual, employees should be allowed to deliberate in the chaos – in those periods of doubt and fear when one is feeling lost and is seeking motivation. This phase is almost like an emergency. However, it is a phase that we all face; in fact, that we must face, in order to analyse the situation and come up with a solution. Some questions that crop up in these intense moments are,

What do I want?

What should I do?

Will I be able to make a difference?

While seeking answers to these questions, remember to embrace creativity and shrug off banality.

Of course, another statement by the alluring Don Draper might also help drive the point home,

“I don’t believe in fate. You make your own opportunities.”

After all, we cannot expect our wishes, successes and respect to be handed to us on a silver platter. We need to make things happen. We can’t do nothing and hope to get something out of it simply by wishing for a miracle. We can only be successful and influential if we work hard and seize the opportunities that come our way.

Pakistanis need this drilled into their heads more than anything else.

In an episode Draper narrated Frank O Hara’s poetry highlighting the identity crisis he faced. It was so easy to understand and relate to his words and emotions because we all go through this state of emergency at some point or the other,

“Now I am quietly waiting,

For the catastrophe of my personality,

To seem beautiful again,

And interesting and modern.”

Like I said earlier, Draper is more than just a character in a show. He is a reflection of all of us – a soul that aches for more. He is but a lost traveller on a difficult journey towards an unknown destination.

But then again, aren’t we all?

Kulsoom Hisam

Kulsoom Hisam

An A' level student at Nixor College studying economics, mathematics, psychology and literature. With a love for economics, she hopes to pursue it as a future career and make use of this subject to understand the world on a macro and micro level and help make it a better place.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.