• Advice

How to Sell Out, or How I Learned to Cope with Corporate Culture Shock

by Adam Oelsner

Adam Oelsner is a freelance filmmaker and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He's worked on films like Medora and Last of the Great Romantics. He also reports on food, agriculture and sustainability at Heritage Radio Network.

For freelancers, learning how to work comfortably in different kinds of workplaces is a necessity. When I first started freelancing, I worked for oyster farmers, retirement homes, tattoo parlors, and everything in between, but nothing could prepare me for working in a corporation.

I moved to New York City from Washington state with the plan that I’d edit a wedding here, a commercial there, and then maybe I’d get to work on a documentary. But with little experience and lots of competition for the more exciting projects, I wound up doing more commercial and corporate jobs than I expected.

I had thought I was ready to sell out, but I was about to experience some serious corporate culture shock!

One moment, I’m at home happily editing a music video for a friend and then BAM! I’m at a high powered ad agency, sitting on a yoga ball next to a 23-year-old project manager, surrounded by ping-pong tables, Mini French Bulldogs, and catered lunches. This probably sounds like the pinnacle of success to many people, but this was the first time I worked at a big agency with big-name corporate clients and it sent me reeling.

Our project was to execute a series of meaningless ideas, each one more bland than the last. Everyone was using their brilliance to help a super-corporation enhance its image and sell more soda, and it was hard for me to understand why.

But then I started working with the staff, getting to know people. Despite my anti-establishment views and the generic nature of that particular job, when I just focused on the individuals around me, I ended up enjoying the work.

I’ve definitely grown from the experiences -- in more ways than one.

First, there’s a different set of ground rules for putting together a video in the commercial realm. You’re not making art for art’s sake. Working within that system has been educational and surprisingly fun.

That is, until my boss came in.

He was a middle-aged man wearing gigantic baggy shorts, a hockey jersey, and aviator sunglasses. He peppered his speech with credibility building phrases like “up in this joint”. “Yo, don’t forget to attach that joint when you e-mail the specs to Ron.” He seemed to like our video, but said it still needed a little more…freshibility.

OK, so I have met some people who rub me the wrong way. But I got over it. That’s the second thing I learned: doing business with individuals who I have a hard time relating to is one of those skills that comes in handy in many situations.

Working in commercial and corporate video has been an unexpectedly positive experience for me. It’s where I learned to navigate the choppy waters of freelancing, and now I’m proud to call myself a PROFESSIONAL.

So don’t be afraid to work outside your comfort zone. It’s good for business, and good for you.

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