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People equate experience with success. They probably shouldn’t.

Several decades ago, I began a career in advertising. Thirty-eight long years ago, to be semi-exact. I must be really successful. Maybe I know a thing or two. Maybe I don’t. What I do know is that thirty-eight years of experience and thirty-eight years of successful experience are not the same.

There is nothing about the word experience that means success. Nada. However, we tend to read success into experience, don’t we?

Thirty-eight years does speak to staying power – but a skunk’s scent has staying power, and that’s not necessarily all good. To the Chinese, thirty-eight means triple prosperity. That’s good. But you’d think someone with many years of experience – thirteen, twenty-one, or thirty-eight – would have experienced some incredible successes.

That’s the belief anyway – that the more experience one has, the more successful one is. Personally, I wish that were true. Unfortunately, it’s not. Elmer Fudd had a lot of experience rabbit hunting but no known successes. I like Elmer Fudd.

When applying for jobs, we’re quick to throw in our vast experience. Or, when hustling new business and we’re on the desperation edge of the playing board, we’ll say something like, “our three key account people have a combined sixteen and one-half years of experience.” But those may be frustrating, meaningless, empty years. Painful years.

The dictionary knows what many of us don’t – that experience and success are different.

            Experience: practical contact with and observation of facts or events; the knowledge or skill acquired by experience over a period of time, especially that gained in a particular profession by someone at work.

                  Synonyms:  action, background, involvement, maturity, and participation.


            Success: accomplishing an aim or a purpose; a favorable or desired outcome.

            Successful: having achieved a desired end, profit, popularity, or distinction.

                   Synonyms: winner, victory, and triumph.

There you go, proof that these two words do not automatically travel foot-in-shoe. They can. Sometimes they do. It is realistic to assume that a lot of experience should help you become more successful. Still, sometimes it just means “participation.”

In summary, and to be even more redundant, you can have experience without success and be successful without a lot of experience. Sometimes experience is just staying power. Every once in a while, it’s triumph.

P.S. Among the three key executives at Rivet, we have over 80 years of advertising and marketing experience. We must be…

…successful? Experienced? Old?

Time will tell.

Tracy Crowell is Brand Director at Rivet. Few advertising people carry the experience he has, nor the battle scars earned in gathering that experience. His favorite part of advertising is helping companies find, understand, and exploit what makes them different and delivering it to audiences in a meaningful way. And that’s been key to his success.