Most everyone has lost or will lose their job at some point or another. I'm no exception. In fact, yesterday was the anniversary of when I was given a severance package from an ad agency I had grown very unhappy working for because I was given very little creative voice or pay while expected to work incredibly long hours. It felt like the slow death of my creative spirit. After a fresh, new creative director who I didn't see eye to eye with came into the agency, it didn't take long for my discontent to become a problem. It was insufferable and while I longed for a more creative life, I was just too scared to leave on my own. I was at the end of a very toxic relationship, suddenly the sole source of income for bills I once shared with another, and trying to figure out what was next. My life was a total mess.
While the exact words “you're fired” weren't ever uttered before the departure from my position as an ad agency art director, they were the only words my wounded ego heard. It wasn't anywhere near the humiliation of some reality show drama but it was certainly a big blow to my world. In hindsight, it was also a very big gift. I wiped the tears away, took my severance package and, with as much courage as I could muster, I decided to finally do what I had always wanted to do: start my own design business. It felt like I was given no choice and, as often happens with big and unexpected change, I just figured it out as I went.
Fast forward to today, the day I celebrate my 20th anniversary of business. Time certainly feels like it has flown by while it simultaneously feels like forever ago. All those years ago, I had no idea what was in store for me but, on some level, I knew the way had been cleared for some remarkable opportunities and I was determined to give it my all. That’s the beauty of having the rug pulled out from under you—it was up to that point the greatest creative challenge I'd ever been given. But, oh what a beautiful challenge it turned out to be.
All these years of business have brought me the greatest gifts, opportunities, creativity, but more importantly, the most wonderful partnerships with clients. Some have come and gone, while I still work with many others. I consider some of them my dear friends and all of them great alliances. Some have sadly departed from this world but not before leaving big impressions. I even have a wonderful former client who now helps my business run more efficiently after leaving corporate America to run her own.
Anyone who has had their own business for any length of time knows that it’s not for the faint of heart. It often requires a lot of overtime, doesn’t always provide the greatest (or timely) pay, it overlaps personal life more unexpectedly and often, and there are of course still the occasional opportunities where one is working with difficult people (who I now view as teachers rather than trouble-makers). There's a commitment to not only keep the wheels turning no matter what is going on in the background, but also to do the very best work.
A business owner better love what they're doing. Whether on vacation, dealing with illness, major home repairs or renovations, going through a breakup—all of these things and more may be happening in the background but the business is still top of mind. There’s an alertness that rarely rests. Personally I am always looking for ways to make things run more efficiently, while continually improving the work to ensure the best outcome for my clients’ businesses. Successful promotion of these businesses is the primary endeavor while also promoting my own, the latter being what came hardest for me until recent years. Fortunately, I love it all.
There's so much gratitude here in my heart for the opportunities this life of self-employment has afforded me. What other creative career could I have chosen that would have allowed me to learn about such diversity of business, everything from health care to Japanese customs and celebrations; mental health to literature and poetry; legal work to pet care and statistical data? The list seems endless now as I look back. All of it has been a gift that I endeavor to carry into the future work that's created.
Here's a quote that has been by my desk all these years, providing great inspiration when I needed it the most or least. In my mind, it encompasses what the creative life is all about.
While I lost my job that fortuitous day all those years ago, and it was a really tough one to face, I did so with the same creative determination and enthusiasm that I'm still lucky enough to have. Not only did these years bring some of the greatest partnerships of my life, but I learned to both fly and land on my feet. Thank you to everyone I've ever worked with (even the difficult ones) for allowing me to do what I love.