Work this way

Getting paid to do what you love is nice—but it’s not enough.

Getting paid to do what you love is nice—but it’s not enough

David MacGregor


My early days in advertising were filled with anxiety. I spent a ridiculous amount of time worrying that someone would soon blow the whistle. I would be revealed as the glib, talentless charlatan that I felt myself to be.

My father worked for his living. By ‘work’, I mean he survived by exchanging his physical labour for a modest wage. This shaped my perception of ‘work’. It certainly wasn’t having long lunches with my art director partner or discussing the oeuvre of Ridley Scott with directors vying for the opportunity to produce our latest ‘big idea’ over lunch at some fabulous establishment.

Sometimes we would claim that working in our offices was simply not conducive to the creative process. Quite why the office was unsuitable I don’t recall. In truth, our offices were about as removed from a ‘dark satanic mill’ (my father’s habitué) as was remotely possible—but no, we needed the uninterrupted quiet and space of a beachside hotel bungalow for uninhibited, free-ranging idea generation. Perhaps, most importantly, we needed room service.

We delivered the desired result: pitches that won client accounts and advertising that won awards. Those were the measures by which we were held to account back then. Competition was intense and the expectations high but, in spite of the pressure to ‘perform’, it simply never struck me as work. It was too much fun. At some stage the jig would be up, the plug pulled, the whistle blown.

I never truly believed my situation was what might now fashionably be called ‘sustainable’. And it wasn’t.

My father worked for a living. By work i mean he exchanged physical labour for a modest wage. It certainly wasn’t having long lunches discussing the oeuvre of Ridley Scott

In the end I burst my own bubble, walking away to open my own firm. Many of my peers thought I would fail. Life, they said, wasn’t a 24-hour-a-day party and the world didn’t owe me a living. I sincerely hoped not and quickly found it to be true. Things I had taken for granted I now had to earn for myself, and the wages of others depended on my work. The business grew. I took in a business partner to help with administrative things I have never excelled in. We earned a little money, had a great deal of fun and even won a few awards.

Most importantly, the doubting voice in my head was silenced. Agency life had been a gilded cage. For the first time I was experiencing the liberating feeling of honest toil and success off my own bat.

I’m still visited by an inner ‘voice’. But now the conversation is different. I don’t worry about the rewards or whether I am worthy of them. I simply wonder whether I have done enough, been aware enough of alternatives and whether it will work for my clients.

I recently met one of the founders of the eponymously-titled Josh & Jamie agency. I felt a sense of affinity and admiration. I like to see creative people strike out on their own. There will be more of them in the near future, in part because the advertising agency model struggles to maintain high overheads as revenues slip and business models change. I am certain that Josh and Jamie—and you, if you ever make the leap—will find the experience curiously liberating in a way that the pampered life of an agency creative is not.

When clients look to us for results, ‘work’ takes on a more utilitarian meaning than being the stuff that is in your portfolio or on your showreel. Work becomes a verb and not a noun. Quite what will ‘work’ remains unclear. If the answers were obvious to everyone, Josh and Jamie wouldn’t have a reason for being; and neither would I.

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