As those of you who follow me on Twitter might already be privy to, Pure Magenta and I are moving to Los Angeles. In fact right now I'm sitting on the 11th floor of the Pegasus in Downtown typing out this blog post. We've spent the majority of our time here since we landed last Thursday afternoon looking for apartments and getting ourselves adjusted to the city. The catalyst for the move is my girlfriend's acceptance of a position as Art Director at Nasty Gal and honestly it couldn't have come at a better time for me.
After leaving school, like most people these days, I was saddled with quite a bit in student loans. I never really had any intention of going into the world of advertising and agencies, but with a job waiting for me at a reputable local shop with a generous salary and benefits, and a stack of student loan payments arriving in the mail, I said yes. Since I never really drank the Kool-Aid that was provided free of charge, I never felt at home in agencies. Like an imposter (or more accurately an indentured servant), I went through the motions with as much heart as I could muster with the occasional project that really caught my fancy or allowed me to learn new skills. I furthered my motion capabilities, learned more about interactive and social media. I learned how it feels to be managed, mis-managed, promoted, demoted, lauded an laughed at. I made a lot of mistakes but I also had the chance to observe a lot of mistakes that I won't make down the line.
For the last year or so in Philadelphia I've been working on a long term contract basis for 160over90. Being the transitive people we tend to be I was a little scared of signing on for a full-time position. Not to mention I can feel the days of working with ad agencies waning as I get older and more experienced in this profession. Let me premise everything I'm saying in this post by mentioning that I've had the pleasure of working with some of the most talented, bright, and honest people I've ever met while at agencies. Also, the one mentioned here, 160over90 is the most conscious, organized and process-oriented agency I've ever worked for. I have no complaints with them as a company, but rather with the agency model as a whole.
Coming from true bohemian blood (90% of my family is Czech or Moravian), my sense of commitment to things is not always what some might want it to be. This evident by the fact that I'm just now - four years plus later - getting around to wrapping up a few outstanding credits from my time at MCAD. If given the choice I will almost always take freedom over responsibility, something that has produced mixed results and a few regrets. As you can imagine these qualities tend to not mix well with the agency world, one that provides high expectations of commitment and very little freedom. Late nights in an office away from people I love feel more like punishment to me than most. This is not to say in any way that I don't value putting in effort to ensure a project's success. I have no problem working into the long hours of the night for projects that I take on outside of "work". It's more a matter of why.
I've always been troubled with the typical reward structure that agencies provide to their employees. Very few seem to respect the time and lives of the people who work so hard to create the depth and breadth of work that allows them to grow. While technology advances and makes work more efficient the constant churning of agencies compensates to ensure that you stay chained to your desk more than ever. The lack of freedom in mobility and scheduling makes the time you spend outside of work more frustrating, confusing, and ultimately unproductive. The stress that accompanies the rediculous expectations only makes the precious moments you do get to spend on yourself more of an afterthought. When you add in the inefficiencies, confusions, filters and muzzles, I'm just not entirely interested in playing that game anymore. In short I refuse to believe that talented, intelligent people cannot create work of high quality while also ensuring that same level of quality of life.
This was only complicated by the fact that the kind of work I was doing was very hit and miss as far as my interests goes. Clients like the Chronicle of Higher Education, and others were a blast to work on while most of the lesser jobs were things I wouldn't have done had it not been a requirement of the job. To compensate for this I picked up as much freelance as I could (in fact I've always picked up as much freelance as I could). There were literally moments when I would get a phone call from an art director at 10:00 on a Saturday (something unforgivable regardless) asking me to come into the office only for me to tell him that I was already booked for the entire weekend. I was constantly forced to make a decision between disappointing the people who provided my day-to-day living vs. soiling my reputation with a client I cared about. You can imagine that went over well.
I could go on and on about my experience in the agency world and typically most people who work in it can as well. So, a few weeks before Los Angeles gave my girlfriend a call, I informed 160over90 that I would be leaving. Where to? I have no idea. I've had friends tell me that they think I have some grand plan up my sleeve or that I'm hiding some opportunity that I'm scared will slip away if I mention it. In short, no. I have a good savings lined up and I have enough work to keep me busy for the forseeable future. I'm going to focus my time and energy into doing work for honest clients who respect my time and effort. I'm going to do the work I want to do the way I want to do it when it needs to be done. I'm going to collaborate with talented individuals who know things I know nothing of. I'm going to live a healthier, happier life and maybe even put a ring on a certain girl's finger.
It might all blow up in my face. I might be completely idealistic and end up shooting my career in the foot. Four months from now I might be seen schlepping my portfolio across Los Angeles begging for a paycheck but maybe, just maybe everything will work out. I guess that's what's weird about the aforementioned Bohemian blood. We might not care so much about what you want us to do, but we'll go to the end of the earth to do what we care about.
In closing, to all my current clients and the clients I've worked with over the past year - Thank you. You've made this transition possible and I look forward to providing a whole new level of dedication, craft, and thought to your work. Our futures are what we make of it and I look forward to helping you create yours while I create mine. To the agencies that helped make me the designer I am today, I thank you as well (with a slight stank-eye). May you continue to grow and find nothing but success. This world is large enough for both of us - just not necessarily in the same office anymore. So long, and thanks for all the fish.