The benefit of the bullet
Getting the bullet is painful. It hurts like a motherfucker. It feels terminal. But is it?
Around 18 months ago I lost my job, completely out of the blue, after years of relative security and success.
I got the bullet on a Tuesday lunchtime. It was a lovely sunny day as the Charlotte Street executioner loaded the chamber. I wandered in for the ‘catch up’ and crawled out bloodied, a hole where my job had been, P45 in hand.
No matter where you work, or what your position - middleweight team, solo CD, ECD - the bullet hurts. It’s rejection. It’s someone saying I don’t fancy you anymore. And it’s definitely you, not them. After 25 years of employment I suppose it was bound to happen eventually. Up till then I had always chosen when I was leaving, where I was heading. But such is life; control will one day be taken away, and you have to deal with it.
I did all the right things; beer, fags, whisky, wailing, 4am phone calls to all four corners of the globe and two days of hangover food. In a post-P45 haze, I re-worked my LinkedIn profile, re-designed my website, called the head-hunters and lunched with every ECD I knew. On paper it was the right thing to do. Get straight back in. Friends in similar circumstances did the same and did ok. But somehow it wasn’t ok. It felt like I needed to be doing something else.
Somebody who’s come back from a potentially fatal career blow is Ben Kay. Novelist, blogger, podcaster, creative director and proper good egg (his only real failing seems to be being an Arsenal fan), I was curious to know how he dealt with leaving Lunar – the AMVBBDO satellite agency - that he and Daryl Corps managed for a few years, before being consciously uncoupled in 2008.
“When we left, I was getting my novel together, meeting my agent and getting offers from Penguin, so that was a nice distraction,” Ben told me. “It was a shock to the system, but you only grow through difficult experiences. We freelanced for a bit, then separately, so I ended up working with top creatives like Adam Tucker and Steve Paskin. I learned a lot in those years and worked in places I’d never otherwise have gone to.”
I spoke with another mate who’d left the industry years ago and he kept saying the same thing. Have a break. Leave it. Try something new, even if it’s for a month. Maybe three.
After doing the math I figured if I left the gym and started eating the pitta bread at the back of the fridge I would be ok. I had a bit of money put aside for Disneyland. But that could wait. Sorry kids. Vicky Maguire, ECD at Grey, calls it ‘the fuck off fund’ where at any given time she has three months money stashed, allowing her to bugger off and do something else.
So, I was back in control of the non-controlled next few months. Now what? It’s quite hard to turn the ad-mind off. Like getting off heroin (I’m told), you need something to fill the void. What would be my methadone?
First up was small stuff; exploring my local parks with the dog, followed by pitta bread at lunchtimes and Narcos.
I took my regular swimming habit to Olympic pool level every Friday with one of the Dads from school, who turned out to be another adman not wanting to do advertising.
My weeks started to have structure and I was enjoying the new-found freedom and energy. And the family were enjoying the incredibly tidy house and garden. Your welcome. But I needed more.
Meditation was something I’d thought could help deal with the madness of being a busy adman and Dad man, but I’d never had time to really embrace it. So, this was the moment for the Will Williams school of Meditation. I was a little wary. Searching for enlightenment could be great for the soul - but would it reduce me to a lesser version of myself?
I needn’t have worried. I did the three-week course, was given my mantra and off I floated. It’s now a daily routine to keep me sane. Be it on busy tube trains, in a traffic jam in Belgium five minutes before a pitch, in the kitchen as the kids make breakfast and even mid-conversation with my mother.
As a result, I have more focused energy, am less manic and have another tool in my armoury to deal with the stresses of modern life. And yet without getting fired, I would never have got here.
Another scratch I needed to itch was writing. Proper, grown up stuff found in books. So off I went to the 10-week short story writing course at City University, London. Like the mediation, it was initially nerve wracking - in a room with 20 complete strangers opening your heart to them on paper.
It was way worse than any pitch. But it has led to short stories - one published so far plus a longer, more ambitious effort currently standing at 20,000 words, which I have on good authority is a third of a book.
Last year this was a pipe dream - a chance conversation between me and my wife - ‘wouldn’t it be funny if you wrote that idea about your mum into a novel?”
It’s made me appreciate writing on many levels; short stories, drabbles, flash fiction, poetry, screenplays... all the way back to the craft of copywriting. All different disciplines that can inspire each other. It’s given me new confidence in the day job. But also an outlet for other writing, so I never get too annoyed if one fucks up. I just turn to the other.
I’m not saying everything is perfect. Far from it. Getting fired is still a shitter, and it leaves its scars. But it’s made me appreciate there are many things outside work that can enrich your life and challenge your creativity. And they in turn can make you see your day job with fresh eyes and bring a new energy to agency life.
This article first appeared at shots online magazine