A Decade Later . . .

When I first had the thought to write this post, I went back through files trying to find something that showed the date I got laid off…my severance information, the letter I received when I was let go…anything to indicate the official day I was laid off from Arnold in 2008. I knew it was in October. I knew it was in the second half of the month. I just couldn’t pinpoint the date on the calendar.

Well, leave it to Facebook Memories to get you up to speed when your real-brain memories fail you. This is what it had to say to me today:

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That yesterday, October 30th, was the day isn’t point. The point is that a lot can happen in 10 years, and for me, it has. Some of it has been ground-breaking, life-altering stuff. And believe me when I tell you that most if it hasn’t been easy. Some of it happened over the slow drip of time, and it is only in looking back that I can see how I evolved between the ages of 36 and 46 in a way I couldn’t have noticed as the small evolutions added up day after day. But one thing is for sure, there’s very little I would change. Each thing led to the next thing that led to the next thing. And all of those things are who I am today. 

Let’s start with the big ones:

•I no longer work full-time for ad agencies, or as a salaried employee in any other industry. I still get offers to freelance from time to time. And in fact I just completed a gig in San Francisco last week. But by and large, my career is now as a production company owner, commercial director, and documentary filmmaker.

•We moved to Austin from Boston in 2011. The idea was that this was a more affordable place to take a risk on a career change, and by and large that has held true. Although the gap narrows significantly every year.

•I got divorced. Was this a result of getting laid off? Certainly not directly. But the day-to-day financial strains of someone trying to re-invent himself and pay for stuff at the same time certainly took its toll. I am still a huge advocate of my ex-wife and we have about as good a co-parenting relationship as any divorced couple can have. But it certainly hasn’t been easy.

•I made three films, “Lemonade,” “Lemonade: Detroit” and “365 Days: A Year in Happy Valley.” The last one finished in December of 2013…which tells you the toll filmmaking can take on a person. Each one of those topics spoke to me in a deep, personal way. They were each stories I couldn’t not tell. But they were also singularly focused at the expense of so much else in my life, that in order for me to do another one, it needs be a calling in the way that the others were. I recently stumbled on a subject that is doing that for me. But I’m not ready to announce it yet. Hopefully soon.

•I met the love of my life. She is a fellow filmmaker and entrepreneur and is an inspiration to literally thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of women and girls around the world. My kids love her and look up to her, just like I do. She’s blazing a path that leaves me awe-struck on the daily, and I can only hope to be a fraction of the guiding light for her that she is for me. 

Some subtle changes it’s taken me 10-years to understand:

•Money isn’t evil. How you earn it can be evil. How you spend it can be evil. But inherently, money has no moral assignment. Opening myself up to the notion that I deserve the freedoms money can provide has allowed me to start earning more of it. 

•Providing for your children can be a calling. I used to think that I had to be changing the world through my career in order to feel good about it. This led to some decisions that, in hindsight, may have been more selfish than altruistic. But when I set the personal boundary that I was not willing to trade in my parenting card for my career the way some artists do, I found a lot more peace in working on pay-the-bills kinds of projects and not fiery-burning-passion kinds of projects all the time. And besides, raising a couple of responsible, kind, educated children has a lot more potential to change the world than any documentary ever could. 

•My per-mile running time goes up by one minute per decade. In my 20’s, I ran a sub-8 mile over five miles. In my 30’s, it was a sub-9. Now I’m lucky if I run three miles in under 30 minutes.

As I mentioned above, there is very little I would change over the last 10 years. But very little doesn’t mean nothing. There are things I said over the course of my divorce that I wish I could take back, career decisions I made that part of me wishes could have gone in another direction, and lingering fears I wish I would have overcome by now. And I know there are one or two people I have wronged to whom I will continue to try to make amends. But that’s all just the business of being human.

Who knows what the next 10 years will bring. All I can say for sure is that they won’t be everything I planned for. And that’s perfect.

 

What Have I Done?

From time to time, I flirt with re-entering the land of the gainfully employed. The idea of a regular paycheck and benefits and paid vacation and a creative culture and daily interaction with people I respect . . . well, sometimes these concepts have shiny appeal.

I recently entertained such a flirtation. The role was for a “Director/Creative Director” at an ad agency. They were looking for someone who could make magic out of their clients’ smaller budget projects without having to turn to an outside production company.

It was a role made for me . . . all my advertising experience, combined with my directing experience from the last six years, molded into one position.

By the way, this agency was easily on my top five list. They made work that consistently showed up in all the annuals. And somehow, they even had a reputation for creating a culture of work/life balance.

I applied, and they responded. My interview couldn’t have gone any better. I asked the right questions, and answered theirs with honesty and excitement.

They called me in for a second interview, where I was to meet all the department heads and have lunch with the principles. Which was when I consciously confronted the excitement I was feeling with some hard questions:

Is this position representative of who I want to be, or is it more about who I once was? 

Am I prepared to put all the plans I have for Fighting Monk and Lemonade: Detroit on hold indefinitely? 

I sought the council of people on both sides. People who I knew would tell me, “This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Go get it.” As well as people who would say, “Your gifts should not be confined solely to advertising.”

Ultimately, I consulted myself. I sat down in silence and meditated. And what came to me were all the times over the past five and a half years that I have felt in flow. Moments during filming “Lemonade” and “Lemonade: Detroit” and “365 Days: A Year in Happy Valley” when I felt that this was where I was meant to be. I was creating. I was making work that mattered. And I was doing it for something beyond myself.

So I called the head of HR and explained that I would not be pursuing their amazing opportunity any further. That I was too far along in building my own business. And it was the toughest decision I had ever had to make in my career.

Now it’s up to me to make this a choice I won’t regret.

Today, I Am A Creative Director

And my partner and I are running a big piece of business at a big agency in a big city.

Today.

Tomorrow?

Perhaps I’ll be a creative director again. Or maybe I’ll direct a commercial. Or take a few days off to be with my family. Or perhaps dive into the next iteration of Lemonade: Detroit.

That’s both the joy and the terror of freelancing. Every day is different. Some months are financially solid while others teeter on ruin. Some days are creatively liberating while others choke you out. It’s the rhythm and flow of human experience, as seen through the prism of independent contracting.

But today, I am a creative director. It’s Thanksgiving Eve. And I am happy.

 

Always In the Nick of Time

I just accepted a month-long freelance creative director gig. It was a big relief.

You see, I haven’t had any paid work in over a month now. And that means nails that are bitten down to the nubs.

In addition to this project, I’ve been waiting on the green light for a pretty significant directing opportunity. One that, as my producer says, will “make my year.” But that green light has been right around the corner for a long time now and hasn’t materialized.

So I took the gig, which means lots of travel between Austin and New York, lots of time away from my kids, and some stalled momentum on projects that are more of the soul-filling variety and less about the bank account.

Yin and Yang.

I am so thankful for this work. I am so thankful that I am good at making ads. And that I have 15 years of creative experience to fall back on.

My first priority will always be to feed and clothe and provide comfortable shelter to my two beautiful children.

Always.

“To Use My Powers for Good AND Provide for My Family”

I’ve ignored this site for well over a year now. In fact, about 7 months ago, my registration lapsed, someone else bought it and I didn’t even know.

That’s how long it had been.

What has hindered me from posting again? Well, clarity. Or a lack thereof. Back when Please Feed The Animals was the “blog for the recently unemployed advertising professional,” it was singular and focused. The mission was to help people in the ad industry get back on their feet once they lost their jobs. But then advertising started hiring people back. My career evolved. And what to do with PFTA got lost in the shuffle.

If I step back from the idea of blogging specifically for ad folks, and really, about making a film for and about them, the whole point for me is really about discovery. It’s about uncovering who you are once you turn off the ego and the fear-driven (but very real) self chatter about money, and seeing what’s left. It isn’t just a matter of saying, “I’m going to turn off my ego brain now!” It takes constant questioning and evaluating, trial and error, experimentation and failure. It takes living with uncertainty and the nearly perpetual ability to self-forgive.

Last week, I gained some clarity in a brief but important email exchange with my friend C.C. Chapman. He said to me, “I have to believe in my heart that I can use my powers for good AND provide for my family.” And that is what it all comes down to for me. Being creative. Operating from my soul instead of sheerly from my ego. All while providing guidance and food and education and a comfortable home for my children.

I’m not saying I have the direction for Please Feed The Animals completely crystalized just yet. Clearly, from the lack of a logo or design or any kind of positioning statement, I’m still a ways away. But what feels right right now are some occasional ramblings about being a provider while living and working authentically.

Who knows where it will go. But again, I begin.