I woke up, got out of bed, went to splash some water on my face, looked in the mirror and didn’t recognise myself. Even by my own ginger standards, I looked pale. My face was drawn. I had a headache from a combination of a lack of food the day before and from clenching my jaw through the night.
My entire body felt like it had been hit by a bus.
Let’s rewind. I left uni with a good degree but in a subject I had no intention of pursuing with a career. I wanted to work in events or theatre or entertainment or anything in that vicinity. In my mind, the streets of London were paved with gold and I had every plan to head south and work whatever job(s) I needed to in order to get by until I found The Job.
Instead, my mum stumbled across a piece in our local paper about an events company based in the town. I did my research and thought I’d be crazy not to ping a CV across. I was offered some work experience prior to the 8 weeks in Australia I had planned and this soon escalated into full time hours before I went away because someone else left. And, the week before I got on a plane, I was offered a full time job for my return.
I got back in the autumn, started the job, and thanks to having worked and saved my ass off through uni, bought a small house. It was 2006 and property was booming. The woman I’d bought from had made 20% in 2 ½ years. “Great,” I thought, “let’s do two years here, make some money on the house and then move to London”.
Ha! The financial crash happened, house prices plummeted and negative equity crept in. At work, I got a promotion and was learning huge amounts so sticking around ‘a bit longer’ seemed like it wouldn’t be the worst thing.
Fast-forward a couple of years… a young man started work in a different department but the same building. Within a few months, we were together and a few months after that, we were living together in that same little house. At work, the pressure was mounting but he helped make it bearable.
Slowly but surely, that pressure continued to grow. Another promotion followed but as in many owner-managed businesses, getting pay rises or any other kind of benefit was like pulling teeth. Confidence was slowly being eroded. The boss would talk about other members of staff terribly in front of me (usually at 9pm, when she had kept me in the office late) and I wondered if she said the same things about me behind my back. Clients would apologise for their demands, saying “I know it’s not your fault, but…”
Praise never came but shit always rolled downhill. When The Devil Wears Prada came out, I left the cinema and messaged everyone I knew going ‘ohmygod, IT’S MY LIFE!’ Different industry yes, but the mind games? Identical.
So, back to where we started…
It had been a particularly awful few months. Too much work, not enough resource. The staff turnover was ridiculous (there were 8 staff when I started, 18 when I left and in the 5 and a bit years I was there, 35 people left. 35!) and so knowledge of the clients was limited.
I traveled to this gig knowing it would be a tough one – I was doing the job of what should have been 2 or even 3 people on my own – but it ruined me. I was on site before 7am and didn’t leave til 1am and literally the only times I sat down were to pee and that’s an actual ‘literally’, not just one people throw in for effect. All I heard all day were grumbles about other people’s errors, and also about my own errors; errors I’d made through sheer exhaustion and not enough hours in the day.
At about midnight, one of the band’s team came to say goodbye. She apologised for having been so tough on me, gave me a hug and said: “What are you doing? You’re better than this”. I had worked with her across many shows and those few words made me realise how utterly demoralised I had become.
The reality of having no job to go to and a mortgage to pay was setting in.
I got home the next day, broken, and told the other half I’d had enough. I was done. He didn’t even blink. Just said he understood.
Monday morning came and I went and saw the boss’s PA to set a meeting for that afternoon. The boss never showed up in the office so I reset the meeting for the next afternoon. Same thing happened, so I called her and told her on the call I was going. She went crazy, swore at me and said “I can’t believe after this long you are doing this over the phone!” My response? “I can’t believe that after this long you don’t have the courtesy to show up for two meetings I’ve asked for!”
I didn’t care. She wasn’t going to dictate my life anymore.
My notice period was vile. She was awful (even by her own standards). The reality of having no job to go to and a mortgage to pay was setting in. I sent CVs every evening to everyone I could think of and nothing seemed to be coming my way. I finished up in my nightmare job, and suddenly I had days to fill. The number of CVs I sent increased, as did the panic – because it felt like nothing was really happening.
And then, the phone rang.
It was an old contact at Disney. Disney! They needed someone to work on a new project and was I interested. Was I interested?! At that point in time if they’d asked me to stuff Mickey Mouses, I’d probably have said yes!
As that project developed, there were extra elements and one gave my other half the opportunity to walk out too, just 4 months after me. It was January 2012, a new year. Slowly but surely, word was creeping out that we had both left and the phone started to ring… “Would you guys be interested in this?” “Are you available for that?”
We had both been busily still been applying for full time roles but we looked at each other and contemplated, ‘shall we do this?’
In April 2012 we said yes, we should, and our business was born. We felt we had nothing to lose.
A few months later and mid-August 2012, I woke up in a hotel in London. It was the day of the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics, which I had been working on all week and these had been some of THE most surreal days I’ve ever had. It was exactly a year to the day since I’d packed up my desk and left my old job and there I was, working on the biggest gig this country had hosted in many years. “Yes,” I thought, “this gamble paid off”.
Walking out of a job with nothing to go to and very little by the way of savings was probably the most irresponsible thing I’ve ever done but it has taught me that sometimes fear is a really powerful tool
Later that day, I sat on a bus back from the gig to the hotel surrounded by Madness, Elbow, Eric Idle, assorted supermodels, George Michael’s band and many more as we all shared in the same euphoria of having been part of something so incredible.
The business turns six this year. It has been far from smooth sailing – there have been times we’d look at each other and have no idea how we were going to pay the bills that were coming out of our account in the next few days, there have been times when I’ve wanted to scream at clients for being unreasonable, there have been times when it’s quiet and we’ve not known where or when the next work was coming. We were engaged for 3 ½ years before we could get married because it took us that long to feel financially able to commit to a wedding.
Walking out of a job with nothing to go to and very little by the way of savings was probably the most irresponsible thing I’ve ever done but it has taught me that sometimes fear is a really powerful tool. It’s so often seen as a negative emotion but fear can be the kick up the bum you need to hustle, to be shameless, to promote yourself, to announce to the world that, actually, you’re pretty damned great.
I had always thought that when it came to handing in my notice, it would be a decision I would agonise over – but instead, it was like a switch was flipped inside. It was time to go. Trusting my gut and instinct that day turned out to be a good call and that’s been a good lesson for running our business too.
The combination of fear chasing you but having faith in the decisions you make to keep you moving forward means that progress is always happening even when you can’t see it.