That was the time, more or less, when my immediate boss (friend and confidant, and all-round lovely thing - that's genuine. She truly is.) called me from the small meeting room in the corner of our open plan office, "Pete...can we have a word with you please?”
The sentence hung like a particularly thick and foreboding cloud over the whole office, where the mid morning patter had already slowed to a diligent silence.
I could tell everyone in the agency at that precise moment had their ears pricked like a mob of meerkats, although nobody reacted as I rose from my seat. I grabbed a pen and paper as I went, partly because I had no idea why I was being summoned and might therefore need to take copious notes, and also because my brain had already sensed that this was not going to be a pleasant chat and I would therefore need something to bite on. Hard.
I entered calmly and sat down, and was immediately preambled to by a man who resembled a piece of cardboard wearing glasses and an M&S jumper. His very harmless appearance and back-office demeanour, coupled with a voice which might have lent itself very well to a lecture on the finer points of Microsoft Excel ('you are formulae invited to attend!!') set my nerves on edge.
He proceeded to inform me that my company were changing, growing, and with growth came the need to look at our structure and make the tough financial decisions which all companies have to make during their life cycle, and despite your years of service, your position is being looked at carefully and we'd like to thank you personally... yada yada yada. It's your funeral mate, pack your bag and leave your key. The scene was set. I was done here.
Of course, my initial reaction was to imagine myself giving this guy a righteous de-balling, New York boardroom styley - "Are you outta your mind pal?! I work here for two years and I gotta hear it from some goddamn schmuck I aint never seen before that I'm being kicked down the back stairs? Have you got your brain AND your calculator stuck up your ass? You consultants are goddamn vultures! See you in court buddy." Cut. I am not Danny Devito getting shafted and I do not harbour a superiority complex. I am no Goodfella.
Nor, as it happens, did I blame the hired abacus with specs and a cardie. If the decision had been made upstairs, someone had to deliver the news to the sucker getting the push. We all have to make a living, and this was his. Don't get me wrong, I was a complete virgin when it came to being made redundant, I had no clue. Neither can I properly explain the feeling I got next, but it was probably the best reaction to bad news I've ever had.
As my boss looked on, practically in tears, I was suddenly swept with a sudden flood of serenity. I can't describe it as anything other than a feeling of relief. I remember thinking "It's just a job. I still have a home which I am lucky enough to own, and someone who I am lucky enough to share my whole life with, who I will be able to tell about this horrible experience over a bottle of wine and a home-cooked dinner." I was baffled as to why these people had to make things so formal, as if they were about to administer a lethal injection. I was not a dead man walking. A light touch affair over a few Margaritas would have been by far the best way of breaking this news to me - it would have put my latent redundancy in its proper context. Nobody is going to die. There is more to life than a job. Perhaps even better jobs are waiting just around the corner.
At this point, now that I have set a bit of a scene for you, I would like to say I have come to the crux of the issue I needed to write about. For it was with this unforeseen departure (for now) from the heady world of advertising that I decided I would fulfil a long term promise to myself and begin to write. I have had the opportunity many times; I have written social media for pet food and alcohol brands, I have published newsletters and internal communications, I have enjoyed every minute of it but it has never been from me or what I would have written. I have never held the auspicious titles of Copywriter or Journalist or Novelist. These have been but dreams until this point. Maybe they will always be dreams, but I can still be just 'a Writer', hence this shiny new blog. Ta-dah!
What I want to say to you is, whatever your job title or whatever role you are seen by others to fulfil, don't ever be afraid to give yourself a new title if it fits. We (especially in the advertising world it seems) all too often furnish our self-belief around words like 'Manager' or 'Director' because these are truthfully important positions for our employers to give us, but which do not give a title to what it is we are actually great at doing. What it is we truly enjoy. How it is we help others to do what they do, better. In my old job, I would far rather have been less of a Creative Services Manager, and more of a Here To Help Support Our Talented People Do Great Work By Ensuring Everyone Is Friendly, Respectful And Realistic With Them.
The truth of the matter is, I have always known that I wanted to use the written word to connect with the World, and to document my perceptions of life as I hurtle chaotically through it. If it becomes a career one day, great. If it remains a hobby, that's more than OK by me. Either way, I hope that this blog creates a starter for ten, and if people happen to read it, in some way manage to find a little inspiration in it or even decide to share it with others, then it will have been wholly worthwhile. If you are reading this first post of what I guarantee will be many, I thank you.
Hopefully this will have helped clarify how important it is to be clear about one's own identity as a source of personal and professional strength - you really can't beat it. I hope that you did not go through losing your job to make you realise this. I now know better than anyone that professionalism and solvency are to be cherished in these harsh economic times.
And for those of you who are unlucky enough to be members of Club Unemployed, please say Hi and be ever so nice to one of your newest members...
This is a photograph I took after my close shave with Mr. Devito on that Tuesday morning. This has always been my favourite view in London, and it made me feel in touch with the progress of the World, the promise of new things beginning at the same time as old doors were being shut behind me. Important to realise these things when somebody drops a bombshell on you in my opinion.