Since I left the Agency business, to be somewhat tautological about it, I have gotten my agency back.
I been able to break the Holding Company deception of being called an "executive." By calling you an executive, Holding Companies get around paying you for every hour you work. Executives don't get paid hourly. So, you're an executive--but you have no executive perqs, appurtenances or security.
Those un-worked hours? Corvee.
Those un-worked hours? Corvee.
More important, even, than getting paid for every hour I work, I have revitalized my entrepreneurial side--a side I never knew I had.
In an agency today, you're not to think about what the client needs. You're meant to think about what the client's asked for. And you're meant to do it within someone else's designated scope. God forbid you do more or take longer. God forbid you over-deliver. That's ground for dismissal since your "burn rate" will be too high.
My glib shorthand for this--and yes, I do know that I have a certain annoying glibness--is that agencies hire ambitious people, then penalize them for being too ambitious. In the Zero-Sum Game played in most agencies, there's not enough money or success to go around to applaud and reward the over-achiever. You're better off, in the words of an ex-client of mine, to "fly low, fly slow and try not crash."
That's why agencies spend so much time and effort on things that never run for clients that don't pay.
Fake work is the only way to get real feelings.
Many years ago, even as a Jewish person, I had come across a Trinity that I felt some kinship toward. I've never discussed it with an HR person, or a boss, or nearly anyone but my wife and a few close friends and my striving daughters.
The best workers are made up of three spheres--and the best companies demand that their workers develop all three of these attributes.
1. They must be grinders. That is they have to know how to crank. How to make. How to crisis. They have to actually be more than a supervisor--they have to pick up a pen and write, or draw or think. They have to come through when the sweat is pouring and so many other people are paralyzed with fear. They have to say, "so what it's due in an hour. I can do that and do it well."
2. They must be minders. They must be the person who knows how to make a tetchy client relax, or a nervous-nellie boss or executive. They have to know how to keep things running smoothly no matter what, with little upset. Colloquially, they accept, no relish, being the one-throat-to-choke. They understand, that "their work is their word. And their word is their bond."
3. They must be finders. They must always be looking for, creating and grasping new opportunities. They must always be thinking, always be pitching, always be closing. Always be showing the world what their work and their thinking can do. And therefore, always attracting new business and new sources of revenue.
Grinder. Minder. Finder.
If I had to point out the one difference of striking out on your own and escaping the totalitarianism of the Holding Company system where you work unpaid hours to make other people rich, I'd say it's that you give yourself agency again.
It all comes back, as most everything does, to one of my great Creative Directors, Rabbi Hillel:
"If I am not for myself, who am I? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?"
I've been working for myself, running GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company for two-and-a-half years now. I was fired just after I turned 62, though I was the person people at a once great agency came to when there was a hairy problem maybe no one else could handle.
GeorgeCo., like so many things, was born from fear. How can I make a living? How can I grow as a human? How can I discover who I am? Most of all, the vital questions of integrity and meaning.
These questions are the questions of life and work.
They're never really answered--I'm not sure they can be. But you can work on answering them every day. And then, tomorrow, work on it again.