Normally it’s an honour to be asked to speak at an event.
Speaking at Fuck Up Night on 5th September, at Impact Hub King’s Cross was, well … you decide.
My first slide was titled: ‘Failure? What’s that?’ Where I told of my relatively gentle upward rise to ‘fame and fortune’ in the world of advertising.
I shared how I went seamlessly from a successful education to a brilliant first job.
Then, 11 years later we sold the agency I’d helped to create and grow.
After that? I was tentatively looking for something new and had two of the largest advertising agencies in the country vying over me…
Fortunately for me, one of these agencies offered to make my hobby into my day-job (my hobby involved fundraising and helping set up new socially responsible initiatives), so they handed me their four largest charity clients.
These just so happened to be leading organisations in Cancer, Animal and Child protection and International Aid. I started creating some of their most successful appeals ever, and whilst I was working 9am to 9pm+, my colleagues worked with much more sedate clients within a 9 to 5 working day.
All my efforts were rewarded though, with: the keys to an Audi TT, a coveted parking space at the office, and the backing of my own specialist department – concentrating on the other half of my hobby (corporate social responsibility). Within just 6 months of this promotion, the agency shed a large percentage of their staff, which included my fledgling department – along with me!
Initially, I simply switched to a freelance contract and was working for my previous agency as a freelancer too, whilst I looked for something more permanent. I also picked up a freelance brief to launch a brand new international charity, with a sizeable budget; a national charity called me in too, they had been offered 600 free poster sites. Plus I had numerous interviews lined up.
I didn’t know failure, therefore I didn’t see it approaching…
But within 12 months, the freelance had dried up, the new international charity had fled, leaving me with thousands of pounds of unpaid invoices; the national charity had lost their 600 free poster sites and every interview that I had ended in rejection. I was broke, I’d run out of money, and I was about to become a parent.
So I got a job at a local supermarket, which I had to beg for!
Tactically, I worked nights so no one would know that I was working in a supermarket. This also meant that I could do also do the odd bit of freelance work in the afternoons – or in the morning if I worked through the night. I also approached NABS (National Advertising Benevolent Society) for help and ended up working with them on a few collaborative projects in return too.
One evening, when not working, by chance I met with a former colleague, who’d already had a few drinks. We then went out for a few more… later that evening, my now very drunk former-colleague told me they were very glad I’d fallen so far and that he thought I was awful to work with (the actual phrase he used wasn’t as polite) and that, he wasn’t alone in this opinion.
This may have been why no one else was offering me a role (many former colleagues were now spread across the sector). In my own defense, I was formally working very hard on many pieces of work which probably led to me forming some tunnel-vision, so I probably wasn’t nice to work with, within this context.
So, I booked an appointment with NABS’ career advisor, David Royston-Lee, with a brief to overcome the fact everyone seemed to think I was awful to work with.
Out of the blue finally came a job offer. I carried on working with NABS, this time as my client.
So, what have I learnt from my Fuck Ups? I feel a greater empathy with anyone who’s hit rock bottom. I’ve learnt that I can fail, which I hope means I will never fail so-totally again. And if you want my advice?
If you get a chance to celebrate your failures publicly at a FuckUp Night, do it! And whilst it’ll scare the living daylights out of you, but worry not, remember the truth can hurt. But you’ll be helping others, and maybe yourself, with a timely reminder of what you’ve been through and how to learn from this.