The pleasure and pain of  job insecurity

The pleasure and pain of job insecurity

By Elle Bullen, co-founder and CD at SDWM

About this time two years ago, my future business partners and I were shitting ourselves at the prospect of throwing in our jobs at a successful network agency to venture into the wild and start our own shop. Our list of insecurities was so long it deserved its own cartoon scroll. Would we find enough clients? How would we learn to use excel? Who would we pimp out if we couldn’t pay the bills, and would it just be for freelance?

The team plotting world domination at Elle's kitchen table.

The team plotting world domination at Elle's kitchen table.

Had we come from any other industry, these fears would have been more than enough to quickly stomp out our entrepreneurial ambitions.

But after a decade in the advertising industry, insecurity is our old friend.

Like seasoned alcoholics, we’ve developed a tolerance for living with a level of risk and doubt that would knock others flat on their asses. Because when you spend your days thinking up creative solutions on demand, you’re no stranger to questioning if something’s good enough. If it’s been done before. If it will change said game. Or if the category will, once and for all, be defined.

Your creative output (and a wee slice of your soul) is put out there to be weighed, judged, rejected or rejoiced by all who come in contact with it, on repeat.

There’s no formula for right or wrong, and no recipe to crack it every time.  But there is the ever-present question of what happens if you don’t.

With positions in this business about as secure as the dodgy Forester my husband leaves unlocked in the hopes of an insurance claim, creatives know better than most how fickle employment can be.

SDWM on their way to their first pitch.

SDWM on their way to their first pitch.

SDWM post their first pitch.

SDWM post their first pitch.

Like our own special breed of generally unfit pro athletes, we feel an intense pressure to deliver, the ruthlessness with which our performance will be judged, and how close the chopping block can hover. No wonder our skin is callous thick.  

But skin conditions aside, there are upsides to our overexposure to insecurities. Had we been ‘what if’ virgins, there’s no way our growing business would exist today. We would have made our way halfway down the con list before shoving it in a desk drawer and setting the desk on fire.

Being hardened as we are though, and knowing that advertising and job security don’t exactly go hand in hand anyway, the decision to leave a monthly wage and guaranteed briefs wasn’t as daunting as it perhaps might have been.

In fact, putting ourselves out there as an agency was in many ways similar to putting our ideas out there in a creative review.

The risk of failure was there, but the possibility of striking creative (and if the ad gods will it, financial) gold made it worth the risk. And so far, despite an occasional glance in the review mirror to pine for the open beer fridge we left behind, we haven’t looked back.

All those years of practice taught us that the little voices in the back our heads sometimes just need to be ignored. Or better yet, used as fuel to create something brilliant enough to silence them.

There’s nothing like wondering if your idea is crap to push you to make it less so.

Another way we’ve avoided falling victim to questions of insecurity is by asking different questions.  Instead of being crippled by all the stuff that could go wrong if we started our own shop, we asked ourselves what would happen if we didn’t. We wouldn’t get to do things our own way. We’d never truly benefit from the impact of our own ideas. And we’d have to get used to parenting via Skype. Those are the answers that inspired us to have a crack.

Now, we no longer fear being made redundant or having our ideas whittled down by layers of opinions. We fear homelessness and the tax man instead.

We’ve traded in our insecurities for a fresh batch, but a batch that suits us better. And just like the old ones their restless, uneasy presence drives us to try that little bit harder.  Yes, we’re still shitting ourselves. But maybe one day we’ll win our very own toilet paper client.

Check out the great stuff Elle's doing at

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I am awful

I am awful

Hip hip hooray! <BR> for Clerehan

Hip hip hooray!
for Clerehan