Become a Member
Proudly Sponsored By
articles / advertising know-how and fearless opinions
IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Breaking Free

Breaking Free

Posted on August 22, 2012 and read 2,216 times

Breaking Free thumbnail

bayfield Breaking FreeMike Bayfield
Freelance Copywriter

Fresh out of university, with face full of freckles and a head full of dreams, I landed at JFK to explore America for the first time.

I’d fixed myself up with a job at a summer camp on the shores of Lake George in upstate New York. It was Friday the Thirteenth, but without all the unpleasantness.

It looked amazing – majestic maple trees, quaint log cabins, warm clear water and American girls who loved my English accent – my own little American Dream. But, like a psychopath in a hockey mask, there was something ugly lurking beneath the surface.

The camp was owned by a leading light in an organization called the John Birch Society; an ultra right-wing libertarian group, who believed that the fluoridation of water and cancer research were communist conspiracies. Obvious when you think about it. And to help pass on the wisdom of the elders, the annual summer youth camp had it’s own campfire songbook, singing the praises of God, apartheid and gun ownership.

Maybe I overreacted, but as a an angry mob of disgruntled white men, bearing flaming torches, bibles and assault rifles encircled my cabin in the middle of the night, I fled in terror through the woods.

OK, to be fair to the Birchers, it wasn’t quite like that. It was around nine o’clock one morning when I calmly announced I was leaving and strolled out onto the highway to hitch a ride to somewhere else. Anywhere else. As I waited, I glanced back at the idyllic setting of the camp. A large banner draped across the entrance read, ‘Only the brave are free.’

That saying came back to me a couple of weeks ago, when I did something a little crazy. Not buying a gun, but walking into my Creative Director’s office to tell him I was quitting.

Of course, lots of people do this all the time. They get offered a great new job with a bigger salary, working on bigger brands in a better part of town. Or even a new one. I haven’t. I quit with little more to go to than a bigger hopes, dreams and a few encouraging words. To go freelance.

If it was just me, that wouldn’t be such a big deal. But I have a mortgage, wife, two kids and a cat to support. And I’m the main breadwinner. When the world seems to be in economic meltdown, ‘brave’ is probably the last word you’d use to describe my move.  But there’s a voice inside me saying that this is what I need to do. And it’s not God. At least I don’t think so.

It wasn’t that my old agency was full of gun-toting, rabid reactionaries trying to poison the minds of the next generation. It was just that I’d been there coming up for seven years. I had an itch I needed to scratch.

I’d had some great opportunities, worked with some fantastic people and been able to do some nice work. But, for a while, it seemed that I’d been doing the same work, for the same brands over and over again. A kind of creative Groundhog Day.

As a creative I love telling stories. It’s what drives me, excites me. But the stories I was telling seemed to be the same ones each time. And the more I told them, the harder it was becoming to find original ways to do so. Maybe it’s me and I’m all storied out. Hopefully not. Either way it simply wasn’t fun anymore. And if I’m not having fun, I’m not going to produce my best work.

Life’s a journey. Your own story. And your career is a major part of that. I want to make sure my story stays interesting. But stories are only interesting when the main characters face major challenges. When they’re placed in jeopardy. It’s how they deal with those challenges –succeeding or failing – that makes the story interesting. But it’s not the challenges themselves that draw us in. They’re merely devices to show the character, how they develop and change. If they’re the same at the end as they are at the beginning the story won’t grip us. If there are no challenges, there’s no story.

In a favourite ad of mine, for Virgin Atlantic from few years back, a young guy is sitting on a bench, at a bus stop, when a disturbing character sits down next to him. He’s not wearing a hockey mask, but might as well be. It’s the Grim Reaper. The Reaper glances up, and the guy follows his gaze. A large stone cherub, which has dislodged from a roof above is plummeting towards him. He lets out a silent scream as the cherub freezes above his head.

The action then cuts to a fast collage of the hero living life to the full around the world – sex, drugs and rock and roll – accompanied by a pumping rock soundtrack.

It then cuts back to him. Cherub still frozen in the air, but the Grim Reaper has now nodded off on his shoulder, bored of waiting. He gets a up and walks off as a voice announces “When your life flashes before your eyes, make sure you’ve got plenty to watch!”

I still figure I need more to watch, and though I may not have as many freckles now, I still have as many dreams. David Ogilvy was fond of quoting an old Scottish proverb: ‘Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead.’

As I step out into the big wide world of freelance the thought of both meeting lots of new people in different places, and working on new projects for new agencies is thrilling. My friends tell me I’m being brave. Just like Jerry Maguire’s friends told him. I’m not so sure. The only thing I know for certain is, I’m free.

  • Roxy Shapwaykeesic

    Great story, I’ve been a graphic designer for the same company for over 6 years. Still love my job, but often think about going solo. I have a mortgage and 2 large cats. Did you amass clients on the side to justify starting your own business? Or are you emerging completely new and free, and venturing to clients which you are unknown to?

  • Mike Bayfield

    Hi Roxann. Did you get the reply I posted last night? Doesn’t seem to have come up on the page. 

  • Roxann Shapwaykeesic

    nothing is showing for last night no. 

  • Mike Bayfield

    Hi again Roxann,

    Maybe I didn’t click ‘post’ or something. It was late. Anyway what I said was:

    I did have a little bit of guaranteed work, but not enough to keep the wolves from the door. What I did have though was lots of positive feedback about me and my work from several agencies I’d contacted. They couldn’t guarantee me work but said they would be happy to use me if anything came up and I was available.

    I also had a huge amount of moral support from friends and former colleagues, who had faith in me, assuring me that I would do well. 

    You really need to put yourself out there as much as possible. But when you start to talk to people abut going freelance, don’t leave it too long until you do, otherwise they’ll start to think you never will.

    Also, talk to recruitment consultants, they have lots of contacts and might be able to get you into places you can’t by yourself, or hadn’t thought of. Using a recruitment consultant though, doesn’t mean leaving it all to them.

    It was a big gamble taking the leap, and one of the most dificult decisions I’ve ever made. But I’m lucky to have gotten off to a great start. Within two days of leaving my old job, I was offered three weeks freelance work for a big network ad agency in Germany (I live in the UK – for now at least). I’m two weeks into that and they’ve extended it for another month.

    I got the work through a CD I’d spoken to previously, before I’d handed my notice in, but he needed someone then. For freelance work, you have to be ready to start straight away. Few people will wait around for you to work your notice period.

    Anyway, I emailed the CD again a few weeks later, the weekend I left my job, and his previous freelancer was leaving two days later. So I was in the right place at the right time. The more places you put yourself, the more chances you’ll have of being in one of them at the right time. 

    Still early days and it’s going great for me, but be prepared to work harder and longer than you ever have before. The reason you’ve been hired is because they’re incredibly busy, and you’ll be thrown in at the deep end and expected to deliver right away. It’s scary, but a huge buzz at the same time.

    Do your groundwork, maybe try to have a little something to start with, have faith in yourself and jump.

    Hope this is useful and good luck with whatever you do.



  • Roxann Shapwaykeesic

     I really appreciate the time you took for your reply. I found it very informative. I’m in Canada and there’s tonnes of opportunity for good designers here in my medium size town. There’s two or three well known creative firms and some budding, well educated freelancers. I’ve worked with many companies and have developed a lot of good contacts. I guess, sometimes you wonder if you’re good enough to do it alone. I get intimidated, and inspired by other designers who have done great work. The choice to go solo must really come down to the ‘brave’ vs the meek. Thanks again for your time! All the best!




Moving Millennials thumbnail Moving Millennials
Thoughts from a Cannes Creative Effectiveness 2013 Jury member thumbnail Thoughts from a Cannes Creative Effectiveness 2013 Jury member


Agency Profile: Advico Y&R thumbnail Agency Profile: Advico Y&R


Copyright © 2001-2017 IHAVEANIDEA inc. All rights reserved. No material contained in this site may be republished or reposted.
IHAVEANIDEA™ is a trademark of IHAVEANIDEA inc. Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy

Copyright © 2009 ihaveanidea inc. All rights reserved.

No material contained in this site may be republished or reposted. Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy