ME: “So I've given it a lot of thought, and I've decided. I’m handing in my notice.”
BOSS: “Are you joking?”
So that’s kind of how it went. Deciding to leave my day job was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made but there really was no other option for me. I had to. Even if that meant no security, no income, no guarantees. The thought of how much worse it would be if I never took that chance was unbearable. So I quit.
Now anyone who has ever worked in retail, especially in a supervisory role knows how soul destroying, maddening, and clawing-at-the-walls-ing it can be, but roughly three weeks into working freelance full time I soon realised that, well, pretty much everything is. So if you’re working somewhere you don’t want to be, don’t dismiss the whole experience as a waste of time, there’s valuable lessons to be learned:
1. I learned how to work with, ahem, difficult people.
Maybe every workplace isn’t like mine was, but mine was full of… characters. Generally, corporate companies with hierarchies more complex and baffling than Ponzi Schemes tend to be breeding grounds for huge egos, insecurities, superiority complexes. But this is nothing compared to most entertainment industries. Whether you’re trying to get into film, TV, music or the art world, the sooner you learn how to decipher the ancient language of “bullshit” the better.
2. I learned how to manage people.
This isn’t just for the people who work in supervisory roles. Whether you’re an office manager or a secretary, an assistant store manager or a shop assistant, you are managing people all day – most of all managing yourself. But for me, managing a team of people every day was just training in how to manage an entire film, or a shoot, or my own career. Being able to get your point across without enraging people is an art form – you can either come across as a dictator or a push over, but working your day job is the best way to perfect what works for you.
3. I learned to be disciplined.
Every day for six months I had to be up at 5am to get to work for 7. It was a mild form of torture but I had no option (other than get fired, which didn’t particularly appeal to me). Before that my rota changed daily, meaning sometimes I wouldn’t get home till midnight. As awful as it was at the time it was invaluable. Freelancing is hard to do – self-motivating yourself to get up and put in a full day’s work when you can just as easily stay in bed binge watching Fringe all day (just me?) But waking up early isn't so alien to me anymore, and getting home late is nothing. I don’t know how well I would have coped coming straight out of uni into 13 hour shoots, hardly any sleep, and waking myself up in the morning to be at my desk by 9.
4. I made mistakes – on someone else’s dime.
This might sound super harsh, but honestly wouldn’t you rather get the really big learning curves out of the way before your livelihood depends on it? I’m not saying take the piss out of your employer, but there’s something to be said for working for a company where your superiors are giving you feedback daily and you are coming up against problems you hadn't imagined. Going straight into working for yourself without knowing what kind of professional personality you have can be tricky. Think about it this way – if you walked into a shop and got horrible service, you’d be less inclined to go back there, right? You might even tell your friends. Well when you work for yourself, you are your own brand, if you don’t know how to deliver excellent customer service, how to solve problems and how to talk to people you may find it hard out there.
5. I learned what matters most to me.
Hey, retail isn’t so bad, but what I do now is sooo much better. I know what I have to lose if I don’t work, so those days when I can’t be bothered to go to that meeting, or work through that pile of paperwork, or convince that client that it isn’t possible to have a film sequence with a car chase, pyrotechnics and explosions on a budget of £100, I think, “at least I’m not stacking boxes in a stockroom…”