Today we’re back at work after a wonderful July long weekend. The Canada Day long weekend has special personal significance for me; it’s what I think of as my entrepreneur birthday. I quit a job at Calder Bateman, the venerable Edmonton advertising and public relations agency, at the end of June, 2011.
On the Canada Day weekend that year I was unencumbered with any sort of employment responsibility – in fact, we spent the weekend in Toronto with my wife’s grandmother, a long-time Jays fan, at her first ever live game – and on the first Monday in July, I sat down at the kitchen table in our modest, one-bedroom condo, and went about starting a public relations firm.
For the first year I operated as a solo PR consultant. The next summer, Michael Brechtel and I teamed up to form Berlin Communications, and we’ve built it together ever since.
When I get frustrated or feel beaten down by feelings of inertia or one of the many challenges that come with running an independent communications agency – losing a client, a pitch, a key staff member or a lot of money tends to do the trick – I remind myself to think back to that time at the kitchen table. If I had been told then that I’d be here now, with all the good and bad that comes with it, would I have been happy with that? The answer is always “Wow. Yes. Of course.”
A feeling I had then, which is harder to capture now, is the excitement of possibility. When your company or career is still an unpainted canvas there’s a brightness and vitality that permeates your decisions. When you don’t even have an office, getting an office is awesome. When you’ve cashed very few cheques, each one feels surreal. The first time you win a big pitch is a true “pinch me, I’m dreaming” feeling. As the years go on, all of that stuff becomes simply part of the furniture. It’s not that they don’t still matter – of course they do. But no matter where you are, you don’t tend to look back at how far you came, but rather forward to how far you still have to go.
Right now, in the midst of the Covid pandemic, is a chance for all of us to recapture some of that early magic. The fact is we don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know what office work is going to look like, what the clients are going to need, and how we’ll all work together. Instead of becoming exhausted by that (and I’ve had my share of those days too) businesspeople and knowledge workers can instead become amazed and inspired by the possibilities.
This is a rare opportunity to recreate, rethink and reimagine how we work. This is our free do-over, basically. Only when everything’s been torn down do we have the chance to build it back up. I love the quote from Gabor Mate: “relax, everything is out of control.” Isn’t that right, though?
Nine years into my own journey in business I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had, the staff and clients who have put their trust in Michael and me, and the friends I’ve made along the way. The Covid pandemic is a really tough time for everybody, but perhaps we can find a silver lining in our ability to regenerate as we come through it. Going from “wow, we got a real office!” to “uh, do we still need an office?” is a real trip. But that’s business, and that’s life. Things change, and you figure it out.
The more we can use this time to reexamine our assumptions and rebuild based on what’s before us now, not what was before us then, the better chance we’ll have to succeed in the post-Covid version of the world. Next Canada Day I’ll be ten years out in the wild. Now that, to me, is wild. And I know the guy at the kitchen table would have loved the idea of it.
Justin Archer is a partner at Berlin Communications.