This is the second installment of a weekly series on Career Makeovers.
I ended up where I was supposed to.
The path that led to opening my own communications shop wasn’t always clear. Had a few things been different I might still be working for a larger firm. At some point though, the inevitable was bound to occur.
In my 20s, I worked for the current Canadian prime minister in an issue management capacity while he was leader of the opposition. During my tenure with Stephen Harper, I got to serve in two federal election war rooms.
After politics I slowly moved up the ranks at various places, until I ended up running the PR department at North America’s largest producer of charity events. It’s a well-run company that does good things for its clients’ bottom lines. Though the firm was six years old when I started, its vibe and culture remain very “startup.”
The CEO at my former employer is a classic “visionary type” entrepreneur—a delegator uninterested in minutiae, who trusts his staff. In this environment, I came to view the PR department as my own business. This perspective was, on balance, positive and certainly congruent with my personality.
I’m easily bored with routine, and have a love of new challenges that borders on obsession. Soon, even in this entrepreneurial, fun workplace, tedium set in. Over time, running a department in someone else’s business wasn’t enough. While not a control freak in my personal life—my wife, for example, usually decides what’s going down in our house/lives—I like being in charge at work. I became unhappy and less productive.
Then it occurred to me, if I couldn’t be happy at this place—a great company where people left me alone—where could I?
While considering the future, I realized I’d always been a bad employee on some level. The problems weren’t about results; I have a modicum of talent for PR, and enjoy the work. My problems as an employee stemmed from the need to play by other people’s rules, follow their processes, and fit into their cultures. Employers always said “it’s just about results here,” but then they’d get on me about things that had nothing to do with outcomes.
I’m no rebel. But at work, I like it my way. I’m a much better owner than employee for that and a number of other reasons, ranging from risk tolerance to comfort with delegation. Ownership is also more suited to me because of the varied work it entails.
It took becoming unhappy in a great situation to get where I am. When that unhappiness set in times were rough. I often wondered if I was a prima donna
idiot looking a gift horse in the mouth.
Turns out, I wasn’t. The gift was the unhappiness and what it precipitated
. Don’t get me wrong, entrepreneurial adventures are a Hobbesian affair, too often nasty, brutish, and short. But for some of us there is no other option.
Jackson Wightman is the owner of his own communications agency, Proper Propaganda. He’s also PR Daily’s contributing editor in Montreal.
Chances are, Jackson is hungry.
To read the first Career Makeovers column from a journalist who jumped to crisis PR, click here.