Last year at this time, I landed a job working for big Pharma as a production designer, which in my industry is a fairly low-level position, especially for someone with my experience. I didn’t care. The money was good, the benefits great, and I was grateful for the opportunity dig my family out of a long-festering financial hole. At this stage in my career, I have little desire to take on senior roles. I just wanted to do what needed doing and spend my spare time in my shop. Just give me two or three years. That’s all I ask.
As they say, people make plans and God laughs. Six months after my hiring and just before Christmas, God laughed. After enduring one of the weirdest and longest training and on-boarding processes in my career — mostly due to the pandemic — the agency that supplied the talent to this company announced it had lost the contract to another agency. It would all come to an end on March 31.
I could do the actual work with my eyes closed, but the process of doing it combined with the many hours of meetings stopped any creative momentum. Because of the highly regulated environment, everything is scrutinized. And I mean everything — to the pixel. For example, I witnessed a twenty-minute discussion about whether or not to replace a hyphen with an M-dash.
To give you some idea of the onerous regulatory overhead and another reason of why drugs cost so much, it took our well-paid, amply competent team five months to launch a one-page introductory website. I conservatively estimate that this single page cost the company at least $250,000 just in employee time. I built entire websites for $12,000.
I worked with a great group of people that thanks to the pandemic I never met in person. I knew them only as faces on a screen. Then on March 31 at five-o’clock, I shut down and closed my company-supplied laptop for the last time, and they all became memories. I have to admit that when I woke up the next day realizing that I had no more meetings, I felt an enormous sense of relief.
So, now what?
I’m now 60 years old. As time advances, I see clearly that no one wants a 60-year-old graphic designer, even one with my level of expertise and work ethic, who believes he is still capable of doing some of the best work of his career, and who is completely content with taking a production-level position before going out to pasture. I can more quickly list what I haven’t done in my industry than what I have done. Hiring managers don’t care.
Even before I landed this Pharma assignment, I would half-joke about becoming another “François.” François was an 80-something French-Canadian carpenter and handyman my mother often hired for various jobs around her house. François did great work and charged a fair price. I finally met François while cleaning out my mother’s house shortly after her death. After a lively conversation where I had the chance to thank him for helping my mother so often and so well, I thought, “I’m not going to retire. I’m going to be François.”
Last week, I completed my first revenue handyman job for an artist friend. She hired me after I shared my little dream with her. She needed rotting basement steps rebuilt. Three days later, she has new, solid steps and I had my toe dipped into the handy-man market.
I think I’m ready for the transition. My design skills, though never better-honed, seem less marketable now than ever. I’ve done my best to weather all the changes in my industry, practicing my trade as it has gone from print to web to more broadly digital, but I think I’ve had enough.
I’ve long said that I get the greatest reward from creating things that cast shadows, that people can hold, and that later generations might appreciate and use. Time to be like François.