I dreamt of work last night. Not my current gig, not any outstanding projects on the go right now, but of a job I’ve not had for almost 5 years now.

For 5 years, I was fortunate enough to work in the music industry. I was Creative Director for a cool independent music store with 3 locations. While this didn’t translate to big bank, it did mean I got to create posters and newspaper ads for some of my favourite bands and artists I’d grown up idolizing. The small town kid from nowhere, BC, was writing radio commercials for Bon Jovi – it was amazing. I got to study and learn marketing, promotions and branding from people with decades of experience, and grew out of my comfort zone into something more than a designer. I made friends, and felt like I belonged to a family. Each store was unique, from their floor layout to their display spaces, what would sell best, and certainly, their staff.

Working in the music industry came with more benefits than I could tell you: Free concerts, meet and greets with bands, VIP access to bars and events, free CDs and movies, insider info on anything in the industry – the list goes on. Cutting through a line of a few hundred people and being handed a free beer when you get inside is something you can quite easily get used to!

It wasn’t all puppydogs and lollipops, though. Like any job, there were a lot of challenges; many of which I am grateful for today. I was pushed, I was was challenged, I was a promotions/creative/marketing/branding department of 1. I always had help – any store level event was embraced by each store manager and their staff; the office staff would work with me in terms of product and buying support, and every single one of my coworkers would offer support or advice if I needed it. However, when it all came down to it, it was my neck on the line. I’d gone from making posters for bars in Kamloops to arranging media campaigns worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. I loved it. I’d work impossible hours; from 8am to 2 or 3 in the morning. Some days I’d leave work, go to the gym, eat, and return to the office. It wasn’t so much that I had to, even though my deadlines pretty much demanded that I did – it was that I wanted to. I loved what I was being allowed to become. Every poster, every sign, every print ad and radio commercial for the company was created by me. I was negotiating deals with the number one rock radio station in Canada. I was creating annual advertising budgets. I was partying with rock stars and back at the office the next morning ready to do it all over again.

The problem was, the writing was on the wall. Think back to 5 years ago: How many CDs did you buy, even back then? How many DVDs or Blu-Rays? Probably not many more than you buy right now. I heard our accountant on the phone. I knew it couldn’t go on. At the same time, I was beginning to feel stagnant. I’d been challenged, and I’d risen to it. I could handle in-store appearances by international superstars and arrange the media component of it in my sleep. Security? Yep, no problem. Get the band rider, arrange extra staff for the day, no worries. I had the posters, ads and commercials down to a template that worked very well. Our company had developed a wholesale division as well, with over 25 companies getting CDs and DVDs from us, and I created custom signs for them too. It was easy, and I was getting bored. I knew there was nowhere else for me to go within the company, just like I knew there wouldn’t be a company for much longer.

I was offered a position with a creative studio just starting up as Director of Creative Services. The studio wanted to focus on large format designs, business branding and logo designs. I was offered significantly more pay, flexible hours and a partridge in a pear tree. The owner of the company raved about my work. Spoke all the things I wanted to hear about being appreciated and respected.. and wanted me to start right away. I gave my notice, said my goodbyes, and left. The new studio quickly showed me that it was nothing I was promised, even paying me substantially less than I’d agreed on to come on board. My old music stores hired a few talented folks to take up the slack I’d left behind, but I didn’t look too closely for fear of not liking what I saw. I’d developed that visual style, I’d nurtured it and made it what it was. No matter how good the work was, seeing it handled by someone else was a strange thing.

I left the new studio and returned home to help my family out. On my birthday, almost a year to the day after I’d given notice, I found out my old company had gone bankrupt. At the end of a friday afternoon the stores got a call, and that was it. Shut the doors, turn off the lights, we’re done. Even though I was long gone and removed from the company, it hurt. I’d invested so heavily of myself in that company that to know it was finally gone really did hurt. Even a year after I’d left, many of my creations were still in use. I had a drink that night in honor of the company and my former coworkers.

We used to play here.

I still think of that time in my life, probably far too much for my own good. When I returned to Calgary for a business opportunity I sought out the old store locations. Market Mall, the store I helped open (along with the Kamloops store), was completely gone. That’s it to the right, in 2006 – and that’s how the location looks now. The Kamloops store is now a bath & soap shop. I saw it last week and couldn’t even take a picture. Probably the worst though is the TD Square store. It’s still there, sort of. It’s been chopped into a third of its former self, the back rented out as storage, the front third still looking much the same, just with the store sign taken down. The metal plate installed into the mall floor out front is still there, curiously out of place but mostly ignored. The store, and the mall it is a part of, still smells the same to me as the first day I saw it. I don’t know what it is, but that scent will forever remind me of that store. Finally, I visited our old head office. It was part of a strip of businesses, mostly offices and distributors. I pulled up and saw it was dark inside, but for some reason I got out of my car and tried the door. It was open. I walked in, and probably shouldn’t have. The cleaners must have been there recently as the smell of washed carpets was strong in the air. The offices were empty, but here and there some of the larger furniture remained. The alarm beeped slowly, brokenly on the wall. I considered putting my code in but didn’t think it would matter the way that thing was sadly chiming. The nails I’d put in the wall for our company “wall of shame” photos were still there. As were the nails I’d put in for the Lady & The Tramp poster I’d hung at our accountant’s request in her office. The warehouse was pitch black and empty. I stood there in the darkness of a failed company for a moment, then stepped back out into the sunshine, into my car, and left.

As much as I’ve thought about that company, my stores and my coworkers, I’ve thought about why I missed it too. I’ve had plenty of jobs before it, and jobs after it, but I can’t say I miss any of them. I doubt there’s really anyone feeling nostalgic about shoveling wood scraps next to 500 degree plywood dryers at 6am on a weekend. Maybe it’s because of the people I worked with. Maybe it’s because of how I grew, both professionally and personally during my time there. Maybe it’s the pride I took in seeing our three stores displaying my work – and seeing how the brand grew and evolved during my time there. I can usually tell when a sign was made just by looking at it, knowing how my style changed. I’ve thought of promotions, of sales, of shared memories with friends putting in long hours and dealing with stressful times – all fond memories, but not filed away under Memory. Somehow, still lingering, somehow still affecting me.

Early this morning, I dreamt of my old music company. It was going out of business, still. As I stood in it, I felt it looked all wrong. The colours, the fonts, the way the stores were merchandised – and I offered to help. I got to create the last signs for the stores as they closed. I took the measurements, I chatted with the managers and buyers.. I appreciated the moment. I knew what I was going to create. I knew what we were going to say and how we would do it. I would have my chance to say goodbye, properly, and close that chapter of my life.

And so I did. I woke up from the dream, spectacularly early for me, at 7:12am. I felt rested and recharged. Excited to work on a project today. Amped to hit the gym and crush some weights. Excited for tomorrow, and to build my own brand. To work on my company, my brand, my future memories. I already have a number of great clients and just wicked projects I’ve been lucky enough to work on. I want more. I want to hire amazing employees and bring their creativity, their passion and excitement on board. I want an office with hardwood floors, brick walls and exposed beam ceilings. I want my logo to be recognized and known for all it stands for outside of BC and Alberta. I want to work hard, I want to work insanely long hours that nobody knows about because nobody needs to know – not because I have to, but because I can.

I will.

What’s your Ambition?