Why I left
In my years of art school, I remember pulling all-nighters in the various computer labs of different classrooms, sneakily lugging reams of crisp white paper to each printer. I’d have four to six printers loaded at a time, each in different rooms, ready to print, ready to work. I’d open a PDF on my computer, a 40 page, bi-monthly magazine, called Backspace, filled with contributed and self-written articles, essays, illustration, art, and photography. It was the manifestation of creative energy and angst that took over my post-high school life. I remember clicking “Print”, pushing the printers until four in the morning, often running out of ink before the sun came up. I’d leave with about 200 issues a night, ready to be folded and stapled. I’d get all the collaborators over at my parents garage. We’d drink beer, folding relentlessly, papercuts and jammed staplers accompanied by engaging conversations.
I worked at a bookstore part time in the suburb of Simi Valley. I’d slide them in customers’ bags as they bought their copies of Murakami or Juxtapoz. At night, we would pop quarters into newspaper holders, placing 10 to 20 copies of Backspace on top of the dailies or weeklies. This was not work. This was an impulse driven by a perpetual need to say something unique, a need to actually do something tangible. We were a family of neurotic art kids. Lost but determined, hungry for a real outlet of expression. Those late nights blurred together, days and hours were tiny specks of dust. There was no money to be made there, no hierarchy to climb, no politics to play. It was about the work and the art. It was about forcing people to see what you had to say.
We were a family of neurotic art kids. Lost but determined, hungry for a real outlet of expression.
After college, free time was replaced with concerns about rent and health benefits. Friends started to move away, entering serious careers, and suddenly it seemed that era of my life was over. I jumped around at a tangled string of different design and illustration jobs. Although I was grateful, I remained nostalgic for the times I stayed up all night printing zines, and making art in my garage. At the time, I thought this transition was a necessary step into adulthood, the letting go of ‘childish’ things and loosely written plans. The foray into big boy jobs, ‘comprehensive’ benefits at said jobs, and the slow-creeping conformity that adulthood glossed over my life.
I jumped around at a lot. By 26, I had already gone through five different full-time jobs. Often with hour-long commutes and three hour meetings. The pay checks were good. In fact, I made more money than most of my friends at that age. I bought a lot of clothes. A lot of things. I went out a lot and paid the tabs. I justified this as being ‘happy.’ But the meetings — sitting there restlessly, with a pen and a yellow notepad in a fancy conference room with a fancy television, day dreaming about punk music and late night adventures of falling in love and engaging the world around me.
…Day dreaming about punk music and late night adventures of falling in love and engaging the world around me.
Living in Los Angeles, I’d find myself constantly gazing out the large windows at the beautiful California Sun, doodling type and creatures on official documentation and lengthy creative briefs. “Are millennials the same things as hipsters?” the man in the suit with the deep voice would say. “They aren’t exactly the same, but a lot of millennials are hipsters and artists. Foodies too. More hashtags!” the girl would say as she sipped her lipstick stained Starbucks cup.
I had a lot of these moments throughout my early career. Twelve people around a table discussing what font the business card should be. Hovering bosses telling me to “make it pop”. Getting reprimanded for coming an hour later than the person next to me, but never being noticed for staying four hours later than everyone else. “We can’t give you a raise at this time, but we can give you this title,” he said as his golden watch shimmered in the fluorescent light.
December. 2012. Right before christmas. I was working at a startup in Santa Monica. There was a ping pong table and beers on tap. Dogs running around in a frenzy; music and barbecues and video games decorating the office. The company was attempting to revolutionize and streamline the branding and web design process for the everyone all within a reasonable price point that any mom & pop could afford. This was the product of the workplace revolution that was taking over America, the startup culture. A culture of finding a problem, getting funding, and ramping up. In this case a socially credible founder who preached feedback and iteration, yet routinely disregarded the pleas and feedback from his own employees.
I had been there six months when I was called into the office where all the company owners were sitting at a table. “Come in, why don’t you sit down.” the big boss said. I sat down and laid back, unsure of what was happening. “We are going through some changes. We have to let some people go. A third of the people actually. Including your design team. But we want to keep you. You are good. It makes sense to keep you. We already pay you more. But it comes with great responsibility, that means no more coming in late.” he explained, as he tapped his pen on the desk.
I had been through layoffs before, but this felt inherently different. “Are you up for it?” One of the other partners asked with a smirk. I felt an immediate anger. I thought about the designers on my team. I thought of the newest designer, a young girl in her early twenties, sold on the dream to work for the cool new start up in town. In fact, most of the people in the office were hired only a few months prior, hired to bring employee numbers up to impress investors — A fact I would find out later from an inside source.
Now they were all going to lose their jobs right before the holidays. I thought about how the boss in front of me was almost unfamiliar. He was never in the office. I’d see him more through his Instagram, a collage of cool New York parties with bottle service, and celebrities, and hashtags. I felt more anger — a sharp rebellious reaction that was strangely comfortable and nostalgic to me. A feeling that reminded me of being a young and restless insomniac, fueled by resentment of a small town that didn’t seem to give a fuck about art and music and real passion. We’d let our anger out, screaming along verses of passion with our brothers and sisters in a crowded, sweaty room.
The reality of the situation snapped me back into my seat. It was right before christmas. I had no money saved up. I had no game plan. I could accept the job, taking pay raise with a bigger, shinier title but I’d see my team walk out of the door. I could carry on to mold and give life to the vision of the people at the table in front of me and be their man. Or I could leave, pushing the mess behind me and pursuing my long-time urge to work for myself.
At that moment, I remember thinking about how I had always taken the opportunities to accept what was offered to me without question. I felt lucky to have offers, grateful to even be in a cushy position where I could say yes. Going to school, jumping from job to job. I rarely took breaks or opportunities to look inward, to ask myself what I really wanted.
There are certain moments where life seems to give you opportunities disguised as unfortunate events. Sometimes, the universe serves you something to see how you’re going react this time around, testing you to see if you’re going to try and take the riskier, more mysterious path. Growing up, I was taught contradictory lessons around decision-making that created a lot of struggle. Put your emotions in check and respect your boss. Be patient. Put your heart into your work and never settle. How do you reconcile the contradictions?
I quit my job that day. I took a long drive through Los Angeles. Through Santa Monica, Venice, Koreatown, & Downtown. I was completely unsure about the future. I wasn’t sure where I’d be working, or if I’d be able to manage being on my own with such short notice. But I was comforted in the fact that I did know one thing, undoubtedly, 100% —
that heart means everything.
As a true creative, your fulfillment comes from the quality and impact from your work. It will come from the ability and opportunity to create with higher purpose and freedom. It doesn’t come from a fancy title, a fat paycheck, or even a playground workplace. It comes from looking at yourself with a sense of pride. It comes from feeling like you are doing exactly what you want to do, and elevating others along the way. I’m not saying that everyone should quit their job. What I am saying is that everyone should pursue a situation where they are able to do their best work and live aligned with their core values. A place where you don’t have to stop being yourself. A place where you can grow through battle and risk is welcomed, not avoided. A place where you can look at yourself in the mirror and know that you did your best, and the people around you support you and push you.
If freedom and rebellion is in your nature… If you find yourself looking out the window, soaked in nostalgic memories painted by passion and creative energy… If you find yourself anxiously dreading Mondays. If you long for risks and feeling youthful, then you should probably take a long drive and ask yourself what you are waiting for.
This is the foundation of Onyx. A refusal to settle for mediocre work, a rattling need to master our crafts and constantly improve, and a nurturing an insatiable, rebellious streak that always demands evolution and creative progression.