I can trace back my moment of realisation to a meeting with our finance director and all round business guru Gary B. It was 2012, I was co-director of Magpie Studio at that point. We were flying high – regularly winning great clients and awards in equal measure. Business was booming. But for some reason it didn’t feel like success somehow. Then Gary asked us the question ‘What will people say about you at your funeral?’. I’d just had my second child and come back to work after a few weeks of paternity leave and this question really stuck with me.
I got to thinking about how I wanted my kids to remember me when I was six feet under. Would they remember me as the guy who worked late loads but had a shelf groaning under the weight of various bits of yellow wood and polished metal? Or as the dad who was at all of their school assemblies, the one who made it to their parent’s evenings, the one who taught them to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the guitar?
And so I decided there needed to be a compromise. I loved my job and the company I’d helped create. But I loved my family and my kids more. So I did the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I left my agency and I left London. In 2013 we upped sticks and moved to Bath. I did it so my kids could grow up somewhere more child-friendly than inner-city London. And so I could control my hours a bit more and work flexibly and help out more with childcare.
The parent’s evenings I’ve made it on time to that make me feel like the proudest man alive. The four day weeks I do religiously so I can be around more for them. All this makes it worth the sacrifice.
It’s been almost four years since we left London. And I have no doubt it’s put my career back a few years. I had to start again and build up an agency from scratch after all. But has it been worth it? Abso-bloody-lutely. I still miss my friends that I set up Magpie with. And I still miss some of the hustle and bustle of London. But when I see how much freedom my kids get here. The amazing school which is a five minute walk away. The friends they’ve made. The green spaces and forests they play in. The school assemblies with out of tune piano playing I’ve attended. The parent’s evenings I’ve made it on time to that make me feel like the proudest man alive. The four day weeks I do religiously so I can be around more for them. All this makes it worth the sacrifice.
I still want to be the best designer I can be. But not at the price of being an absent father. So hopefully I’ve managed to find a compromise. I’m not perfect by any means – I still find myself signing off PDF proofs whilst the kids are in the bath. Or sketching things in my notebook when I’m supposed to be on holiday. But all in all I’m more present physically and mentally than I ever was in London. All in all I wholly recommend making the change. And hopefully they’ll remember me as the best dad in the world when I finally pop it …
Jamie Elull is an ex-Londoner, ex-founder of Magpie Studio and ex-vegetarian. He’s a designer who’s as passionate about being a dad as he is about his day job. He strives to balance the two and always keep the joy alive in both his ‘jobs’. He owns more vintage electric basses than he should.