A toast to three years at Whitewall
“Hello, I’m here to meet a ‘Joe Kiernan’, I have a meeting with him.”
It’s funny when you have an idea about a place, person or a situation before you experience it for real, and how the end makes you think of the beginning.
At my interview, I stole short glances around the rooms but my nerves hadn’t allowed me to hone-in on one face or feature of the office. I was distracted, you see. Neil and I had chatted over my experience and qualifications before his nose fell out. I say ‘fell out’ but really an operation to fix some tubing in there had left him with sore stitches and, as he enquired about my Highers, he sneezed one out. Charmingly abashed at the sudden lack of boundaries, he joked through it but I left imagining never to hear from Whitewall again.
My first day dawned in February. As the lift opened at the 4th floor, this ‘Joe’ transformed from my imagined strapping six-foot dude-in-a-suit, to the real Jo: a woman, suit-less and smiling.
I can’t remember what else I had imagined about the company before that day; my experience was limited to a few internships and placements after I’d graduated from my masters. One thing I realise now is how unprepared I was to begin in this industry, but I’m glad about that and here’s why…
When you begin your first “proper” role at a company like this, you become quickly and violently obsessed with doing a great job. Okay, you may have the odd boring task, but the culture of the workplace is one that spurs you on to do your best and try harder than you ever thought possible. You worry about wee things, and try to decipher how management thinks you’re getting on. I remember being ‘Clara’-noid that people were talking about me, because I kept hearing my name being mentioned, only to realise that there was a designer called Lara who worked from home… Small hiccups seem like big disasters; tiny mistakes, the end of the world. A kind word of encouragement is the ultimate trophy, and the camaraderie built on a tough project remains one of my working life’s greatest joys.
So obsessed was I in doing a good job that it took me quite a while to really sink into the social aspect of Whitewall, but once I did – boy, did I discover that these people are truly special. New starts, be warned, Whitewallers enjoy a new colleague who feels confident enough to sit with everyone at the lunch table – it’s scary but nothing breaks the ice like a healthy debate about recycling, Chris Martin, or whether chips and cheese counts as one of your five a day. If an army marches on its stomach, Whitewall’s team marches on its smile. The heated discussions, roars of laughter, totally mental notions and cosy confidences form my fondest memories and (they’ll take the piss out of me for this) play nostalgically like a movie montage in my head.
The amount I have learned professionally at Whitewall has been vast. How to navigate clients’ personalities, how to write copy for various media and how to pitch-in at client meetings. How to brief creative work to “scary” designers, and how to pluck up the courage to tell them that you feel something should be centre justified. You learn that mistakes happen and, ultimately, these pitfalls make you grow, both professionally and as a person.
Susie, the owner and director at Whitewall, always says (and I hope she won’t mind me sharing her wisdom) that you must always act like a swan – calm and collected on the surface but furiously paddling underneath. It’s amazing how you can trick people – and not just other people, but how you can also trick that ugly duckling inside yourself to fake confidence until you suddenly realise you aren’t faking any more.
You should always leave while the party’s in full swing, and the opportunity to go off and try my hand in advertising seemed a good fit at the right time. The only difference now is that I’m not spending time imagining who my next team is or what they look like – for these precious last days in the office, I’m living in the moment and savouring every single smile.