Free Agency Turned 10

Ah, Free Agency’s 10-year anniversary office-warming.

What night with FAC is not complete without me saying at least seven idiotic things?

Here’s one:

Me: Congratulations, guys. You are awesome. Man. How long has Free Agency been around?
Don: (long pause) Ten years.

(pan right, to a sign at reception right behind me, where it says “THANK YOU FOR THE LAST 10 YEARS”)
(cut to, weeks prior, where I was opening my email and a giant e-vite pops up, “JOIN US IN CELEBRATING 10 YEARS”)
(cut to, a small collection of books that say, “WE WOULD NOT HAVE LASTED 10 YEARS WITHOUT YOUR SUPPORT”)
(cut to, a plane hovering past, with skywriting, “HAPPY 10TH ANNIVERSARY, FREE AGENCY!”)

Free Agency has been such a huge part of my life here in Vancouver. There have been so many memories and stories, and their beautiful office space was alive and abuzz with these that evening.

I’ve said it before, but I really do love FAC. Part-big-brothers, part-mom-and-dad, Don and Tak have always taken care of me. The night was a reflection of how far they’ve come in the past decade, and as I’m super self-centered, I found myself looking at how I fit into all of it.

I can’t look back on my years here in Vancouver without thinking about Don and Tak. I don’t know if anyone else feels the same way about them, but I tend to cling to people I admire. It’s important to recognize that point where you have no fucking clue what to do. It’s more important to seek out the individuals who will point you to the right direction. And I’m not the only one they’ve done this for.

Essentially, Don and Tak were the ones who got the memo early on, and they were kind enough to relay the message to me. They were in line when they were passing the brains out, and they generously passed some of that shit over to my direction.

Okay I’ll stop.

I feel like one of their young veterans, talking about “the old Water Street office” and meaning “the big one, when Don used to live there.”

There was a time in FAC where everyone who worked for them was gorgeous, and the office basically felt like a modelling agency. I swear to God. It was beautiful women designing Home and Garden Show collateral, and me in the corner, 20 years old and desperately trying to figure out how to turn on a computer without looking like an idiot.

I also did not look like a model. I looked like a half-baked turd sitting in the sun, just waiting to be stepped on. Nowadays I just look like a teenager. Or worse, my mom.

For the past few years I’ve known them, Free Agency has really cultured a way of gathering great students under their wings and training them really well.

What I also found that evening is that this training ground has started a weird but awesome sub-culture.

There were complete strangers talking about the same things and I found myself building a common understanding with them. When I mentioned specific clients, a couple of eyes twinkled and a few smiles crept in. Not because of anything remotely negative, but anyone who has worked on a couple of their larger projects knows exactly how much collateral and how much production goes on during the summer months. And of course we all shared and exchanged stories about the hilarity that ensued for each of us.

When I mentioned Tak and K-OS (the rapper), a few heads turned around to laugh. Because they also knew what that meant.

I think being the reason for these connections is an amazing thing. They’ve told me before about how they started in Don’s basement kitchen, and I’ve seen first-hand how hard these guys work. The fact that they are able to pass on that kind of experience and develop that work ethic among their students, my colleagues and peers, that takes some pretty serious commitment to what you want to do.

They haven’t just been doing it for themselves this whole time. Haha and whether or not they have planned that deliberately, I know I learned shit tons of lessons from Free Agency, and I don’t feel obligated to reciprocate anything. I genuinely want to extend the same courtesy, respect and faith to my other homies in the design biz. Whether you’re a student or a colleague, we’re all in the same community. And being able to grow that community is a fantastic privilege, bros. We can’t waste that or take it for granted.

These guys are serious about giving back. Not just because they love doing it in a Mother Teresa kind of capacity. They understand the idea of investing in people and seeing those returns later on. It’s a smart, kind and exciting way of doing business—a way that I first learned from them.

I’m grateful and sincerely happy for Free Agency, and I can only hope that there will be another time where we see Don put on Tak’s tiny track pants for another office laugh. Or order 20 cheeseburgers from McDonald’s so we can all eat family-style in the middle of a big table, drinking beers.

Congratulations on your 10-year-old baby, guys. Soon it will go into it’s teenage years and start mouthing off. I hope you’re ready when it turns 20.

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