Published by MTS Business Blog
By: Duncan Morrison
I remember facing my toughest decision after returning to Winnipeg’s Red River College as a then '33-year-old first-year-in-the-books' Creative Communications student. My first year had passed magically. With the exception of a kegger on the first day back at college, I had exceeded all my own expectations. And my decision to leave a solid and promising 12-year career at Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) was sitting well with me. (I would be absolutely remiss not to mention that MPI was incredibly supportive during this time period by providing me with a leave of absence to complete my academic aspirations. I will never forget their kindness in that regard).
I think both MPI and I always assumed I would return to their communications department. Certainly, that was the way things were positioned when I took my plans forward to them. However, the CreComm program in my first year called for a mix of advertising, public relations and journalism. The second year called for a selection of one of three disciplines as a major. Therein lay the crux. My wife and I have three children and at that time they were two, four and eight years of age. We had a car, house, mortgage, and well, you get the picture. My wife had been holding the fort as a registered nurse and I needed to roll out of my two-year diploma and into a positive financial situation. I asked a well-respected colleague for advice and she stated without any hesitation:
“Take journalism. If you can understand the story, you can apply that to anything and transfer easily into the other two areas if you want.”
So I did, and with that my ties with MPI were severed. There was no turning back now.
In 1999, an internship at the Winnipeg Free Press for the Pan Am Games bolstered my decision. But with internships there are ups and downs, and when the Games ended that summer, so did my position. Only then did I find out what it takes to be a freelancer. It was a grind. Hustling, networking, pitching and utilizing my Free Press momentum, I kicked up enough assignments to keep us eating dinner for a couple of months (albeit Kraft Dinner). But other luxuries eluded us.
Things started perking up after a while though. I took a full-time gig at a well-respected newspaper in our surrounding area. That allowed me to grow as a writer by way of the numerous topics, issues and editorials I could write about. But my take home pay rivalled a drive-thru window worker, which is great if you are earlier on in your journey. At that point I needed to make a bigger move forward.
My career path veered very sharply and with urgency as I started targeting communications jobs that would also keep my writing chops sharp while learning the comms biz. I was soon rewarded with an amazing opportunity at Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and I began what would be an 11-year career there. It was a great organization to work with, and they still remain close to my heart, but the journey didn't end there. After leaving DUC, feeling the pull back to my freelance roots, I decided to start my own communications consulting company.
I am currently in the fifth year of owning my own company. My clients are fantastic and I work with many awesome people from different walks of life and businesses. My days are happily filled with strategic communications, content generation, business plans, editing, marketing campaigns and yes – freelance writing. The journey was a long and winding road until this point, but the payoff has been so rewarding. The lesson — persevere, my friends.