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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

Finding Purpose by Losing My Job

Updated: Jan 22

A lesson ten years in the making.


This past Saturday, I was settling in to relax, and, as dictated by law in 2024, I picked up my phone and began scrolling through my social media accounts. When I opened Facebook, I was invited to see my memories from previous years. If you have a Facebook account and are moderately active, you know the daily draw to stroll down memory lane to see past posts, pictures, and life events.

I viewed several pictures, a snarky post or two, and was finally reminded of something I hadn't thought about in a long time: the tenth anniversary of losing my job at Guy Brown. I was hired in 2011 by the fifth largest office products company to start and build a promotional products division – something more stand-alone from their office products business, a partnership with OfficeMax. This required moving my family from Chicago to Nashville and developing a team to accomplish the mission. Over the next two and a half years, my team grew sales from $0.00 to $6.5M at a 40% margin, which I'm still very proud of.

Despite our success, this was a drop in the bucket compared to the over $250M in revenue from the office products division. At the time, the office products industry was growing increasingly volatile, as was the relationship between Guy Brown and OfficeMax. When OfficeMax merged with Office Depot, Guy Brown exercised their right to sever ties with OfficeMax. As you can imagine, this led to much speculation in the organization about the future.

After several months of uncertainty, Guy Brown formed a partnership with Staples. While most in the organization were able to breathe a sigh of relief, the people in the promotional products division still felt a high degree of uneasiness as Staples was (and remains) an enormous player in the branded merchandise space. I had convinced myself that Staples would want our stable of clients as well as the people who built the division. As for me, I was confident I would be offered some sort of mid-level management job, and I would have a difficult decision about whether I wanted to work for a large corporate entity again or find another job.

As fate would have it, the decision was made for me as Staples simply insisted that Guy Brown shutter the division down for any new business while managing existing accounts. As one of my good friends in the industry, Brian Porter, told me then, I was being "punished for my success." It sure felt that way.

When I saw the life event of "Left job at Guy Brown" on Saturday, a flood of memories came back: the scrambling to get to PPAI Expo to find a job, taking two positions over the following months that were ill-suited for me, and the anxiety of trying to provide for my family. From a career perspective, I was lost, and my confidence was shaken so much that I wasn't sure I could find my way out of the abyss.

Looking back, however, the best thing that has ever happened to me was that I "left my job at Guy Brown." As I was planning to resign from the second position in 2014, I began putting my resume together but did it in website form. Over the course of about six weeks in the autumn of that year, I built a website that would eventually become brandivate. In placing my skills and accomplishments using the internet as a medium, I found my confidence growing and I became more intentional about finding my way out of career darkness. I began to write a weekly blog (yes, this blog) sharing my unfiltered and candid thoughts about marketing, branding, sales, and, yes, personal development.

From there, my career rebounded: I consulted for notable organizations like Origaudio, was hired as President of PromoCorner, and launched brandivate in 2020. Make no mistake, whatever success I've achieved is due to hard work, taking chances, grinding when no one was watching, and the support of family and friends. As I write this, I don't think the 44-year-old me of ten years ago would believe that I would be inducted into the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South Hall of Fame in 2023 and, one week from today, receive the PPAI Icon Award for Distinguished Service.

Without that unexpected life-altering event, I wouldn't be the me you see today. However, I had to wade through a nine-month-long river of uncertainty and self-doubt to get there, which taught me resolve, fortitude, and how to live one's life intentionally.

Finding myself, my confidence, my passion, and my purpose isn't a horrible trade-off for losing a job.

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