Two years ago today I landed in LAX to start a new chapter in my life. More than a new chapter, in fact I’d go as far as calling it Act Three of my life. I was pretty satisfied with my life up until then; I’d gotten married to the most fantastic woman in the world two years before, I had a great, challenging job with wonderful coworkers, I was living in this great, big apartment in Copenhagen and I had a lot of things going for me.
But there was a voice calling for me from somewhere – I wanted something new, but I couldn’t decide what it was. It had been calling for me for a long time, and I’d tried to ignore it for a while, but it was getting stronger now. A couple of events occurred in early 2010 that helped push me towards the decision to leave it all behind, the strongest being that I lost my father early in the year. Although it didn’t really come as a surprise, since he had been weak for some time, it still had a major impact on me. Suddenly a huge part of my past was gone, and with that came a chance to reflect on his life, how it compared to mine and how I wanted to do a lot of things different from him. My father didn’t exactly have the best life imaginable, but he had great ambition throughout most of his life & he knew how to enjoy himself. Those are both virtues that I’ve inherited from him, but in the last year or so it seemed like the latter was getting more important than the first one. I had a sneaking feeling that life in Copenhagen was all about waiting for the next chance to get to enjoy myself. Waiting for the weekend during the week, waiting for the next long weekend where you could fly to Berlin or London, waiting for spring during the winter, waiting for the summer holiday, always waiting for the next opportunity to get away. When I first started working at Framfab in Copenhagen one of my new colleagues, a person I respect a lot, decided to quit his job and move on to a new position. At the time I found it hard to believe that you would want to work anywhere else, since Framfab was the place where we got to work on awesome stuff like NikeFootball, but he’d been there for five years, and he told me he felt five years was a decent amount of time to spend in the same place. After five years you would be so much into the routines of your everyday work that you would start to get maybe just a little bit too comfortable.
I think that happened to me as I approached the five year mark; I had accomplished a lot in the time I’d been there, I’d played an important role in many award winning campaigns, I’d learned a lot from the very talented people around me and I was in a position in the company where I’d become part of the everyday management and was the head of the technology department, managing several very talented developers and system architects. Yet somehow, that wasn’t really enough for me, or maybe it was enough at some point and now I wanted something else. There had been offers from other companies in Denmark, but somehow it felt like there wasn’t really anything interesting left for me to do in Denmark. That may sound very arrogant, but I think it has to do with the way you traditionally make your career in Denmark, regardless of business. Making your way to the top is traditionally a question of assuming a position where you have more and more people answering to you. I’d taken that route, first becoming the head of a small team of developers, then all front-end developers and finally the entire technology department. But the problem with that route is that more and more of your time is devoted to managing people, not with doing creative work for the clients, and the creative work is what drives me. I was definitely getting too comfortable, and it was starting to get to me.
Framfab (or LBi Copenhagen, at it had been renamed by then) had been through a challenging couple of years same as everyone else in the industry, but at the beginning of 2010 things had started to turn around with a recent merger with another digital agency in Copenhagen. I’d stuck with the company out of loyalty through the hard times and I felt like I’d played an important part in turning things around. But even though things were moving in the right direction for the company, I didn’t really feel like they were moving in the right direction for me. So that night in early April when I got an IM from an old colleague asking me if I wanted to come to Los Angeles and work, I was very, very intrigued.
The winter 2009/10 was absolutely horrible. It was cold, the streets were frozen and covered with snow for months. In fact it was still snowing in April the first time I had a video chat with the people from the ACNE Production office in LA. And in the background behind these people was a gorgeous blue sky and a palm tree. It’s really hard to compete with that. In fact later when they flew me to Stockholm to talk the ACNE Production people there, the head of ACNE Production listed the weather as three out of five reasons for why the office was in Los Angeles and not New York.
The job was incredibly appealing – from very early on I was given the opportunity to look at some of the work they were doing and some of the clients they were working with, and it all resonated with me. The creative was challenging, it was using technology in new, fascinating ways and the budgets were much bigger than I’d been used to.
So mentally I was very much ready to leave Denmark behind and continue my career far away. But I’m not the only one who gets to decide what happens in my life. I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to my wonderful wife, and when the equation suddenly contains two people instead of one, things get a lot more complicated. It just so happened that the timing was also very good with my wife. Her one year contract was coming to an end and she was ready to move on to the next thing. While I was in early negotiations with ACNE, she had applied for a very interesting position at a hospital in Denmark and she had been interviewed for it just a couple of days before I flew to Stockholm. If she were to get that job, I would put my dreams of moving abroad away for a couple of years and settle with something in Copenhagen. I very clearly remember the point of no return for us: I was in a taxi going back to the airport after the interview when she called me and asked me how my interview had gone. By then I had a lot of experience sitting at the other side of the table when interview promising candidates, so I felt pretty confident in saying that the interview went very well, and that it would probably be a matter of agreeing to the terms of a contract; the job was mine if I wanted it. She fell silent for a few moments and then proceeded to tell me that she’d just gotten a callback from her interview. She’d gotten very good feedback, but had not been offered the position. Another few moments of silence passed by and then I asked her if this was it: Should we go for it? And she said yes.
The next couple of months were challenging, but fun. It’s not exactly easy to get a visa in the US, especially after ACNE’s immigration lawyer found out that I was Danish, not Swedish. This meant that although ACNE wanted to offer me a contract, they couldn’t guarantee that I would get the visa. And even if I could, it would take several months. Obviously I needed time to settle things in Denmark, since moving to another continent isn’t something you just do over the weekend, but the uncertain situation with the visa was tough to deal with. Quitting my job would be risky, since I could potentially be put in a situation where I would be out of a job and out of visa. I also needed letters of recommendation from some of the people I was working with, and that would probably have been an awkward thing to ask for if they didn’t know I was leaving. And since you have to give notice to the end of the following month I decided to risk it and texted my boss early in the morning on the last day of April, saying that I was quitting my job. Even though it was pretty early in the morning she immediately called me. She wasn’t happy that I wanted to go, but it was a great relief to her to learn that I was leaving for another continent and not for a competitor around the corner. In fact she was incredibly supportive having herself spent several years in the US. She even said that she would be willing to cancel my resignation should I find myself without a visa.
From then on it was a matter of getting everything settled in Copenhagen. I obviously had a job in Los Angeles, but we needed to make sure my wife had something to do. The visa we were getting for me wouldn’t allow her to work, but fortunately for us she could study which was a perfect opportunity for us. She is getting a doctoral degree in clinical psychology at an excellent graduate school of psychology and will soon surpass me in level of education. Summer came in May in Copenhagen and it was as beautiful as it had even been. My visa application was well under way, the immigration lawyer had assured me that it would go through and at the end of May we made a public announcement about our decision to go away, followed by a final approval of my visa on June 12.
Time goes by quickly when trying to deal with all the challenges of moving to another continent. But once you’ve made plans for how to deal with them, that day when you’re going away suddenly gets closer and closer. That’s when you start dealing with the heavy burden of leaving the family and the friends you love behind. I had a wonderful summer before leaving my wild youth behind, spending many a long night with good friends drinking beer, going to festivals and concerts, swimming in the canals of Copenhagen and watching the sun rise from the most beautiful locations imaginable. That’s the Copenhagen I want to preserve in my memory when things get a bit rough and even I get a bit homesick.
I have two small nieces from my twin sister that are the most lovely little creatures in the world. When I went away, one of them was just two years old and the other one hadn’t even been born yet. Watching them grow up over Skype is very painful, but at least modern technology gives me the chance to talk to them as well as the rest of the people I left behind. I’m at an age where you don’t really see the passage of time that much in your friends or your siblings but you really see it in their children, and that’s when the big picture really reveals itself which can be horrifying. That’s when you feel like you’re missing out on something. But you can’t have everything in life – at least not at once – and I decided to take the adventurous path when it was presented to me. I don’t want to look back at my life 20 or 30 years from now and regret the missed opportunities, I want to follow my ambition and do amazing work in a place like this. At ACNE Los Angeles I get to do the kind of work I longed to do in Copenhagen and really pursue my creative side. Always with a great idea at the core, always with rock solid creativity and always striving to do the perfect job. Most of the time that means leaving your comfort zone, but I left my comfort zone two years ago in Copenhagen. So the weather is good, the job is good and my wife loves getting her doctorate degree. Four and a half months ago our daughter Europa arrived as a new addition to my family, and with her I have everything I want in my life. For now …