Dave Buonaguidi in the studio standing over his screen printing frames.

What it’s like to quit the rat race and follow your dreams

thinking & thriving
With Dave Buonaguidi, AKA Real Hackney Dave


Want to quit your job? Discover why artist Dave Buonaguidi loved leaving the rat race.

Changing your life and changing your future

When you’re 30 odd years into your career and feel like you’re on a conveyor belt to nowhere, without passion or purpose, it’s time to get off — however hard. And no one knows this better than artist Dave Buonaguidi. Before his current career, he was at the top of his field in advertising. He had an impressive CV including founding the world’s first advertising co-operative, St Luke’s, working as Creative Director at Channel 4, founding top advertising agency Karmarama and even having his work hung in the V&A.

On turning 50, Dave had an epiphany. When talking on Holly's Conversations of Inspiration podcast episode about quitting the rat race, he said, “I thought I had about thirty summers left in this world and I wanted to use my time wisely doing what I love… I soon realised that the agencies I was setting up were becoming exactly what I had worked so hard to avoid. I wasn’t interested in the awards or big dinners, I hated it all.”

It’s no secret Dave became disenchanted. He wrote a book about his exploits in advertising called 'Blah, Blah, Blah' that he says was a message to himself to get out of the business. When he was falling apart and making the same mistakes, he thought, “Why am I still banging my head against the wall doing the same thing hoping for a different result?” So he left, and founded a start-up.

Finding your own path to happiness

Like many of us, Dave had so many ideas swimming around his head, so he set upon learning a new skill and undertook a screenprinting course, which in turn gave him the freedom to finally find an output for all his creativity.

How to quit your job: nothing feels better than creative freedom

Dave set himself the task of becoming an artist at home at weekends whilst working in advertising in the week. It wasn’t about the extra money he was making from selling his pieces that made him happy. It was the fact he was finally following his passion and making things for fun. Dave explains, “I was going through a separation from my wife at the time, so I’d hide out at my studio. It wasn’t difficult to work weekends, mornings and evenings because my kids were at the age where they wanted to be out socialising. I was just their bank and taxi driver anyway.” So this work became a welcome distraction.

Dave Buonaguidi print on a dollar bill saying 'Do What You Love & The Money Will Follow'
Dave Buonaguidi yellow and pink print saying 'You Are The Tits'

Mid-life crisis or just mid-life?

“It was an interesting transition from being in my early 50s and running out of options. I know it was driven by a midlife crisis but I was in a horrendous marriage, a horrendous job, and I thought ‘I can choose what I do. I’ve dedicated 35 years to business, I’m running out of time…' So I left my wife and made sure every single day I did something that made me feel good.” Dave didn’t want to look back and think he could have done so much more. He knew he liked to travel and that he didn’t like to socialise. He just wanted to make stuff. So he did. And you could too…

Reasons to start a business when you are over 50

After looking at his finances, Dave realised that he was making more money working weekends than he was at his five-day-a-week job, and having way more fun and less stress too. One day he decided he wanted to get out of it altogether and just focus on what makes him tick. “I just got sick of it. When you’re over 50 in any corporate business, you’re a dead man walking. I knew I was a target because I was earning big money and people thought, ‘Why have someone on £100k a year when we could hire six people on £15k a year?’ Even in my own business people were trying to get rid of me when I’d employed them and made them a partner. They’re all wankers!”

How to escape the rat race

Dave’s motto was about ‘doing good and only working with good people’ after meeting so many ‘vile’ people in advertising. He said, “I got the bug to do start-ups because I loved the urgency, the craziness and the hours that came with making everything happen — and that when you worked hard, you were honoured for it.” And he is living proof that even when you feel lost, you can find your way to true happiness and turn it into one of the most liberating, empowering decisions of your life.

Dave admits he learnt a lot in that world. “It won’t be a surprise to anyone but when you’re nice, hardworking and enthusiastic, people want to work with you.” When Dave worked in big agencies, he described his colleagues as ‘lazy and obnoxious’ so when he took his small agency positivity into those environments, he found that everyone wanted a piece of him, “Suddenly everybody wanted to work with me, it’s infectious and your work only gets better.”

Get ready to do what you love: find your purpose and live the Good Life

Dave asked some galleries what art was selling during that time and set himself up to make art around maps, animals and pineapples. He said, “I’m happier than ever, I live on my own, I work on my own in my own studio, I’m safe, I express myself and I can be creative without having to worry about what people around me are going to do to me.”

The perks of running your own business

Although Dave loves his new ‘Good Life’, he does miss working with good people. “I get those horrendous moments of imposter syndrome where I can’t come up with any good ideas because I don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off, but I trust my judgement a lot more now. It’s not been easy but I’m living my absolute best life, earning a living and making people happy. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Here’s how to find what you love

So how can you do the same? How to find what you love? Dave said, “Once I realised that being an artist and screenprinting was the only thing I wanted to do in the whole world, I became obsessed with it. I was in my 50s without a clue how to sell or make work, but now I’m in my studio seven days a week and having a laugh. I ride my motorbike in and get to do stuff I enjoy!”

What’s your passion? Whatever it is, make every day count. Dave said, “Every day feels like I’m on holiday now and I feel almost guilty because it’s so liberating. It feels like I’ve been released from prison because I’m finally free to do what I want to do. It’s hard to be lazy when you’re running out of time.” Also, trust your instincts and be brave. “When you’re in a bad relationship, an alarm bell will ring and tell you it’s wrong. The same goes for work, but because you need money you live with it and then block it out with drugs or alcohol at the weekends. Listen to that inner voice and act on it. You have the ability to make the right decisions for you and I wish you all the luck.”

As Holly always says, “There is no perfect time to start a business” if that’s what you choose to do. So if you want to make the most of the years you have left, maybe now is as good a time as any to find out how.

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