Napoleon Wright II – principal at Pan-II Creative – is a creative character who does a little bit of everything – graphic design, animation, video production, illustration and art direction. Two and a half years ago, he also left his full time job to work for himself, and today he says there is no (realistic) dollar amount that could tempt him to reenter the nine-to-five. During this month’s Homegrown Series, Napoleon shared with us how he decided to go out on his own – and what it’s meant to his work and his life.
It all began with a conversation with his dad – who remarked that the difference between himself and his son was that Napoleon didn’t just get up and go to work; Napoleon would get up, open the curtains, admire the view, then take in the sights, sounds, and sensations of his day, and use those observations as inspiration for his work. He’s clearly not a man meant to be tied to a desk. “I’m a creative,” says Wright. “It’s not my title, it’s who I am as an individual. I see more than just what’s there; I’m fully encompassed in my surroundings and they affect me in ways that they don’t affect others. I wanted to be able to share that with the world.” He didn’t feel as though his current position was allowing him this freedom, so he started planning his escape.
Napoleon said that the biggest factor in his decision to leave the full time workplace was time. He didn’t like that so much of his day wasn’t his anymore – leaving him only 4 or 5 hours to do what he wanted and enjoy time with family & friends. He knew that working for himself would help him achieve maximum work-life balance.
Recognizing that the promise of a paycheck was another thing tying him to his full time job, Napoleon had to redefine his relationship with money. He prioritized, setting aside things that didn’t matter from things that did. By skipping daily lunch outings and budgeting a bit more tightly, Napoleon was able to set aside enough money to last him three months while he organized his new brand.
The first thing he knew he had to do was define his brand. “Logos are like little short stories – you can convey a message in only 2 or 3 seconds,” says Wright. He started with a mark – a stylized mountain landscape meant to connect with anyone, no matter their social, ethnic, or linguistic background. He really identified with the concept of a kaleidoscope – how it can take an ordinary view, and produce beautiful patterns & connections – and used it as inspiration for this logo design.
The name he decided on is Pan-II, a clever play on his name spelled backwards that proved to be more meaningful the more he thought about it – touching on things like panning in video and music, then from the ‘II’, the idea of collaboration and multi-faceted design solutions.
The next step was to reintroduce himself to his professional network – previous colleagues, clients, and businesses he admired – using his new identity. He built a website for himself using Squarespace – which allows folks with little to no html experience to create beautiful portfolio websites. He also used one of his favorite creative outlets – Instagram – as an immersive, constantly changing background for his website, introducing site visitors to his world and his vision.
Before long, he was receiving callbacks and invitations to work on projects under his new name. Through mostly word of mouth, he’s been able to take on meaningful work that not only pays the bills, but supports causes he believes in. Here’s just a sample:
Wolf Alert was a project through NC State University to create a short video informing the student population about the University’s campus safety alert system.
For New Mind, Napoleon created a short film to be used to educate potential Chinese transfer students about what they could expect when coming into the United States and learning to navigate a new culture.
Optimism Matters asked Napoleon to create a short animation explaining their mission to help bring better work/life balance to employees in organizations of all sizes.
He partnered with New Kind in Raleigh to create a PSA informing voters about the adverse affects that would be caused by the passing of North Carolina’s controversial Amendment One.
In short, making this leap has allowed Napoleon to pursue projects he’s interested in, support organizations he believes in, and ultimately have more control over his creative output. In his words, “it was never about getting paid, but about being able to saturate the world with my creativity.” He’s even been able to devote time to some of his other passions – music and dance.
When asked, Napoleon says one of the few things he missed about the nine-to-five are the friendships and camaraderie between colleagues – but he also says there isn’t a reasonable dollar amount that could tempt him to go back. “Really, it feels like I don’t have a job – I’m just living and creating. I can charge for it, but it just feels like I’m doing what I want to do and being paid for it.”
Big thanks to Napoleon for sharing your inspiring journey with us.