Advertising, heart attacks & motorcycles
Time & stress management methods that came at a cost.
I think it’s important to set this up with a bit of background. Stick with it. It gets there…
If the weight carried on your shoulders is too heavy to ride a motorcycle, then shed some of that weight — Don’t buy a bigger bag.
…Everyone has a life, and everyone has a release from that life. It’s important to understand how different those lives are and that each individual has ups, downs and triggers that affect their everyday. For people like me working in a media industry, that life usually runs at a faster pace than we might like and those high pressure jobs will usually hold no regard for your personal life. Last minute presentations that keep you in the office until 2am, and the continual delivery of below-average pizza that higher-ups seem to deem adequate payment in return for your ruined evening plans or messed up sleeping patterns. (Unfortunately, I’ve also been the culprit here more times than I’d like to admit.)
But when we’re lucky, these experiences are few and far between and Hollywood’s depiction of the airy-fairy life of a Creative steps in to give you a breather before the next storm hits.
The fact that this has become an acceptable trait of the corporate world is a flaw in itself, but the reality is that anyone that works in an industry that services clients is always going to be at the mercy of a greater business goal that is usually out of their control and more often than not doesn’t offer opportunity to benefit them personally. (I wish I read Ben Hartley’s Tip #6 when I was starting out.)
Running. For me, that has been the day-to-day reality for almost a decade. Sometimes physically, but more-so in a mental space. The constant over-clocking of brain power, a trained monkey with an expectancy of to ‘perform’ on demand and in return an often received level of gratitude comparable to the enthusiasm of thanking your dentist.
Between London and my current location, Denmark, I spent 4 years in Sydney. Whilst arguably the best career move I’ve made so far, it also came with it’s share of lows and lessons along the way.
I’d left an entry level advertising designer role in London at one of the worlds best agencies, for a small independent in Sydney to work with someone I barely knew on the promise of good mentorship, and a more senior role with client and team management experiences. It was great for the most part… My mentor and colleague was excellent and in just 18 months I was leading the majority of the Digital Creative for Toyota and a few other key clients for Australia & New Zealand. It’s safe to say that by this point, I was hooked…
Hooked on the buzz of pitching, hooked on the winning and hooked on the idea that I was climbing the corporate ladder at a faster rate than I ever thought I would.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t realised that this level of sustained commitment and fixation also comes at the expense of sleep, exercise and a decent diet, and after a few years I found this out the hard way.
We were a few days away from a project go-live and with a big deadline looming and a client that couldn’t make a decision on anything, it had fallen on my shoulders to handle the remaining production. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong, had gone wrong… Clients bringing the wrong product to a shoot leading to mass retouching, global brand managers denying concepts after local approval, other agencies ‘losing’ files and needing more time to complete their end of the deal – all the while, our deadline remaining the same.
After a particularly stressful morning I decided to take an early lunch and walk to a nearby shopping centre to decompress (burritos help). Sydney is a funny one, it doesn’t matter how bad anything seems, the sun and the happy-go-lucky spirit everyone has always seem to bring a calm to even the stormiest of seas, but on this day I couldn’t seem to switch off.
Rounding the corner into the shopping centre I was thinking about a meeting that was taking place in 5 days time where we would present a status of the project, and working out how we’d produce a two weeks worth of work in that timeframe. I stepped onto the escalator towards the culinary heaven that is MadMex when all of a sudden an elephant sat on my chest.
I couldn’t breathe. Everything went numb…
25 years of age, and there I was, blacked-out and riding up an escalator face down. I’ve always found the idea of that visual pretty funny in hindsight.
A short trip under blue lights and a sympathetic, but lovely Asian dude with a stethoscope could tell me that I’d just had my first heart-attack.
I told no one and five days later I was giving the presentation.
I never did get that burrito.
A couple of weeks had passed, projects were live and I was finally beginning to get some real perspective on what had happened. I told my boss, a few friends and then later, my family, immediately knowing I needed to make some real changes and begin to create that all elusive ‘work-life balance’ that we hear so much about.
The first step, in my mind at least, was to create some physical distance between myself and my work. Sydney’s public transport is great, but I wanted a little more flexibility and freedom so I turned to motorcycles.
I purchased a tent with all the camping essentials and began planning a schedule that I would stick to, one that controlled my work life in a way that allowed me to work hard and be effective, whilst introducing hard ground rules on personal working hours and connection to technologies.
I made a chart. I like charts.
It’s fairly simple, and probably obvious to most people. But for me, where this chart would have previously all been filled out in red, it was a good way to set mental time-boxes in place.
I can’t stress how much this helped, in fact. I used to find it extremely difficult to relax, but knowing that there was a firm structure in place allowed me to switch off properly during my ‘personal time’ slots, making me more productive and efficient in my working periods.
The most important thing that I’ve learned is that time-spent, doesn’t necessarily translate in to work-completed, and that productivity doesn’t equal creativity.
There’s the overly used phrase “four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul” — and this can be joked about for the cliché visual that comes along with it, but I believe there to be some truth in there somewhere.
I’m not suggesting for one second that a motorcycle is the solution for everyone’s mental freedom. Sure, it’s been really, really, really, widely documented that it boosts endorphins, focus and happiness, but for me it began as merely a vehicle to carry me towards secluded nature.
On Friday’s, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone, I plot a random spot on the map and head out just before the weekend traffic, returning on Sunday afternoon. Sometimes as often as 3 times a month at the start.
Having this cut off from everything is something I find extremely powerful. Literally switching off from the connected world, being alone with my thoughts, friends and surroundings not only gives me a lot of perspective on the stressful topics from the previous week, but allows me to compartmentalise the upcoming one.
Things are much different for me now and looking back on this period from 4 years ago seems insane, like looking through a window into someone else’s life, wondering what makes them live their life like that. My grasp of how to keep adequate balance is much firmer and my perspective towards my work like is far healthier. This in turn has translated into working much more efficiently and effectively.
“So, what’s the point of sharing this story then?”
Well, honestly if just one young, up-and-coming graduate reads it, goes into their respective industry with a better view of time and mental management and doesn’t end up face down on an escalator, then I think it’s a story worth sharing.