A career – is it everything?
A career has always been important to me. But when I made it everything, I ended up with no focus on myself. What I created in my head was a prison of success where everything was measured by other people’s level of recognition.
Advertising was always an attractive career for me. I saw the perks of free flowing creative folk who floated in at whatever o’clock, came up with ideas and got paid well for it. Mix that with award shows and parties and you have a pretty comfortable setup.
So getting into the industry was a no brainer and it could give me the high profile role I’d been craving – not like those office jobs, but an agency job – an adult fun park. What better place to fulfil my dream than vibrant London – where drugs were cheap, the bar was stocked and there was always someone working late with you wanting to have a glass of wine whilst ‘working'.
Although socialising was a way to affirm my fun-loving bubbly personality, I was also a hard worker, so no matter how hung over or tired I was, each day presented an opportunity to prove my worth and take control of things. I was a very good ‘doer’ and would obey any instruction.
But I wasn’t very good at speaking up or telling people what to do with a sense of authority, so often wires were crossed, communication was poor, and I’d be left trying to please everyone to make things better. This whole process was exhausting.
I felt unworthy, guilty, and a failure who would work harder and more hours the next time around.
I was also caught up in everything going on around me, so I was terrible at remembering things – especially names. I’d walk into client meetings and forget who was who. Of course I’d wing it, but the anxiety that raced through my body for not remembering one word was pretty awful.
Needless to say – standing up and presenting to people was terrifying – and that was a big part of my job. I’d be sweating, pacing, unsure of myself and convinced I’d stuff it up. Although I would scrape by, the tension within me never left. I felt like a bit of an actress – putting on a happy face as part of an act, when underneath I carried that horrid feeling that everyone is relying on you to make magic happen and do it all perfectly.
To the outsider you could say I was in a top job at a top agency, working on international accounts and paving the way in enticing people to buy things. But at a time when exciting changes were sweeping the industry, I could hardly keep my eyes open. I was just so depleted and exhausted that I would regularly nod off during important presentations.
Have you ever experienced severe jet lag when the eyes close and the head jerks forward uncontrollably? Well it happened to me, day in and day out.
I got myself into the mess of exhaustion at work, relief through alcohol, drugs and food, redemption through exercise and a growing amount of debt that I was not prepared to own up to.
I had been told that I was responsible for my health and wellbeing, and no boss would ever be able to help with that. A high-flying corporate company is not concerned about what you eat at night or how well you sleep; it's concerned about turnover and staff productivity. We get paid to work, not to take care of ourselves. But I didn’t want to hear that, because it meant I couldn’t blame work for the mess I was in and the choices I was making.
Fortunately, I’m surrounded by friends and family who have their ‘stuff’ together. They are true to themselves, consistent in how they treat others, and hugely supportive to everyone they know. Of course I was stubborn and didn’t want a piece of it, so I’d take on bits of their advice about slowing down or going to bed earlier – but there was no commitment.
Then I met a man. And he was fabulous.
I don’t think I’d ever seen someone so gentle and tender and at ease with their body. The way he moved, the way he lifted things or cooked dinner and even the pace he walked at was calm – almost still.
Of course I teased him for being like a woman and super sensitive, but really, this man was a reflection for me to see just how far I was from accepting that I am a delicate woman.
Because I fancied this guy, I hung round him quite a bit and just observed how he was in his body. It gave me a stop moment to be aware of how my body felt when I stomped around or went to bed late or pushed myself at the gym. And because I was paying attention, my body started talking to me.
Have you ever had that feeling when exercising that you just can’t do another rep, but you push through anyway just to say you finished? Well everything sort of started to feel that way ...
I was being asked to question how I was living, in a big way.
To be honest, it sucked at first. I’d been able to get away with a ton of stuff up until that point, and all of a sudden was torn between my body saying "no" to the old ways, and my head saying "but I did this before no problem." It felt pretty crap, and I was persistent in trying to ignore my body and be irresponsible.
But there are only so many times you can get the same message.
So my life changed – not just my career, but my whole entire life. And I just went with it. I got my head out of the way and I let it happen.
What I came to realise was changing my ways in advertising was difficult. I felt torn between pleasing people at work and pleasing my family – but I wasn’t listening to me. I was too proud to walk away from a glamorous job. It took a lot to break that. And only when I left was I able to see how much I’d been fighting with myself about wearing multiple hats.
Today I am no longer working in the agency I was in, or even in London. I have moved to the country. I have naps at lunchtime, and I work with my now-husband in our company. I’m still doing all the marketing – and I even work with my wider family, but the way I work is lifetimes from how I used to be.
Looking back, if I had stayed where I was and kept ignoring my body, I’d be tired, competing for a promotion, which means more time and more pressure, and eventually I would have had to leave London due to financial difficulty or exhaustion. There is no question about it.
I can say neither of those things affects me today – because the way I work is by listening to my body first. That means I speak up when I feel something needs to be said; when I present I do so based on what is needed to be shared and not the script I wrote to get an applause. I don’t allow reaction, stress or pressure to overwhelm me, and I have an amazing relationship working with my husband which is completely honest and transparent about what is needed and where the business is going.
A career to me is no longer everything – it is a part of who I am and sure, it’s important, but it flourishes as I flourish.
The fact is all parts of my life are equally important. Nothing is separate. This has come about because I have listened to my body.