Sorry but I don’t like your air

I got offered a freelance role recently. Successful agency, a big new business win to work on and, it goes without saying, some financial security.

I turned it down.

I could almost hear the recruiter thinking when I told her my decision, “is she crazy or just plain stupid?” Of course, she was nothing but pure professionalism in her response and I thank her for that.

But it wasn’t a straightforward decision. I’d already decided that I should probably take some time out between jobs to give the old breathers a chance to recover and repair. Besides, I had about a month long backlog of hospital appointments to catch up on (sadly the over-burdened NHS hasn’t quite got around to developing holographic technology to enable virtual appointments yet, but here’s hoping.)

In addition, I had made the hard decision to leave my previous agency to pursue a different kind of planning and transition into the sustainability and charity sector, so to not give that a shot first seemed wrong.

But the most pressing reason – that even common sense and a decent pay cheque couldn’t argue with – was where the agency was. Specifically the air around it. It was in an area of of London known for very poor air quality.

I’ve got my own little mind map of London that doesn’t mark the tourist spots or the best lattes in town (I’d pay good money for that map though) but it does tell me where all the areas of persistently bad air quality are, and I do my best to avoid them for long periods of time.

It sounds a little dramatic I know, the effects of breathing poor air are negligible if your exposure is minimal- for everyone that is, CF or not- but the long term effects are quite another thing.

There are lots of things you can’t put a price on and – it’s taken me a long while to accept it – keeping my lung function as good as it possibly could be, definitely falls somewhere in the ballpark of priceless.

Now if someone could only develop a high fashion face mask that doesn’t make you look like a ninja with a side hustle, that’d be peachy.

 

With every percentage

That scrappy bit of paper above is a list of life ambitions I wrote, aged 18. You can see I didn’t exactly hold back.

That scrappy bit of paper is a list of life ambitions  I wrote, aged 18.  I didn’t exactly hold back. In full it reads:

write at least one novel
have a photographic exhibition
speak 5 languages
save someone’s life
work for UN/NATO
sing in a band
visit over 50 countries
publish a historical/political work

learn a form of martial art.

To complete this grandiose document I then apparently scribbled some train times upside down at the bottom. In a similar vein, I didn’t find this note carefully stored for future reflection but by chance, stuffed in an old folder, when I recently moved house.

A few ambitions have changed in the 10 years since then; I never did apply for that NATO job nor have I seriously picked up a camera since I was 19. Ambitions change as we grow older, sometimes for better sometimes not (although me not singing in a band is almost certainly doing the world a favour). But what really hits me looking back on that list now, is the fact I had no limitations. My 18 year old self saw no reason for me to dream smaller or be cautious.

And why should I have been? At 18 I hadn’t had a single IV admission, I didn’t take any regular nebulisers, I hadn’t developed CF related diabetes, I only took about 10 pills a day. I’d just been prescribed my first inhaler. I was not by any stretch, what you would expect from a young adult with CF. I am proud to have dreamed so big.

The thing is, those big dreams may have evolved but they haven’t gone anywhere. I am loath to accept limitations, and the list I’d write aged 28 is just as ambitious as the old one, Cystic Fibrosis or not. But a little life experience has taught me that achieving every dream takes time and compromise.

A thought popped into my head the other day, and I found myself speculating how much lung function I had permanently lost in the last 3 years due to normal stresses like long hours at work and city air. I settled on 6 percent. Lung function fluctuates naturally, mine has gone up and down by 20% in the last year depending on how well and generally fit I am. But there is something called a baseline measurement in lung function, and CF doctors will use it to assess what your best figure is.

After my morbid moment, I mentally slapped myself and went back to mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed. But navel-gazing Elly had a point, there’s an opportunity cost in everything we do.  We all need a method of measuring how we spend our time – even if spent percentages of lung function is a little niche – how else will we work towards our goals?

I thought about all the hours that made up those three years, some spent in pursuit of goals big and small, others spent happily pursuing no goal at all. I wouldn’t go back and change them; they’ve led to personal and professional achievements I’m proud of. But I do wish I’d spent more of that 6% in pursuit of the things I really measure myself by. The motivations, beliefs and dreams that inspired that little list in an A5 notebook aged 18.

Which is why, 2 weeks ago, I quit my job. I’m spending the next few weeks working on a writing project I’ve been awarded a grant for.  Beyond that I’m looking for a role in a creative agency where I can work on the kind of social change, charity and sustainability projects that get me really excited.

I’d like to make every percentage count.

My seven to eleven

Do you ever have one of those days where it just feels like life is ruled by numbers? For someone with CF, I don’t really take that much medication, but these are some of the numbers CF can add into the day.

7:00 Wake up.

7:15 Shower and do 5 mins of physio.

7:40 2 puffs of 2 different inhalers. Get dressed.

7:59 Take morning medication (3 pills).

8:00 Pack one insulin pen, 20 creon tabs and 2 inhalers into my bag. Leave for work.

9:00 Check my blood sugar levels before brekkie. Good is a result between 4 and 7. I get 10.

9:05 Take 9 units of insulin and tuck into 2 pieces of toast with lashings of peanut butter, to contribute to my daily energy requirement of 3000kcal.

9:06 Take 3 creon tablets to help with the digestion of my food and 3 vitamin tablets.

10:30 Nip to the loo and take a dose of antibiotic inhaler. That’s 2 puffs x 4.

12:00 1x Domperidone before lunch. No, not Dom Perignon, it’s a pill.

13:00 Test blood sugar, it’s a happy 7! Take 8 units of insulin and 3-4 creon tablets. Eat lunch.

16:00 Aim to eat a snack that has a minimum of 200 kcalories. Have a cheeky chocolate bar.

18:00 Take 2 puffs of ventolin inhaler in preparation for running.

18:30 Go to the gym. Run 5k.*

20:00 Test blood sugar. It’s a 7. Take 8 units of insulin and eat dinner with 3 creon tablets.

21:00 Take my nebuliser. Thats 10-15 minutes of inhaling 1-2 drugs in the form of a special vapour that helps open up my airways.

21:55 Take 2 puffs of 1 inhaler.

22:00 Do main physio session. Breathing exercises to clear my lungs for 15 minutes.

22:45 Take antibiotic inhaler. 2 puffs x4.

22:50 Take night time medication. 4 pills.

23:00 Bedtime.

If only I were a numbers person…

*I’ve been off the running for  while, but I’ve just started training for my first 10k, exciting times!

…And another thing from this millennial

Technically, aged 25, I am a millennial. Glossing over the fact that this term throws together millions of young people- at a time in your life where a couple of years, for instance, can make the difference between a near affordable degree and one that will land you with a debt worthy of a small country- does it actually help anyone?

I wrote this two years ago (25 seems like a long time ago) but never posted it. Oops.

I hate that word. Technically, aged 25, I am a millennial. Glossing over the fact that this term throws together millions of young people- at a time in your life where a couple of years, for instance, can make the difference between a near affordable degree and one that will land you with a debt worthy of a small country- does it actually help anyone? Consider that the baby boomer generation is often considered to be from 1946-1964. That groups together roughly 70 million people. If that isn’t reductionist, I don’t know what is. Still, sociologists get a kick out of it so we’ll go along with it for now.

I do identify with some of the challenges of the millennial gen and also recognise some of the criticism of our generation I’ve read in many, many an article.

Yes, we were promised it and yes we do want it better than our parents. It’s a natural thing to assume that each generation will build on the last and there’s no shame in it; that’s progress! Not to mention, a consequence of 30 years of pure, unrestricted good ‘ol capitalism. From birth we have been taught to ask for more, more, more. Still, we also need to adapt and be proactive when times change, right? You’ve got to pay your dues no matter what generation club you’re in.

I  worked hard at uni and I enjoyed my degree in International Relations, but graduating in the heart of the recession with a ‘vanilla’ humanities degree and no concrete idea of how to get my dream job -or even what it was- I wasn’t under any illusions. I made myself readily available and put in hours as a bank teller, marketing assistant, recruitment consultant, etc.

In the last year, armed with those skills and a much better understanding of what I like and don’t like, I’ve searched for the kind of career that I think I’d be good at and that I value.

Here’s the thing. I want to work hard, but I also want to work well. And that’s a sentiment shared by many of my peers. If we’re going to dedicate increasing decades of our lives to businesses, in many cases with long hours and no real ‘off switch’, we want it to matter; to be worthwhile. And I sure as hell don’t want to be clocking extra hours at my desk just because it looks good to do so, when I’m actually too tired to work. Just think what else I could be doing with that time (probably sleeping, no judging).

That’s where my CF comes in. A lot of people with CF are simply too ill to work. Many don’t have the luxury of pursuing a career and have to make choices that healthy people never think about. But I’m not. I am able and I wanted my career to be a priority. Obviously I don’t want that to be at the expense of my health, but it will have an impact. That’s just common sense, workplace stress as a cause of illness is an epidemic already; and it doesn’t discriminate, it affects us all.

I am not a religious person, but I do believe there is a lesson to be found in our challenges. I think a lot about where that lesson might be in my CF. The way I see it, If I’m able to have a career, then I better make it count.

It’s not about trying to get on X Factor or being plucked from obscurity to become an internet celebrity because of that funny thing you can do with your ears, but I think everyone has an achievable dream in life.
What other people choose to do and how they make their living is irrelevant. All that really matters is, that you believe what you’re doing and the time you spend doing it, is worth it.

Oh and if you’re not at the point you want to be yet (like 99.9% of millennials) don’t worry, there’s always wine and cats to make you feel better until then.

 

What’s purpose anyway?

We’ve all read about the girl who has months left to live and is following her bucket list through to completion or the cancer survivor who lives each day as their last. I dont know what its like to truly live day to day, not knowing whether there’s another one, so I won’t pretend I do.
But what if the time limit was 10 or 20 years, not 1 or 2? 10 years is a funny length of time. It’s too long to live as if each day were your last- where your next pay cheque is coming from and what your plans are on Saturday are as much a concern as ever- but it is short enough to want the answers to a lot of questions that you probably wouldn’t be so fussed about if you knew you had 50 years left to figure them out.

Am I doing something important? How do I make the best of what I have? Am I the best I can be? What is my purpose anyway? Will the Star Wars franchise reboot again in another 20 years? All important, difficult questions.

Granted, some of us who are expecting to live for 40 or 50 years will not make it past 10 anyway. The world is always uncertain. But that doesn’t stop us from making assumptions. We work long weeks and have a certain set of priorities because we assume there will be time to re-order those priorities later. There probably is time. I think most people take that chance, it’s the most natural thing to do. I’m not sure I know what ‘live each day like your last’ really means anyway.

I’ve been thinking about ‘our time’ and how we spend it a lot recently. I’ve been wondering what a compromise might look like between thinking you have 10 years left instead of 50.

From the big stuff. Being truthful with yourself about what you really want, and planning bit by bit, (year by year, not decade by decade) how you might make that a reality.

To the smaller things. Not turning down friends for a drink because you’re tired and have somewhere on Netflix to be. And at times, realising that time alone is exactly what you want and not being afraid to have that, either. Not looking away when someone is tireder than you and wants a seat on the train. Smiling at more of the many people who pass you by each day, instead of keeping your head down. Speaking to someone who you think has nothing to offer you, just to learn more about their story. Being brave enough to say what you really mean when it matters.

I don’t know what that 10 year compromise looks like yet – to be honest the idea of it scares me silly – but I’m hoping starting with the smaller stuff is how you find it.

The image is the amazing parcel I got sent from work today while I take time off on antibiotic IVs. It really made a difference to my day, thank you. Xximage

Mind the bull: The importance of staying buzzword free in advertising.

Highland_Cattle_4
 

This is an article I wrote for FutureRising: a much needed initiative for those trying to break into the creative industries. Complete with a fantastic hub of advice and inspiration and opportunities to get involved with real industry work (like gold dust for many aspiring creatives out there).

Ah, you’ve landed your first ad job, congratulations! Pull up a chair for a moment; the champagne is on me. My first “real” job after graduating a couple of years ago wasn’t in advertising (I graduated mid-recession and was pretty chuffed to find any job which paid real money and didn’t expect me to relinquish any vital organs to the black market).

It was just a bog-standard office job, but I remember being enormously relieved on getting it as it seemed a blessing to get any job in that climate.
In the competitive world of advertising, that relief is only amplified. The going is tough. Many just starting out will be familiar with the grad gauntlet: the written application obstacle course, the interviews masquerading as Mastermind Hot Seats, and finally, the job. If only, on landing that job, you actually knew what you were supposed to be doing, everything would be just peachy.

Perhaps you just need to learn how to talk the talk, right? Well, not quite. It’s tempting to join in with the language you hear around you, even when you don’t fully understand it. Don’t. It’s likely you’re not the only one who isn’t really sure what’s going on, others may just be better at disguising it. Being new at a job means exactly that; you’re not expected to know what’s going on, just to be keen, listen and learn.

Yes, it’s a fast-paced industry, but if you don’t understand what someone has said to you that’s as much their responsibility as yours. Be sure to research what you’re not sure of, but it’s equally important to go back and talk to that person and make sure there isn’t a misunderstanding; even at the risk of looking stupid. You’ll probably save yourself a lot of time later.

There’s a subtle but crucial difference between industry specific keywords and shorthand which, with the assumption that everyone is up on the lingo, speeds up a conversation and buzzwords. Marketing loves its buzzwords; words that don’t really have a meaning, in fact they more often obscure meaning than aid understanding. Don’t get me wrong, you still need to know this stuff, but even better, know when not to use it.

What you say is important, but how you say it even more so. After all, advertising is all about persuasion and your choice of words in the workplace is vital. Not only is a lot of “marketing speak” lazy communication, it takes us further away from the very people we’re being paid to talk to.

David Ogilvy says it better than me: “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language.” That’s a lot harder to do when you spend your work hours communicating in “Advanced Marketing”.

Don’t forget that every single one of us is “the consumer” and we all deserve clear communication. As part of a generation that has been immersed in constant, pervasive advertising since we were born, we know this. We’ve learnt to be very cynical. We can spot an insincere product claim from a mile off. Despite that, they’re still endemic. Yet it can be strangely easy to forget all this when you have your “work head” on. You may find yourself saying things or suggesting ideas that you never would outside the office, I know I have. It’s because at work you are, by definition, isolated from the “real world”.

Obama’s old speech-writer, David Lovett, wrote brilliantly about this in “the culture of bullshit” (please take time to read the full article if you haven’t already): “[it] infects every facet of public life, corrupting our discourse, wrecking our trust in major institutions, lowering our standards for the truth and making it harder to achieve anything.”

Communication is the lifeblood of advertising. We shouldn’t just talk the talk.

August is pretty chilly anyway…

Cystic-Fibrosis-cutting-lives-in-hal_460

Last night I was nominated for the ice bucket challenge by a very good friend. Well, apologies to anyone who was eager to catch a flash of my pasty white middle (but really, why?!) in the course of having cold water splashed over it, but it’s not gonna happen.

First I should say that- unlike some others- I don’t object to this style of fundraising. Mostly because it’s extraordinarily effective; as we’ve probably all read, donations to ALS and its British counterpart are up dramatically from last year. It’s a fundraising icy wet dream (sorry).

There is the water wastage, yes, but which of us didn’t spend their childhood running around with super soakers and paddling pools? At least this benefits others.  The fact that most participants had no idea what ALS was previously- myself included- really doesn’t matter; they do now (yay) and their motivations beyond that don’t really bother me- it worked didn’t it?  Surely,  the ends justify the means.

This, and the #nomakeupselfie for breast cancer, have tapped into the social zeitgeist like never before and are bringing a new level of mass participation to charity fundraising. The opportunities for other charities are huge (before we all get immune to this new style of fundraising too, of course. But maybe I can dream, maybe we won’t).

Frankly, I think the majority of charity advertising and campaigning methods are in dire need of a kick up the arse, and this just might be the start of it. As much as we may wish it, a good cause doesn’t determine results on its own, not anymore.  There’s too much competition for attention and resources, and often, desensitization to the subject matter through media.

But here’s no denying, the ALS challenge has been pretty rough around the edges. Ultimately, I’ve made the decision not to give my money to the ALS  association because I’m not convinced they’re using funds effectively and I object to their research methods. That’s just my decision.

The spontaenous charity giving though, is something I definitely want to get on board with. This morning I donated to the CF Trust– the UK’s charity for Cystic Fibrosis which is a life-threatening genetic condition, primarily affecting the lungs and digestive system. I also just happen to have it.

By the by, I’m not just donating to the CF Trust because I have CF. I’ve donated to several charities recently (most recently the PSC) but it occurred to me that I’ve never actually made a donation to the CF Trust. Now seemed like a pretty good time. They tirelessly campaign on behalf of people like myself and play a large part in fundraising for that ever elusive (and extremely expensive) gene therapy cure for Cystic Fibrosis.

For those wanting to know, CF affects a similar number of people in the developed world to ALS (around 30,000 in the US). The developing world is a different matter as some genetic groups aren’t affected by it and also because most children born with it would be dead by the age of 10 without the advanced medical care I’m privileged enough to get in the UK.

Happy giving everyone, whatever your cause.