Claire Thompson, freelance PR consultant, January 2012
So, hot on the heels of my year’s first blog, this is 2012 blog two.
In all honesty it should have been written last year, but firstly I needed to think carefully before I wrote it – it’s touched a nerve or two. And secondly, but not unrelated, I took some time off over the Christmas period to be with my family.
You see, towards the end of last year I noticed I was choking more than usual. Things came to a crunch at a client event, a wine tasting in Oxford, when I took a sip of wine and found myself attracting attention for the ensuing choking, only just managing to hold down the delicious tapas I’d just eaten.
I was convinced it wasn’t throat cancer, having seen a close friend go through that illness, and how quickly it takes hold and worsens. Whatever was wrong had been coming on over the course of months, maybe longer. But the doctor took it seriously and booked me for some tests.
It’s funny how, faced with the possibility of something that big you get a degree of clarity about what’s important in your life (and as a friend is going through something major right now, life felt a little gloomy). Funnily enough I had a lot of people I wanted to say sorry to and wanted to go back and explain some things. (I didn’t, but still might!)
But partly because of the spectre of being ill, partly because visiting doctors and hospitals ate into my work time, I had to decide where I wanted to spend time.
So immediately after December’s TVSMC (Thames Valley Social Media Café), I headed off for a barium meal at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.
It had been odd looking at the people at TVSMC and thinking “If I was seriously ill and couldn’t come back, what would I miss?” And the answer was clear: wonderful, clever, sharing people who I aspire to be like, and whose greater qualities I hope will rub off, from the uber organised Caalie (who juggles managing two great little startups and four great little (and not so little) offspring, and still manages a social life and sanity) to the uber clever Dan Benton, whose enthusiasm makes the interplay between the physical and virtual worlds fun (from flinging wet sponges at a target – in this case me, for Twestival – when someone tweets to delivering biscuits around the office in a tweeting train), and all the people in between that I’m not going to mention in case I forget someone, from academics to politicians! (Please don’t be cross with me for mentioning/not mentioning you here, guys, if you’re reading this.)
At the hospital, the barium meal I’d dreaded was nowhere near as bad as I’d imagined, and the consultant was lovely as he broke the news…. no, there was no cancer there. Apparently this is true in 95% of cases.
But what was there is something that I have decided, after much prevarication, to share as a lesson to others, not for sympathy as it it really doesn’t merit, but all will become clear. Where I spend so much time curled over a laptop instead of a well placed, ergonomically aligned computer, writing press releases, articles, plans and reports, my spine has suffered and consequently the misaligned bones are protruding as lumps into my food pipe.
Now I know what the problem is, it’s up to me to do something about it, but for all those of us hunched over laptops or spending long hours at a computer – journalists, SEOs, PR folk who don’t yet have a problem, or have one brewing that, like me, they know nothing about – this is my rather pathetic attempt at a New Year’s Gift. It’s easy to think ‘it won’t happen to me’. My spine won’t get crooked. But it can. It will. And when it does it doesn’t stop you working – it just creates discomfort for you and for those around you. And embarrassing moments.
But what might it mean in the future? A dowagers hump or immobility? Who knows, but avoiding it by taking regular breaks for chats, gentle exercise and coffee is enjoyable as well as being necessary. (Oh how I laughed in the face of all of those health and safety recommendations I spent hours poring over as an agency head, grudgingly implementing them. Now they can laugh back at me!)
Moreover, being faced with the spectre of cancer made me re-evaluate. I looked at the amount of time I’ve been spending on voluntary (unpaid) projects and who they benefit. And how much extra time I’ve put in on client work because I enjoy it, without considering the cost to me or my family.
This year I shall only spend time doing things I really want to do. With people I really want to do them with. I’m lucky in that many of the people I work with are people that I would choose to work with anyway (one of the advantages of freelancing, of course.) But the big burning ‘for me’ project at the bottom of my to do list is coming right up front. Today. And I shall have some fun with my two still relatively young children, while they still want to spend time with me.
So expect me to say no to a lot this year. You’re competing for my time and attention with the two most important people in my life. To put this in perspective, not even a Lottery win would make me want to give up a minute of my time with them. And there are others in my life, of course, who come nearly as close.
That doesn’t mean work comes second. Oh no! My work is what provides for us all. But I plan to be fussy – very, very fussy – about what I do, weighing up every moment against what I could be doing instead. And to hold others to account – so that I can do the things I want to – and have committed to – do.
Right now, I feel like the luckiest woman alive, with great friends, a great way of life, great work colleagues and clients, and a fantastic family. If you ever hear me moaning about them, kick me and remind me. It may not look like much from the outside, but I sure as hell value it more than ever before.
That’s not me showing off. I hope others may also want to take a look at what they value and what they’d be leaving behind if someone said ‘you’ve got two weeks left’ (as well as sorting out their ergonomics, of course!) I took time off for the first time ever this Christmas. A long break, just like the ones that people who work in big companies take. And I’ve come back raring to go.
So I’ve written this rather drawn out spiel in the hope that this will inspire others, particularly those with their own companies and freelancers, to make a resolution: to build some away-from-the-computer fun into every day. We’re bad at it because we fear the consequence of not being there when the business calls come. But if we don’t take the time, we’re not only selling ourselves short, but those around us, storing up invisible problems until they hit us between the eyes.
Who wants their epitaph to be: ‘Wasn’t she the hunched up figure surgically joined to the computer?’ Not me!
I’m glad I had a false alarm. Happy New Year.