Live to die another day

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They say moving house is the second most stressful experience in life, right after the death of a loved one. Being in the middle of a move right now I can relate. I haven’t seen the official Most Stressful Life Experiences list, but if you ask me ‘work’ cannot possibly be on there anywhere near ‘moving’. And yet when you look around your office right now, I guarantee you can see at least one empty desk where a colleague used to sit, who’s been home for months mumbling haiku poems and knitting sweaters just to make it through the day.

Now if we were air traffic controllers or dentists – the two professions with the highest stress – and therefore suicide rate (the air traffic controller I get, the dentist not so much) – we might have a reason to lose a few hours of sleep over our jobs. But we’re in advertising, a profession that should not be on the distressing end of the professional scale like being the frontman of a bomb squad should. In fact, there was a time when people wouldn’t even call what we do work at all. Had I written this post in the eighties, I’d be writing it from the agency’s beach house on Barbados, being massaged by the bikini models I cast for a shoot because that dishwashing liquid commercial couldn’t possibly do without scantily clad girls frolicking in the shore break of a palm lined beach. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be writing about this subject at all, because my biggest worry would be which five-star resort to stay at during my next shoot on Mauritius. Sadly though, I’ve missed out on the golden age of advertising. Today, all work and no play seems to be the industry’s motto and people burn up like meteorites in the night sky left and right. When you find yourself writing emails at 0400 in the morning just to be able to go back to sleep, you know you have to start being a little careful. Believe me, I’ve been there. But now I’ve found the solution. Just flick the switch and stop worrying.

I know this sounds way too easy to actually work, but it does – at least for me. Accept that you won’t be able to finish everything today and realise the world will not come to a grinding halt if you don’t. I’m by no means selling the concept here that everything is relative and that when compared to helping refugees in Greece, what we do doesn’t matter (which it doesn’t), but I do think it’s crucial to place things in perspective. For most of us, a mistake on the job won’t result in a 747 carrying 350 passengers colliding with a cargo plane in mid air. If you are in fact an air traffic controller, this column doesn’t apply to you and I wonder how you sleep at night at all. But for the rest of us – relax, it’s just work. This doesn’t mean you should be indifferent about your job though. Care about it, be your best at it, just don’t be consumed by it. Work to live, not the other way around. Life is simply too great to spend it worrying and not enjoying all the goods it has to offer.

And if you ever find yourself on the verge of hurling your phone against the office wall every time it rings, just remember whatever it is you think you’re stressed about cannot possibly be more upsetting than trying to explain that a permit is not a Muppet frog to builders who seem to speak every language in the world but yours.

* Written for Amsterdam Ad Blog

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