Reading & running for a clear head

How often do you take time out? Not enough I’m sure. I’m fascinated in how people moderate their work/life balance; in how they take time out.

I’m fascinated because I struggle with the time out concept. My suburban commuting lifestyle is not one that I had planned, but it works – as long as I have that vital time off. As long as I somehow get the headspace to recover. I used to read to do this. I love magazines, I love reading and I love writing; I spend hours reading and tweeting and liking and sharing. But I realised that I never really switched off.  Luckily, I took up sport.

I recently took up triathlon. It was in no way related to my desire for headspace – simply the desire to win a dare. Yet I, couch potato, became a novice triathlete. I feel I must caveat the couch potato statement with the fact that I do have three children – a mother rarely sits down. We swim, we cycle, we do that stuff. But it’s fair to say my predilection for an ‘80s rom-com and glass of wine far outweighed any desire to hit the gym, or pound the streets in lycra after a day at work. But a challenge had been set and it was time to put down the reading matter and head for the fresh air.

Hundreds of miles and hours later, I now realise that the only time I genuinely switch off is when out training. I had no idea that my head would feel so clear, when all I can do is concentrate on breathing in and on breathing out. What a pleasure this is to turn my brain off and to simply exist as a human, concentrating on breathing, on moving forward – whether it be running, swimming or cycling.

Yet as my interests moved to triathlon I kept finding myself reading blog feeds and newsletters. The more kit I bought, the more I read – content marketing at its best. I subscribed to Triathlon Plus and Cyclist magazine. This is how content marketing works – following consumer habits. This is also – thankfully – why I have a job.  But, ah, yes, here we are again, back to the job. What ever happened to me broadening my horizons? Will I ever think outside of the (digital) box? Will I constantly be directed towards things that I know, or that Google thinks I might like? Where will I stumble across the new?

I was pleased to discover one such way, after subscribing to Stack Magazines. Every month I receive a fabulous, high quality, magazine that I would have certainly never come across without Stack. Gourmet magazines, film magazines, specialised travel tomes. All interesting and all allow me to switch off my brain again. Each magazine is crammed with content, creatively fascinating and offers a paperback glimpse of another culture, life or opinion. My mind starts to wander and wonder… about the writers, the crowd-funding, of a pricey emboss on the cover. Ooh… A lovely die cut page. And inside! Where was this printed?

Perhaps you never really switch off. Maybe it just is not possible. Is that why I still smell the print and check the paper stock with every magazine or catalogue that I touch? Am I forever destined to pour over the masthead detail and review the ad quality? Online, will I permanently click the read more, related articles and more like this links? Perhaps I will. Perhaps I cannot stop. Perhaps I should go for another run.

The art of self esteem; do what makes you happy.

Do you ever get that strange set of mixed emotions at a high profile conference, where you are listening to industry experts when your mind starts to wander… and you start to think about how you know much of this stuff? When you start to think, yes, well, that is exactly right, but I think I knew that already. They know their stuff; but so do you. Conferences generally have a broad mix of speakers, but specialist conferences less so. Speakers aim for the coveted, never mentioned, ‘best speaker’ position. They speak calmly, the odd light joke, don’t give too much away, adopt the professional approach. I find myself drawn to the witty, amusing, slightly whacky speakers. The flip chart scribblers; the stage marchers, with no notes; the mad passionate arm wavers; the ran-over-but-just-kept-on-going speakers! They are (usually) the pros that know this stuff inside out and have no risk aversion strategy in place. They don’t need to protect their intellectual property, or their tricks of the trade. They are the trade. They live and breathe their industry, and their enthusiasm carries you along until you start to believe that you can do anything – that you, too, are capable and driven and you can make a difference. Passion for their work and a real knowledge of their trade gives these people the confidence to stand up and share freely. They love what they do and you can see it. This is why. They embody this quote:

The art of self esteem; do what makes you happy.

I read this quite today on Twitter and it really struck a chord. Because today I did what I love and what makes me happy; I spent the day at a conference entirely dedicated to content. A whole day of talking about magazines and web content and digital content and the difference, the similarities, the words, the micro the big picture. All of it. I considered the erudite, inspirational ones, alongside those not quite enjoying the same wave of euphoria. I realised that yes, indeed, I do know this stuff already. Of course I do. I love this stuff already. The confidence boosts arising from a nudge with a colleague, a smile or chuckle with a client all underpin that self esteem. Occasionally immersing yourself fully and wholeheartedly into the middle of your industry, with knowledgeable experts and passionate storytellers, can only remind you that what you are doing is right. And recognising that you do indeed know this stuff already, is both reassuring and liberating.


Natalie Johnson 28/11/2012

What’s in a title?

When people ask me what I do for a living I usually say rather obliquely “Communications” and immediately think, “I hope they don’t think I’m a telephone engineer!” But why do we hang so much on a title?

I exchanged my heady days of transaction and crisis communications for marriage and babies over a decade ago. Perhaps it is that I still hanker for the days (and nights) of playing piggy in the middle to the client, the bankers and the lawyers; or scanning press cuts bleary-eyed at stupid o’clock just to make sure the other side hasn’t got the upper hand in the latest corporate “crisis” to hit my desk. “Hanker,” I hear you ask, “Why would anyone hanker after that?”

So as I turn my hand to copywriting and editing, I still talk of communications and never correct anyone when they introduce me as a writer. Far better a writer than a copywriter. But why?

My colleague Natalie might say it’s because we don’t have any original ideas; or we’re simply putting other people’s expertise down on paper. But surely it is as worthy a skill to be able to draw out and sift through the wealth of information crammed into an expert’s head – and then pass these expertise on in a manner accessible to those of us not prepared to devote our entire lives to the subject?

Imagine if you will, a company that has achieved success, but has yet to establish its brand identity – a subject close to Natalie’s heart. Now gather the top brass from that company in a room and ask them what factors they would put their success down to. Twenty managers, you would probably get 20 answers. Now go away and write a corporate brochure telling the world (yes that’s right, the world) why they should work with this company. Impossible you say? No, that is the job of a copywriter. OK, not every copywriter is the next J K Rowling or E L James. But is the talent behind the title copywriter any less than that behind writer; is the title telecoms engineer any less worthy than communications advisor? Talent and excelling at what you do is what counts.

Lilias Martin 8/10/2012

Corporate life vs quality of life?

Women Unlimited published a thought-provoking blog recently, about why women quit corporate life. Having left corporate life behind, I’m always drawn to new pieces and new studies about why others did it – and what drives people to continue to do so.

Author Wendy Kerr writes that corporate toxic culture is killing the female workforce. Kerr interviewed 300 post-corporate women, finding that toxic culture: politics, backstabbing, time wasting etc to be the main reason for women to quit the corporate life. Whilst it wasn’t the reason I left my job in marketing – that was a small ginger baby, which soon snowballed into another two (one ginger, one blonde), combined with the excruciating cost of childcare and a rather selfish desire to actually see my children grow up – it was certainly the main reason I never went back. And almost eight years on I don’t intend to. The choices that come with being your own boss – for me – cannot compare with that of corporate employment (unless you’ve an amazing company and corporate culture. In which case, please share: I’d love to hear your experience).

Back in April I went to Wales, in the rain, along the longest motorway on earth (possibly) to the Do Lectures held near Cardigan. There I met meadow, barn and tents full of like-minded people, all keen to do things differently, make a difference and be part of something exciting. For some, the corporate culture they inhabit (and position within it) enables them to nurture the difference and do something exciting to foster change. For most poeple, this opportunity is rare. And yet, what is not rare is the desire for change, the willingness to make a difference in the workplace. The desire, too, to simply do the right thing by people, work with communities and support each other. It was a life changing experience – and I urge anyone and everyone to go to the Do Lectures, given the chance.  Read my short list ‘Eleven things I learned at the Do Lectures’ here.

Why relevant? Well, for me – and I’m certain many, many, women – the opportunity to shun the corporate life came after the birth of the first child. We are the lucky ones. There are many in the working world who have no catalyst, no reason to make the change. For some it may be an illness, or another life-changing event. The reason you quit may not be because Jane in Press overuled your content, or Simon in IT never fixed your laptop/BlackBerry/login on time. But once you take the leap of faith and get out, these are the reasons that you don’t want to go back.  And as Kerr reports, once out, most would rather earn less than return to the disingenuous pressure pot of corporate life.

What I find a shame is that sinking feeling that all the like-minded people have left the building. So the corporate change that we seek will take years, if indeed it ever comes, to manifest itself, as the youth of ambition rages on behind us. Until that life changing event takes hold for them and, they too, decide to get out…

Wouldn’t it be great to work with great people, on projects that you really are passionate about? Wouldn’t it be great to work with others who want to work like you do? What you must then do is navigate the myriad of potential routes and options to ensure that you stick to your values, your beliefs and maintain a moral code for yourself. My blog Momentum & Manners touched on my values and the desire to work differently.

And as the days go by and I find articles and reports, such as Toxic Culture, it provides me with just enough belief that we can do something about it. As they say at the Do Lectures: just start doing. What’s your Do?


Natalie Johnson 01/10/2012

Momentum and manners

It has been two weeks since I – and another 100 or so people – went to the Do Lectures in Wales. If you read my last post you will know that this was momentous for many a wrong reason. Mainly rain, fear of rain, fear of the cold – and more rain. But it was also momentous for being, and I kid you not, a life changing experience.

They warned me that it would be. I didn’t believe them. Well, I kind of did, but I’m very busy you know and wasn’t really sure I had the time or the inclination. Turns out I don’t really. But the thing is that now I really, really, want to. I want to have the time to make a change in my life, my children’s life, my husband’s and my friends’ lives. And to Dave’s big society. And this is where it gets tricky. Big change requires a big investment of time and energy. And when the jobs you take to pay the bills become just a tad too all-consuming, they start to nag at your moral code. The code that you weren’t really sure you had but, holy batman, you do now. In spades.

I’ve always been a rebel. Some would say without a cause. My mother for one. Oh and my teachers. My dad definitely. Grandma, rest her soul. My gran! Ah, yes, it is my 85 year old Geordie gran’s fault. She bred rebelliousness into my genes. (I’ll share that another day, it is a good one, I promise). So, I’m finally realizing a lifetime’s worth of rebel tendencies. They are real and they are acceptable. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they are vital. I’m ready to make a stand and do something I believe in and not just for the money, or the kudos, but because I really do believe that we need to think differently about the way we approach work. For my own credibility – and ultimately for that of my clients – if you aren’t with me, in every sense of the phrase, then you just aren’t, well, with me at all. I cannot pretend to agree with something that I fundamentally do not agree with. That’s no working relationship. It won’t work effectively for either party.

For the sake of my children and their future, I can no longer coast along in the comfort zone. I want them to know that I stood for something, not just making a fast wage. So morally, a stand must be made. I don’t mean to sound all Michael Jackson, but we need to make this a better world. For the kids, yes, but for adults, too. It’s not just about recycling, upcycling, reusing and saving energy. It is about being a decent person, a moral code, a belief set that accepts, rather than judges – and some basic manners and human kindness. I was really pleased to find others with this mindset at Do. (And I was pleased to realise this out about myself, too).

So, here we are at a junction. If the future really is bright, then I’m going to have to take off the shades, look it in the eye and grab it by the what? Ears? (Too violent) Collar? (Too predictable). Maybe no grabbing is required. Perhaps it is simply a matter of tough decisions. If I really want to stand for something I need to start with me. If your moral code doesn’t fit with mine, then I don’t want to try and fit with yours. Here are my new old fashioned rules of engagement, Missing Word style:

  1. Rudeness isn’t acceptable. I just don’t want to work with people who have no manners. Manners are important – it isn’t old fashioned, it’s just nicer that way.
  2. There is no interpretation to rudeness or manners. Kindly refer to point 1!
  3. Email manners are also important. Please do not start talking to me before saying hello, or introducing your topic/subject!
  4. We are all busy. I understand that we all make mistakes, or need to cancel. But in return offer the same expectations or flexibility. Please.
  5. Arrogance is not a good look. On the phone, without any body language, only exacerbates it.
  6. If you wouldn’t say it face to face, then digital media isn’t the place.

Thank you for reading. Please come back again.


11 things I learned at The Do Lectures

1.  Fear is powerful – emotion is powerful
I learned that many, many people are scared to camp in the rain and that even more don’t want to be cold. But I also learned that fear can drive you on and once you push on through, the feeling joy and success on the other side is immense.

2.  Thinking differently is essential
People become jaded. We need to think about new ways of thinking. I learned that very few people like to peer outside of their comfort zone. Staying within your comfort zone won’t help you think differently. Meet new people in new places. Think differently. Think that every action has balance, a consequence; in sustainability, in the world and in the way we live in it.

3.  Sean Carasso
If you went to Do 2012 you already know him. But if you didn’t, please, I urge you: find his story and listen to it. His story is amazing, his achievements humbling. There are very few people in the world who can tell stories of such darkness with energy and positive light.

4.  Humans need the outdoors
Walking on grass is fun. Constant rain is OK. Outdoor showers are invigorating. I learned that brushing your teeth, outside, every day, looking at rolling hills is soul restoring. I also realised that the frosted glass in my bathroom window blocks our fabulous view over the English countryside. Little things.

5.  People are amazing
People want to make a difference. They just need to be shown a way, a direction, a thought and given permission to stop and think about it. And about how they can help. You can start by giving people an opportunity to talk and by showing them how you want to make a difference. As the saying goes: be the change you want to see in the world.

6.  Tim Smit for Prime Minister
If creative thinking will enable effective change, then Tim Smit should be Prime Minister. Simple.

7.  Do speakers
An inspiring, world-leading, game-changing, future-designing, life-saving, creative, powerful, passionate and exciting collective. Every one had a different story, each one inspiring and in its own way, moving. All very different, but each left me with a new thought, idea, or skill. I learned to listen to everyone with an open mind.

8.  You can never have too much Welsh food
I learned you cannot have too much homemade Welsh bread: fact. Don’t argue with me, dieticians… Welsh cheeses: I learned that they – and their Welsh chutney friends – taste divine. Welsh beer: OK you can have too much. And your head will hurt. But you’ll be glad you did.

9.  Banish negativity
Young brains are more effective, more open to change and more alive. By banishing negativity and opening your mind to possibility and opportunity, you’ll reap the benefits. Remind yourself every day and do a 24 hour positivity-only challenge. If you fail, start over again.

10.  Stop
Take time out to do nothing. Take time to be still. Christians would say: Be still and know that I am God. Meditationalists (just invented it): Be still and find your inner zen. Parents: Be still and find you have yoghurt in your hair. I’ve learned that whatever approach you take, it all works. Be still.

11.  Ideas change things
The Do mantra. Live it.


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