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