I love my career, but it made me sick

Following the tragic death of Indonesian copywriter Mita Diran, and following a debate on Mumbrella about work/life balance, creative Natalie Cutcliffe shares her own experience of overwork. 

I wrote this piece a month ago in response to If you love your career, the hours are (often) worth it. I was too scared to submit it then but the death of Mita Diran gave me the courage.

Yesterday I was made redundant. I walked home and while the expected feelings of rejection, inadequacy and beer sank in, there was the distinct feeling of something else in the mix that I can best describe as relief.

I work in advertising so redundancies are part of the path. But this article isn’t about redundancy; it’s about work life balance. The reason my redundancy has come up at all is because although I was made redundant on the grounds that the company has lost a generous retainer and therefore can’t afford my services anymore, my boss still dropped into my exit interview that: “In Australia ‘we’ don’t do the hours they do in the US or Asia and that ‘global’ don’t understand that.”

Natalie Cutcliffe

Natalie Cutcliffe

To be clear, I work A LOT. Being an advertising creative is not a job you ever clock off from. I love being a creative and think of myself as a workaholic, but not in a bad way.

I often work weekends to crack that big idea the briefs rarely offer up, I arrive to work before my boss arrives in the morning and I leave after he leaves at night. (Advice passed down to me from more experienced creatives while I was still cutting my teeth.)

I burn the midnight oil on pitches and rarely take advantage of the meal the company is obliged to buy us when we are required to be in the office past 8pm, although I’ve always worked for one of the big four global conglomerates. I suggest to do so would be professional suicide.I did not take lunches, I did not take holidays and I performed. I’ve surprised myself with what I’m capable of. My boss made it very clear that I was not being made redundant on the grounds of my performance.

But there was always the implied and even expressed pressure for my creative partner and I to spend more time in the office. Somehow no matter how good the work was, no matter how hard we worked, no matter how many hours we did after we got home, the company wanted more.

In the last few months, my creative partner was starting to complain that she was feeling tired, sick and rundown. She was at the doctor every other day determined to reveal that the stress we were being put under was taking its toll. I guess I felt she was being dramatic, long hours, like redundancies, are what we signed on for. Until that is a little virus knocked me on the head, or should I say knocked on my head.

I took myself off to the doctors making sure to get a sick leave note. It was the second time within four months that I had had a similar thing so, to be sure, the doctor had me take some routine blood tests.

mita diran

Mita Diran

I was back working again the next day and feeling better so was surprised to find a letter in the mail a short time later asking me to come back in to discuss abnormalities in my blood.

It turns out my blood is all over the place, low iron, no B12, low protein, underactive thyroid, amongst other things. The first question my doctor asked me is if I am a vegetarian. (I am not.) The next question he asked me was if I’m stressed.

Even though my partner’s very real fear that the hours we were being made to work were not showing up in any of her test results, my blood showed the opposite.

It’s like we were both inflicted with the same condition except for I was only affected physically and she was only affected psychologically. Creative partners are said to need to work symbiotically but this is beyond what I’d imagined.

And yet, the industry is still set to get another pint of each of our blood. The docs want me in for another round of tests a month’s time from the first, which poetically, for the sake of this story at least, turns out to be tomorrow.

(For the record, the results from my second round of tests show my blood returning to normal.)


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