Kindness, and more, A HUM4NS evening of talks and nourishment
I recently had the privilege of sharing my personal journey at HUM4NS in Bristol. The topic of my talk was “The Journey so far,” and it centred around my transformative experience of hitting rock bottom in my early 40s due to sheer exhaustion and an overworked workaholic lifestyle.
In this article, I want to reflect on the therapeutic experiences of sharing my journey with others in that safe setting, the joy of reconnecting with my humanity, listening to others learnt experiences through tears and laughter openly and the profound impact it has had on my outlook on life.
The Burnout Epidemic: A Familiar Story
My journey to burnout is one that many can relate to in today’s fast-paced world. For years, I was trapped in the rat race, constantly chasing deadlines, pushing myself to the limits, drastically losing weight fuelled by coffee whilst maintaining the “always-on” mindset. It’s not just about my career choices; it’s about an entire culture that glorifies overwork and the never-ending hustle, a system that’s broken. But as I relentlessly pursued success, I lost sight of what it meant to be human. This talk was a chance to shed light on these shared experiences with a room full of kindness, all of whom brought nods of approval and relatable experiences from every slide expressed in conversations following my speaking slot too.
Hitting Rock Bottom: The Breaking Point
In my early 40s, I hit a wall. I was physically and mentally exhausted from a self-inflicted agenda that work was the answer to everything I was avoiding, my creativity had dwindled to a flicker, and my relationships were strained. It was a breakdown, a moment of reckoning, and it forced me to confront the reality of my life. I realized that I had lost touch with my own humanity in pursuit of success and needed to be kinder to myself and those around me. HUM4NS is an organisation built around recognising and celebrating our humanity, fostering a happier, healthier, kinder, and smarter mindset. The belief is, if we are kinder to ourselves as much as we are to others, the world will be a better place. So the stage was ours and alongside a recently growing friendship with a fantastic self-taught designer Tom Gullick, we elected to share our stories. From the journey so far with me to the just getting started struggles from Tom as a registered blind designer! Yep, read on.
Having been a puppeteer, educator & lecturer of animation, stop motion technician, animator, designer, web and app developer, taken a breath… illustrator, entrepreneur, sales and business development, founder of several businesses with awesome human beings and still standing, it was a great privilege to share the journey so far to a packed room of onlookers. In 15 minutes we managed to cover almost 20 years of the joy of creating, but the burden of pursuing that creative dopamine hit at every turn. I speak off the cuff with no script! I simply can’t stick to a written narrative and prefer to use the visual queues in front of me to shape the story, call it risky? Yeh, but fun 😛
My story so far was and is typical of many mature (yep let’s call it that) creatives who’ve burnt the midnight oil, returned to the studio after tea time to finalise a presentation, rolled up their sleeves to double up on efforts to make the creative work for a client or asked the team to stay back to meet that deadline that promises a bigger budget of work on the next one… All the usual stuff comes up. It’s endemic of agency life over the past 20 years, especially in the big cities.
But luckily there’s a shift, and a realisation at leadership level that sees things differently. That time, is a commodity we need to value more, for our employees and ourselves. Darrell at Cre8tion and co founder of HUM4NS being the first agency to adopt a 4 day working week with no salary sacrifice in the UK. Darrell said in the article published in 2019: “It all feels a bit revolutionary, but no one ever made progress without making a few brave choices.” Cre8tions journey has inspired many others, including us at Yellow Sub, to look at our culture and embrace the discomfort that comes from doing things differently. Bomper Studio in South Wales are another champion for a better work life balance of 4 day weeks and have pledged to continue the trend following a 6 month long experiment into the benefits documented here:
We’re on that journey, right now, and the goal of achieving a 4 day working week is clearly in our sights, along with many other initiatives in mentoring for all staff, providing a diverse and inclusive platform for all to feel safe and heard. It’s definitely a process and we’re doing our best to achieve these fundamental moves in modern businesses with impact.
Discovering ADHD: A Hidden Truth
During this journey into self, I uncovered something unexpected. I’ve always felt very wired, motivated and driven to create… like all the time, and never thought anything of it. I’m just a creative, I like innovating, merging new ideas for better outcomes and enjoy the play element of creating, which was likely a massive cause of the burnout that I experienced. You can read more about the collective experience in my previous article on burn out here: ‘I’m fine, how are you? said all men everywhere’. In contrast to this, I’ve always felt lazy, incapable of mundane tasks or things that do not challenge or stimulate me enough, which was always at odds with my ambitions. So my curiosity led me to this possibility, through shared experiences of fellow business partners and colleagues at Yellow Sub Creative & Geo. It seems that age old adage, ‘your vibe attracts your tribe’ manifested itself in 4 out of 8 staff at the time having a confirmed diagnosis of ADHD, which is still surprising despite it being common in the creative sector. To that end I became ever more curious as to whether the feelings, behaviours, and emotions I was experiencing had any bearing on me having some form of attention disorder.
I was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in July this year. The combined ADHD type, meaning I have both inattentive and hyperactive/hyper focussed tendencies. This revelation shed light on the challenges I have faced throughout my adult life unbeknownst to me and building up in increasing intensity over the past few years. Suddenly, my struggles with focus, time management, and impulsivity began to make sense. It has been weird, numb, joyful, relieving, emotional and pivotal of a moment, that is starting to reshape my perspective on my own life, how I function, how I see the world and have impact on the lives of others around me. It’s taken me more than 3 months to make minor adjustments to daily life with many more days and months to come in order to find a balance, learn how to manage and embrace these tendencies that have been masked for so long. Without labouring the point, I was very surprised at this outcome and am now dealing with a new sense of wonder… gradually.
Between 2000 and 2018 in UK there was approximately a twenty-fold increase in ADHD diagnoses and nearly fifty-fold in ADHD prescriptions in men between the ages of 18-29 (from 0.01% to 0.56%).1
Sharing My Story: A Therapeutic Experience
Opening up about my struggles through chronic work habits in tandem with the joys of creativity and diversified career choices at the HUM4NS event was both terrifying and liberating, although most would not see that fear from me, I hide it well it seems. Sharing my joy and vulnerability with a room full of strangers made me realize the power of human connection. The supportive environment created by Darrell and Ollie, the founders of HUM4NS, allowed me and many before me to speak our truths without fear of judgment. In doing so, I found solace and to an extent, closure in what had been experienced over the previous 15-20 years of my adult working life. I did not explore my ADHD diagnosis during the session as I’m still digesting all the revelations this discovery presents to me. It didn’t feel right at the time, so it is something I will revisit in an open forum in the near future.
The Joy of Reconnecting with Humanity
As I’ve reflected on my journey to date, I have felt a sense of calm and warmth. It’s as if I have unburdened myself of years of pent-up emotions and self-doubt. But more importantly, I discovered that we are not alone. Many others in the room have faced similar struggles, and our shared experiences spark conversation during and following the talks. It’s amazing to see the way we we relate to each other but are nearly all reluctant to share because of the fear of appearing vulnerable or weak in our position within a business setting. I’m speaking as a now 46 year old man (yes I know, I look 32) 😊 who conforms to the societal norms of patriarchal bravado to puff up the chest, roll up the sleeves and ‘just get on with it’. But there is a shift happening, a movement towards celebrating vulnerability in the right setting. There is strength in saying no, I can’t or just simply no. A close friend and fellow founder said recently. No is a complete sentence. Can’t argue with that! If we’re always on, always doing, there’s no time to think, reflect and learn from what we’ve experienced. So here we are, talking human to human in person, and it’s therapeutic as heck!
It all feels a bit revolutionary, but no one ever made progress without making a few brave choices.
Mentoring Tom Gullick: A Transformational Experience
One of the unexpected blessings that emerged from my journey and time out was the opportunity to meet two amazing humans Jamie and Charlott McAnsh through their See No Bounds networking platform and was introduced to another world of hard working and dedicated solopreneur businesses and SME’s carving out careers virtually and in person. It’s been a privilege to engage with so many interesting humans over the past 6 months. One such connection has haphazardly turned me into a mentor for a remarkable individual, Tom Gullick, a registered blind designer, Prince’s Trust Ambassador and all-round awesome human. Tom’s determination and resilience inspired me in ways I never thought possible. Through our conversations and laughs, I have learned that giving back can be a source of immense joy. An unselfish gift of time to listen and help others on their own journey has been simply unselfishly beautiful.
Andrew’s support and guidance has transformed me as a designer and as a person. He’s not just a mentor; he’s a true friend who dedicated his time and wisdom to help me grow. I can’t express my gratitude enough!
Tom Gullick, Design Legend
Tom’s passion for design and creativity, outweighs his visual impairment. He has taught me that limitations can be a strength to fuel creativity beyond the physical. His unique perspective, story and struggles with self-doubt, impostor syndrome, confidence, lack of opportunities and sheer determination to be heard has opened my eyes to new possibilities and has helped me rekindle my own creative fire through our interactions.
The Joy of Giving Back
Mentoring and being a friend to Tom is not just about teaching him through the experiences I have gathered over my career; it is also about learning from him. The joy I am experiencing from witnessing his growth and his unwavering spirit is unparalleled. It is a reminder that true fulfilment comes not just from personal success but from contributing to the growth and happiness of others. Tom has now elected to start his studies at University on a Graphics Communication course at Cardiff MET. Which I know he’s going to ace! Tom, if you’re reading this dude, you are an inspiration to many and I think you should know that.
Sharing my burnout journey, the emotional roller coaster that followed and the rediscovering of humanity through HUM4NS and many other personal adventures has been and continues to be a transformative experience. It has allowed me the time to heal, the opportunity to connect with others and discover the joy of giving back. Mentoring Tom, sharing vulnerability in a safe space, and being kinder to myself above all else, has led me here. Today, as I reflect on my journey so far, I can confidently say, “I’m fine.” With a caveat! I have a new sense of self to explore and embrace, so tomorrow might be, ‘meh!’ And the next day may be bouncing off the walls, but all in all, my form is often 75-80 out of 100 most days, you can thank Darrell from HUM4NS for this refreshing outlook on the often-binary question of, how are you?
But this is not just about my journey; it is about all of us. It is a reminder that we are all human, vulnerable, and capable of incredible things. By sharing our stories, by opening and connecting with one another and inviting others to experience the emotional rollercoaster we can find our humanity again, break free from the relentless cycle of burnout, and experience the profound joy of giving back and being kinder to one another.
So, let us remember that it is okay not to be “fine” all the time. It is okay to seek help and support. It is okay to share our struggles and our triumphs. Because in our shared humanity, we find strength, healing, and the boundless capacity for joy.
Creative, Director, Human
- https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2023/jul/significant-rise-adhd-diagnoses-uk ↩︎