I used to earn what I thought was good money, doing something I didn’t particularly enjoy. During my 20s, I wasn’t too bothered by the ethics of my job, largely because I was paying back a sizeable debt incurred while trying to become a musician.
The month I finished paying off that debt, I resigned.
But the industry I worked for didn’t let me go. After so many years of diligent work, I’d become good at my job. The global headquarters of the agency I worked for offered me a very livable wage to work in the US, so I went.
After 18 months, I came back to London and worked freelance and full-time for various agencies (some of them very well known), until I left the business in 2007.
I was always going to leave. The signs were there from the beginning. I stuck it out longer than was comfortable because I was waiting for something to come along that would give my life some meaning. Something that, at the end of my days, I could look back on with a sense of achievement. That thing, as regular readers will know, was écovallée.
Now, at this point I should confess to new readers that I am not the Edward Snowden. (Nor is my wife. I’m not actually married.) But I am in many ways an Edward Snowden. And so, my new theory goes, are you.
You see, the business I left was advertising. As I mention in my book, advertising is a business involving some lovely people who do a lot of horrible work*. One of the last jobs I worked on, for example, was sub-prime mortgages. The brief was a disgrace. The product was disgusting. An ethical agency would have thrown it back at the client and resigned the account. I had my say and then went to work, selling it to the best of my ability while hoping it would be profoundly unsuccessful. (In my defence, I always wrote the truth in the subtext. I encourage readers to study ads extremely carefully. It’s actually illegal to lie in advertising – in the UK anyway – but misdirection is commonplace. I admit, it’s a pretty thin defence.)
Obviously, doing that work was a choice. I could have walked. And I did, a few weeks later. Like Edward Snowden the other day. Two of the many differences** between me and he are that I was not pursued by the world’s law enforcement agencies or the media, and that I have made myself – and the écovallée yurt camp – very easy to find.
But Snowden’s whistle blowing spectacular has got me thinking – and not just about ways to attract new readers to the blog using key words like #edward #snowden and #whistleblowing ***.
As I’ve been walking slowly round other people’s gardens expending irreplaceable fossil fuels to keep their lawns looking lovely, even though the owners live hundreds or thousands of miles away, I’ve been working on a theory.
And my theory goes like this: When we’re younger, we’re happy to take the money and not worry about the consequences. If we’re paid lots of money, even better. But there comes a point around 30 when your sense of mortality kicks in (I gave up smoking at this point – several times), or your conscience wakes up, and you start to look more seriously at what you are doing with your life. You start to question its value, rather than its monetary worth. And if you don’t like what you see, you can do one of two things.
You can choose to stay in the job that makes you unhappy. Consciously choosing that option may give you a sense of power you may have forgotten you have. You may even be happier for it. (I’m not judgemental: Go you!)
Or you can choose to leave your job, relationship, country – whatever. You may go through all manner of discomfort following this decision. But you will at least know that it was your choice, consciously made. And whatever happens, you will be happier for it in the end.
This is what I think the real Edward Snowden has done. Wiki tells me he was 30 a few days ago, which fits my theory very well. I ran the theory past a guest recently and he told me how he left what many would consider a dream job to take a massive pay cut and now effectively runs an organic farm. So the theory holds at least some water. What do you think?
*This is from my perspective as an Edward Snowden and depends on the clients, products and briefs to which I was exposed. If you are an agency or client who feels you do not meet this profile – that you are in fact highly ethical people with excellent products to offer the world, please continue reading here.
**Also including age, height, weight, nationality etc.
***Come back in a few days and I’ll show you what this will do to my stats, though. Should be interesting.