Rowan’s story: “2 former colleagues are dead, one has had 3 heart attacks.”

I came out of college in the mid-80s and drifted into advertising because I enjoyed messing around with words and people’s heads. Got headhunted to a bigger agency and then again into a marketing manager role for a big pharma multinational [Hey! They offered a 120% pay rise plus a company car. I was 22 – what else was I going to say?]

Turns out, I was very good at what I did – numbers went up, share figures went up, targets were always met, my campaigns regularly won awards. I even ended up advising the CEO of the company on his investor presentations. Problem was, I didn’t derive any satisfaction from it. None.

All my wordsmithing and branding, all my campaigns, all the collected creativity, sweat and tears of a bunch of very talented people made what difference? A few fat, rich shareholders got a leetle bit fatter and a leetle bit richer.

Net result – bleeding ulcer in my mid-20s.

Interesting conversation with my then girlfriend (now wife) prior to my 30th birthday:

“Rowan, you know the way there are specks of blood on your pillow most mornings?”
(not remotely liking where this conversation might be going) “Yeeees?”
“Do you think that there’s any possibility that the ulcer and the resultant specks of blood might be indicative that maybe, just maybe, you’re in the wrong line of work?”
“But, but, but … Look at my big salary! Look at my big German car! Look at how good I am at what I do!”
“Yes, but no matter how good you are at what you do, you’re not going to be able to do it from inside a pine box.”
“But what else can I do?”
“Well, you know all that wonderful training on presentation skills and interviewing that you’ve had?”
“And you know the way you’ve helped so many friends and colleagues and family members with their careers – advising them on their next move and helping them get through the written and interview stages or delivering difficult presentations and negotiations?”
“And you know the way, they are all really happy now, at least in part due to your help, while you wake up with blood on your pillow most days?”
“How about if you offered to provide the same help and advice to strangers – and charged them for it?”

So we set up the business and then I quit. I had surgery for the ulcer which left me with a great reminder of what I left behind. [A scar 40 stitches long down my midsection. I tell my kids that I got it from some nasty pirates – which is kind of true. Yehar!]

I wrote a modest best seller and a follow-up. I get nicely paid to speak and to offer my opinions on TV, radio and in the press. I meet interesting people with fascinating problems every day. And most days I bounce out of bed with a smile on my face.

Two of my colleagues from that era are dead and another has had three heart attacks. Sometimes quitting is the smart, best and only move.