How my deeply unsettling year morphed into a meaningful one

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

It’s my last blog of the year and I’m more reflective than usual as 2020 comes to a close. Like all of us, I didn’t see the events of this year coming.

Few words do it justice, but how about this: deeply unsettling.

I don’t know about your journey, but this was the year three core pillars in my life were disrupted. My faith remained solid, but my home, work and health were all shaken by the pandemic and related forces.

I hasten to add, I’m sailing off into the holiday season with an optimistic and hopeful mindset. I’ve come full circle, in part because I realised something really important I’d like to share.

But first, the drama.

Wind back the clock a few months. I'm at the gym, working out my frustrations on the treadmill, and the final chorus from Powderfinger’s award-winning and haunting anthem of 1999, These Days blares out how I was feeling:

This life well it's slipping right through my hands

These days turned out nothing like I had planned

Control well it's slipping right through my hands

I really was in a pretty dark place. And as a middle-aged man facing all the things we blokes face at this time of life, it really wasn’t a good thing.

Stay with me as I connect a few dots and then we’ll land on a note of optimism that attempts to drag my story back into our marketing and storytelling wheelhouse.

Personal life

I’ve rarely, if ever, written about my own journey. I’m told I should, by some, that I shouldn’t by others. But I always pause for thought. I marvel at the likes of Brenè Brown and Donald Miller who champion vulnerability and authenticity.

So here it is, a risky moment of vulnerability.

I turned 46 this year and it sailed past in a blur. Only now have I realised what’s bugged me ever since turning 40.

Guitarist John Mayer put it well in a doco on his life. He described waking up one day and realising he had a plan for the first half of his life, but not the second. The idea hit home.

Then we’ve got an inspiring man by the name of Gordon MacDonald, an 80 year old Christian pastor and Chancellor at Denver Seminary. He’s still doing his thing, and by all accounts an inspiring leader.

Driving to work one day I heard him on a podcast describe his life decade by decade. The ambition and growth of his 20s and 30s had given way to a realisation in his 40s that he wasn’t in a place he expected. Like a kind of grand existential awakening - how did I get here - and it resonated for reasons I’m still processing.

The events I experienced were tough. Our family of four kids and two dogs endured the stresses and uncertainty associated with selling our home and moving to a new area during a pandemic.

In addition, I endured mental and physical health issues that almost got the better of me. Sleepless nights, an unfamiliar sense of hopelessness, overwhelmed by sights and sounds, and a constant state of edginess. Channeling Mayer, it was hard to imagine the next 40 years. Then we had the stresses of lockdown and homeschooling life, like all other families.

Just one of those issues would be enough for me, not all at once!

Work life

Next, we’ve got work. Many of you will know I self-published my first book, Beliefonomics, in March this year. We had grand plans, a launch event booked at Boutique Event Cinemas in George Street, guest speakers, Square payment mobile POS set up, and a humbling number of endorsements from leaders who’d agreed to review preview copies of my book.

All cancelled.

I love Peanuts, thanks to the for this one:

Detail of Peanuts 04.07.70 (Credit: Schulz Family Intellectual Property Trust/Courtesy of the Charles M Schulz Museum and Research Center)

Like most of you, we took it all online and adapted. We did OK ... but the lack of direct audience engagement and feedback (validation?) was deafening to me, and I couldn't help wondering could we have done it differently? What if...?

Likewise, I harbored ambitions for more paid speaking gigs at real-world events following the book launch. Clearly that wasn’t going to happen! Thankfully, we dived headlong into virtual events and to a large extent it was a great experience (right, guys!).

Kudos to the Filtered Media team for their trust and agility in doing the switch to virtual events with me! Pictured with Daniel Marr, Tom Henderson and Paula Cowan.

The bigger issue was that from March our agency, Filtered Media, took a revenue hit as marketing budgets suddenly went into a pandemic-powered deep freeze. Client after client started calling to regretfully tell me they needed to stop work. Like every small business, we’ve got a payroll, rent and ongoing commitments. Harrowing is a word that comes to mind to describe this season.

Yet, here we are in December and the phones are ringing again. It’s a strange feeling, daring to hope that things really are getting better.

Your experience

Despite all these issues, I’ve also been mindful of our clients and industry friends. Through it all we kept recording and publishing episodes of The CMO Show podcast, keeping me tapped into the marketing zeitgeist.

I marveled at how marketers, other working professionals like you and I, were coping with the year’s series of rolling events.

While preparing for our final podcast, I went back and listened to our shows to catch a few snapshots of life as a marketer during a pandemic. Check out these stories:

Louise Cummins, H&R Block, Marketing & Digital Innovation Director

Louise Cummins, Marketing and Digital Innovations Director at H&R Block said the company shifted from advertising spend to a content strategy so they could better help customers by answering their tax and business questions.

That is, lead generation took a back seat while they dialed up empathy and usefulness.

Louise commented:

“One thing that really resonated for me this year has been questions. That's the thing that every single person's got about everything in their life at the moment is, ‘what are the big questions?’”

Ashley Killeen, OzHarvest Head of Impact