Working in the events industry routinely makes it onto the lists of most stressful jobs in the world, alongside firefighters and air traffic controllers. How we are put in the same category as the emergency services is beyond me, but we all know appreciate the mark of a good event manager is the skill, ability and finesse at metaphorical firefighting. Working on an event is intense, and requires refined split second decision making (on top of months or years of meticulous detailed planning). One would think we had the best mental and physical healthcare as an industry to ensure we could carry out our safety critical roles effectively. On the contrary.
My career began in major events, after earning my events management degree and building my event experience, with London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games. I loved it. I loved the buzz, the team work, the excitement of all working towards one goal. I didn’t for one moment consider the impact it would have on both my mental and physical health.
I also didn’t care.
I was there to prove myself, to prove I was the hardest worker, the most dedicated professional, so I could be selected for the next event. I came in early, left late and routinely worked weekends.
That seems to be the life of working in events; often we are expected to work long hours – but the balance lies in that it’s short lived (if we freelance on contracts). Once the Olympics and Paralympics were over, those who worked on it could rest for as long as we wanted until we took on our next contract.
Still, even with the opportunity to rest after every event, I found myself unable to sleep through the night, my mind racing about things that seemed so important at the time. During the day I felt scattered and shaky. My mind and body could never fully rest.
In every city I lived in, I joined a gym, signed up to whatever healthy eating diet was around at the time, meditated and took Pilates classes to stem this uncomfortable feeling in my body.
By the time I finished another major sport event a few years later, I immediately flew to the Middle East to start work on a contract the very next day. It was too much — my body and mind dug their heels in and wanted to stop. Yet I had agreed to work on another major event the following year, and it was that experience which pushed me further over any personal edge I thought existed (working through the night with no sleep only days before the event). My body was so stressed it stopped functioning normally.
So I quit work for the rest of that year.
After years of punishing (and rewarding) work, I took time out to be with myself, my mind, my body. This time for reflection allowed me to see how cruel I was being to myself. I forced myself to work when I was clearly putting my health at risk.
All for what? So an event can happen? What are we, martyrs?
That year, I promised myself I would never put my health at risk again. Instead I would use the skills I learned and incorporate them into my life to bring balance – meditation, mindfulness, Pilates, healthy eating, time spent in nature, cycles of rest and time alone, less coffee/alcohol etc. I even began training as a Pilates teacher as it improved my mental and physical health in such a powerful but gentle way, I wanted to deepen my study of it and share with others.
However, a few years later, I broke my own promise.