From healing the world to watching it burn

The response I got to announcing my resignation from the NHS substance misuse recovery service I work at was standard at first – public health services often have high turnover rates. However, when I said I was off to seek my fortune in the big bad world of advertising, more than a few jaws dropped. Talk about a 180. My favourite colleague who I affectionately describe as pure evil (refreshing when you’re surrounded by do-gooders and autocrats) has said a few times (I hope, jokingly) that I’m dead to them when I go .

The common perception among my colleagues is one I’ve internalised. After 8 years of supporting people to develop the strategies to curb their triggers and cravings and regain control over their actions, I’m now going to be working on the side of the drug dealers – creating and maintaining a need where one didn’t exist previously .

So yeah it’s not an exaggeration to say that practical work aside, my preparation involves some degree of soul searching . 

So I’ve been exploring my own perceptions of advertising as a means to understand, is the work I’ve done so far going to help or hinder me? 

Am I going to have to change as a person to adapt to this new world?

The secret to my success at my job is my ability to ask the questions to successfully ‘get into people’s heads’. Once I understand what leads people to chase that dopamine hit – usually the belief that this will make their life better, I can start to challenge this. 

Armed with this knowledge about what makes people ‘tick’, the fear is will I find myself unable to resist using these strategies to convince people this new car/lipstick/coffee will provide the dopamine they so desperately crave? 

Reading the ‘anatomy of humbug‘ made me realise that in advertising the line between salesmanship and psychological manipulation is a fine one already. Though some practices have been rejected as totally unethical, how can I be sure I’m not crossing this line.

Something from the second (or first? Honestly, it was such a blur) interview day was someone asked a question about what do you do if you have a brief for a company that promotes a product or lifestyle that doesn’t fit with our moral stance? A student answered it with something along the lines of ‘I struggled to get here, I don’t have the luxury of an ethical stance‘

I admired how with that one sentence he cut through the hand wringing and brought everyone back down to earth. For all our aspirations of ‘staying true to ourselves‘ and keeping our morals intact, at the end of the day we chose this path knowing the implications. 

Until I’m (hopefully one day) at the point I can pick and choose which brands I accept and turn down, squeamishness is not going to mark me out as bold, a risk taker or any of the characteristics that seem to be revered in this world. 

I have to tell myself, I worked for a low wage, long hours and high stress for the good of my clients for years. I was the worker who went above and beyond – often at my personal expense, before I learnt the value of boundaries. I’ve done my time, I’ve got the brownie points, I’d have definitely earned my place in heaven (if only I wasn’t the double whammy of Jewish AND a non-believer), now it’s time to let go and have a little fun embracing my other side…
Whilst I’m feeling out these parameters, and pieces of myself, I’m filled with a feeling I haven’t had for a long time…not the day to day of knowing exactly what’s in front of me – Monday morning monotony. But as I’m watching adverts and imagining future selves of me flicker across the screen I realise I feel that small spark inside I haven’t felt for a long time, of some sweet foreign confection just out of my reach, all the promise and excitement of the world that lies ahead. I talk about the fear I’m going to become the seducer – using my skills to worm into peoples brains. But I feel this world has already seduced me. And I’m here for it.


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