About 10 months ago I wrote an article called “What the fuck am I doing?”
Sure, it had a clickbait title and might have been, in part, a cry for attention. But my main aim was to leave an optimistic view.
It was about how we could use our time in lockdown to ask ourselves, “what the fuck are we doing?” – offering us an opportunity to reset values and ambitions in our professional and personal lives. You know, life + lemons = lemonade.
It was written 14 days into lockdown one. I had no clue this thing would still be going on in 2021.
As I write, Covid-19 has the potential to be more protracted than Bono, The Big Bang Theory and Brexit combined. It has the potential to have a significant impact on the business I launched during the pandemic.
Worse still, it will continue to wreak havoc on families, societies and culture worldwide.
So can I be as positive as I was then? Did I follow through with any of my predictions?
Three lockdowns – and counting – later, what the fuck am I doing now?
I actually hadn’t re-read the original article since it was published last March. The worse Covid-19 has become, the more off-colour my 14-day lockdown predictions would feel, right?
But I was pleasantly relieved on the second reading – and not for the reasons I expected.
The first “what the fuck am I doing?” question I asked was around my personal life. I’d just started our agency, Soursop, with my wife Lucy.
My prediction was that, in close proximity, we’d be able to “find a new level of sync” and others would get to spend cherished time together as families.
For our friends with kids, the reports have been of a thick fog of Joe Wicks and Paw Patrol in the trenches of the living room, as parents are robbed of childcare and the respite of the classroom.
For Lucy and me, it’s the most time we have ever spent together in our 10 years as a couple. And it was… fine.
Sure, we have had a few EastEnders-level bust-ups. But intentionally or unintentionally, the waves of lockdown forced us to understand each other better.
When lockdown lifted during the summer of 2020, we threw ourselves into every opportunity. We spent much of July and August on several shoots in Italy for Maserati, with an imbued sense of purpose. Every shoot day felt like a gift. We also went skydiving… just because.
Aside from getting to know their partners better, many have got to know themselves better too.
Filling the gap of going out by going inwards, psychedelics became immensely popular among some, with The Face dubbing 2020 The Year of the Mushroom. New horizons opened, particularly for young people, that are starting to reshape the pop culture of this decade.
I’m pretty sure that, in a vaccinated world, we will enjoy travelling and spending some much needed time apart from our bubbles. But I think we will also know how to really make the most of the time we have together, too – and perhaps think about how we spend it more thoughtfully.
The second “what the fuck am I doing?” was based on how I was spending my time in March 2020.
There's a putrid level of smug here, looking back.
I claimed in lockdown we could do the things in four or five hours that would usually take 10 hours, due to concentrated, uninterrupted thinking.
Turns out it also took me four or five days of lockdown to achieve things that would have taken 10 hours in a room with clients.
And I really missed the daily social interactions with staff: the beers, the challenges, the general chatting shit. It balanced out the concentrated stresses of work in a way no Zoom call could do.
It has been far from ideal as time has dragged on. I’ve let go of asking “How efficient can I be?” and replaced it with, “It's OK to do nothing sometimes”.
I learned to not feel guilty about not working during downtime. It’s not only been OK to do nothing – it's actually been useful to do nothing sometimes.
The rest has helped my mental health and kept both my stamina and spirits up.
The penultimate prediction I made was about making time for the projects I loved over more commercial projects.
This was a hopelessly romantic notion. We weren’t able to film any of the documentary projects we had planned.
To be honest, keeping the business moving became the primary concern, so most of our time was wrapped up in keeping our clients happy and expanding our new business.
But when there were quiet moments, we kept on developing the longer-tail editorial projects so that when we can shoot, we will be able to shoot them quickly. As a result, the stories we tell are going to be richer and the access we have is more meaningful. We were forced to spend more time developing ideas to make them better.
On top of that, we kept on talking to lots of creative people even if we couldn’t work with them right away.
After Black Lives Matter and its fallout, we wanted to figure out how to use our knowledge in a different way. Here in Amsterdam, that resulted in helping to launch a PoC broadcaster in the Netherlands called Zwart.
In 2021, it's going to result in quite a few projects in more political areas that we just wouldn’t have known how to take on before.
Perhaps the biggest prediction that actually still holds now was asking: “Why the fuck am I taking this so seriously?”
I mentioned my sister, a doctor in the NHS, who is saving lives on the frontline alongside an army of key workers who have seen the ugly face of this virus.
During 2020, she became pregnant, and instead of taking full leave, she has gone back to work part time to help with the awful pressure the NHS is under right now. Her story is far from unique.
With Capitols being stormed and black lives being taken, 2020 and the early days of 2021 have forced us to look at ourselves as members of society, not just members of the marketing industry.
I originally wrote: “Without life, there is no life to live, and certainly no products to sell or people to entertain.”
Though vaccines are here and a way out of this mess is visible, we still have a long way to go.
I think realising that work doesn’t define us, but is merely a part of us, will make us better at our jobs, better as people and, ultimately, happier as individuals.
Look, I’m not trying to hide the fact that this pandemic is still monumentally shit for all of us. It will probably continue to be the case for some time. But I’m still trying to hold on to some optimism, wherever I can find it.
While accepting the onslaught of bad news, we do have a future to look forward to and to protect. It’s the thing that can keep us trucking.
I can’t wait to ask myself what the fuck I’m doing once the world has opened up again.
Ravi Amaratunga Hitchcock is co-founder of Soursop