Karoshi, Copywriting and Why I Shaved My Head

Look, I got the keywords in.  Ok?  I thought you’d be happy about that.

This isn’t about copywriting, or — at least — it isn’t directly.  This is one of those rare pieces when I speak plainly about my life because I think it might help you, too.

Anyone who knows me is probably aware that a couple of months ago I shaved my head.  I mean, not to the skin, but the best you can get with a beard trimmer.  It’s some kind of scorched Earth approach, anyway.

And while I never thought of myself as the kind of person who cared about that sort of thing too much, I’ve noticed a big difference in the way I’ve been acting toward others and how they act toward me.  And that’s what this blog is all about.

So, read on or bounce away.  You’ll get what you get from it, I guess.

Chapter 1: The Backstory

The day I decided to shave my head I had had it.  I was fucking done.  I spent hundreds of dollars a month trying to protect it, trying to heal it (even though I know it’s dead), trying to keep it from abandoning me, but the longer the fight went, the bigger the clumps of hair I was pulling out of my head daily got.

I mean, one was the size of a small mouse. 

That was the day I was done.

I had been hiding, trying to keep anyone from noticing that my hair was thinning visibly, trying to avoid having to answer any questions about it.  I asked my doctor, I asked my friends, I asked the people I trusted to not judge me.  My meds were the culprit, but overall, I was doing better than I had in years, maybe a decade even.

They. Were. Not. Optional.

My RA is still not controlled the greatest.  My Parkinson’s flares up from the exercise I do to keep my joints from screaming.  It’s all a delicate balance that makes me tired just thinking about it.  But for now, it is in balance, and I only had to give up my hair.

That Cancer Look…

I felt ok about my shearing decision in the moment (it wasn’t a decision I made that day, I had been pondering it for months).  I felt ok about it afterward, for about three days.  And that was when I got that cancer look for the first time.  I was horrified and embarrassed.  This woman thought I had cancer.

Later, at the market, I got asked about my chemo regimen.  I bought some ill-fitting hats and then couldn’t stand wearing them.  I went back to the grocery store weeks later and another person cornered me at the check-out wanting to talk about my cancer treatment.

I told all of these people that it was a side-effect of my RA drugs.  I’m not a complete dick.  But I also was apologizing for something I shouldn’t be sorry about.

I was sorry for being sick and having to take drugs that make my hair fall out and thus, giving the wrong impression.  I was sorry because of how *my* illness was affecting these strangers who were jumping to conclusions.

It took me until just now to realize that’s what I’ve been doing.  I’ve been apologizing for doing what I have to do.  And I think — no, I know — that this is the last fucking thing near what a proud, angry, (potentially sugar buzzed) celebrated and successful writer does.

Or anybody with any fucking self-worth.

Today, I changed it.  It’s Sunday, September 30.  And today, things are different and I also have a lesson to share out of it.

Bold Marketing is Your Bald Head

When you boldly brand you company, or you run a clever and risky marketing effort, you’re really putting yourself out there.  When you ask for referrals, you risk that your audience will say no.  In fact, the chances are better that they will say no than that they’ll say yes simply because it’s easier for people to do nothing than something.  We’re awful like that.

But we also try really hard to get along sometimes.  Since I shaved my head, I’ve been trying WAY TOO HARD TO GET ALONG.

For example, I wrote a blog a few weeks ago for my marketing company, In the Cloud, about how my company was unfortunately branded what with the serious hurricanes and whatnot pounding the Carolinas at the time.

I FUCKING APOLOGIZED FOR MY BRANDING EVEN THOUGH THE HURRICANES IN QUESTION WEREN’T A PR STUNT.

That’s not how you do branding.  You do branding from a place of strength.  Your branding may be done in a moment of sheer adrenaline, like the time you took that razor to your scalp and watched as your ringlets fell into the sink, but it has to be maintained like the twice a week shave in the shower that ends up with a neat pile that looks like you’ve pulled a bit of lint off your sweater.

Your branding is you.  And it’s your people.  And it’s your bald fucking head, because it’s impossible to tear away from your company once you’ve set it in motion.  And In The Cloud being branded with weather themes is fucking brilliant, and you can all go fuck yourselves if you don’t like it.

My Plan Going Forward

My bald head is my own fucking business.  My company, its logo, its branding, its clients, its employees, all of that bullshit is my own fucking business (except where the IRS gets to be involved).

I am not going to apologize for my bald head.

I am not going to apologize for In The Cloud.

I was wrong to do it for even a moment.  Hell, I was wrong to think I was the one with the problem.

Copywriter, there are always going to be people who think their offense is your fault and therefore your problem.  And I say fuck that.  If you’re going about your own business and someone else feels the need to tell you that you’re wrong, you show them that middle finger and walk the fuck away.  You don’t have time for that shit.

And I don’t, either.

When I was in the newspaper business, I got a really nasty response to an Op-Ed way back in the Dark Ages.  I was really upset.  Visibly.  My editor handed me this little pebble at the time and I’ve held on to and rubbed the shit out of it like my little worry stone for decades.  “If they’re not complaining, they’re not reading.”

And fuck all if that’s not the case, my friends.

Final Thoughts

I included karoshi in the title, so I guess I’ll wrap it up with this thought:  If your bald head is caused by stress and overwork, karoshi could be coming for you.

If your bald head is caused by RA drugs and/or other systemic issues, you’re a glorious motherfucker, so don’t sweat it.  Flaunt that shit.  Buy fancy hats.

If your bald head is caused by cancer, that’s terrible and I hope you go into remission soon.  I don’t have cancer, though, never claimed I did (even for free dessert) and I’m not sorry I shaved my head because your hard is different from mine.

*flounces gloriously motherfuckeredly*

Karoshi for Copywriters: An Introduction

When you’re freelancing, it often feels like you’re either running around like mad trying to get work or you’re trying to keep yourself buckled into the hot seat writing all the work you managed to find.  The ebb and flow is pretty rough on a person, there’s no doubt.  Burnout is for real and can completely ruin lives.

There’s another danger that we as a culture fail to address.  Maybe this is because “Protestant Work Ethic” or maybe we just don’t like to talk about things that are unpleasant, but we’re talking about this today.

The Japanese call it “karoshi,” which translates to “death from overwork.”

Work/Life Balance and Freelancing

We’ve visited the concept of work/life balance when you’re freelancing more than once, but that was before I knew that karoshi was a thing.  I read the linked article above and I see myself in a lot of it.  Of course, it’s not corporate culture forcing me to work all the time, it’s trying to stay ahead of the bills and the ever growing pile of work.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that so many businesses trust me with their words.  That they want *MY* voice to be the one that represents them is truly humbling.  But I also feel like I could, at any given moment, start dancing on that line between overwork and karoshi.

Let’s look at the cases highlighted in the The Guardian:

Miwa Sado, 31.  Death by heart failure.  In the month leading up to her death, she logged 159 overtime hours and only took off two days.  Breaking that down, she worked four 80-hour weeks, with only two days to recuperate.

Matsuri Takahashi, 24.  Death by suicide.  For months before her death, Matsuri regularly put in 100 or more hours of overtime.    She tried to vent some of the stress from it by posting on social media in the weeks before her death.  Her messages got dark weeks before her death, saying things like “I want to die” and “I’m physically and mentally shattered.”

And though Japan is working on changing the circumstances that cause karoshi, this will remain a  problem among freelancers.  Freelancers aren’t driven by corporate culture because it’s really a corporate culture of one (or maybe a few if you’re part of a team), we’re driven by a mix of fear, greed and desire.

The Three Deadly Sins of Freelancing

If you want to get to the bottom of your overwork problem, there’s almost always a root in at least one of the three deadly sins of freelancing.  Trust me on this.  Fear, Greed and Desire are great until they aren’t.  They’re awesome until you approach karoshi.

Sin The First: Fear.  No matter where you are in your freelancing career, Fear will still be a driving force.  You remember the lean times and fuck all if you’re gonna go back to living on Ramen and mushrooms from your bath mat.  Fear can be used for motivation and often is, but when it turns into a sneaky anxiety spiral, you’ll trip your fight or flight reaction.  Do you freeze?  Do you go like mad and act like a person possessed?  DO YOU GIVE YOURSELF A HEART ATTACK?  Karoshi.

Sin The Second: Greed.  I will be the first person to tell you that greed is one of my strongest motivator.  Oh man, so much.  I want to not only take in more work year over year, but to spend more money year over year.  We can’t all be perfect.  White chocolate Twix don’t grow on trees, you know.  Greed will getcha, though.  Every so often you’ll have several of your projects converge and the result is that you wish you were dead.  It’s juggling client requests without making excuses for not being done on time.  It’s when you can’t go on, but you must.  That’s karoshi waiting to happen right there.

Sin The Third: Desire.  Desire and greed might sound like the same thing, but they’re not, ok?  Desire is more about accomplishing things, where greed is about amounting riches and objects.  For me, Desire is really about a longing for approval.  Clients like what I write, I get that little buzz.  Clients don’t like my work and I turn into a quivering pile of snot.  No joke.  I desire your approval, so please approve of me.  Because freelancing is so much a hamster wheel, long time clients often won’t comment on content because it meets their expectations, which just makes people like me run harder on that little wheel to make them love us again.  Karoshi, my friends.

If you find yourself practicing one or more of these Deadly Sins, you have time to change.  You can change your trajectory, but it all starts by recognizing what’s up.

Elvis Won’t Be the Only One Who Died on His Throne

I used to think the worst place to be found dead would be perched on the toilet, but nowadays, I think I’d rather be found dead there than at my desk.

First, my desk is always severely cluttered, so God knows if you could even get me out of the house without tangling in a shitload of cords.  Secondly, dying in the bathroom means that I at least managed to get up and walk around a bit.

Karoshi.  It’s for real.  It’s killing writers, don’t let it get you.  I like you.  You read my ish and don’t complain when I use phrases like “hairy box turtle whore” and “moist jelly bean.”