I have just finished reading Reset by David Sawyer.
You might have heard of the book, particularly if you work in PR in the UK or you know David and his Glasgow-based company Zude PR.
David hasn’t been shy in promoting Reset and rightly so, as he’s self-published it. Numerous PR luminaries have already blogged, tweeted or podcasted about it.
My copy of Reset is a pre-publication PDF – my first e-book, in fact – that David kindly sent me. I then proceeded to sit on it for a few months before finally diving in.
This isn’t a book review. Not in the conventional sense, anyway. It’s more a reflection on myself and where I feel I am as the kind of ‘middle-class midlifer’ it addresses. Typically self-regarding.
If you haven’t heard about Reset, it goes like this…
David is a PR guy. He hails from the north-west of England and lives with his wife and two kids in Glasgow. For several years he headed up big-time PR agency Weber Shandwick’s offices in the city.
Then, six years ago, David left his job and went solo as Zude PR. He also embarked on a deep dive into learning digital communications and marketing, conscious that his traditional media-focused skill-set was out of step, threatening to render him obsolete. He read everything he could and mastered disciplines such as search engine optimisation (SEO) to become a top-class digital practitioner.
The thing about David is he doesn’t keep all this knowledge to himself. He likes to share. His Zude’s Top 4 emails link to the best of the reams of blog posts he’s devoured that week. His recommended reading lists have helped stock my bookshelves and shape my thinking on comms, branding and productivity over the past few years.
Approaching 40, David also took up running. He soon found he was good at it and began racing competitively. Last year he completed the Berlin Marathon in a scary-impressive time of two hours 40 minutes.
Running is as much a part of David’s story as PR. But although both figure and the foreword is written by former Olympian Charlie Spedding, Reset isn’t about PR, or running. It’s about life, and how to live it well.
As you may have guessed, I kind of know David. We haven’t met in person but we’ve exchanged emails and tweets. A couple of years ago he asked me, flatteringly, to contribute to a blog post about the thing he called ‘enlightened self-interest’ in communications; why it pays to be nice. Because of this professional generosity and his snappy, self-effacing writing style, I like David. Yet I set out not to like Reset.
Why? Perhaps it was the subtitle, ‘How to Restart Your Life and get F.U. Money‘.
I wasn’t familiar with the term and, to my soft-left sensibilities, the idea of getting ‘fuck you’ money sounded a bit like greed. Chasing wealth at the expense of all else.
An Amazon search turned up Dan ‘The Man’ Lok’s F.U. Money (subtitle: Make as Much Money as You Damn Well Want and Live Your Life as You Damn Well Please!) Was Reset like that? Was this book for me?
It turns out I was wrong. And that this book is almost precisely for me.
David’s book is nothing like as aggressive, condescending or materialistically shallow as Lok’s shouty title sounds.
He begins with ‘I’m writing this book for me six years ago’. David is 45. I’m 39 1/2. That’s the age David was when he started running. I took up running seriously two years ago. You could say I have a head start, though the prospect of a 2:40 marathon feels beyond me, having completed my first marathon last November in just over four hours. That said, I didn’t expect to run a 1:31 half marathon PB a month ago.
What else? I’m also married with two primary age kids. I like soul music. And I’ve worked in PR for over a decade, having started out as a journalist.
But there the similarities end. I am not heading up a branch of a major PR firm, or even managing a team. Until reassessing recently, I considered myself an under-achiever. I compared myself unfavourably to others the same age or younger who’d become more senior, with impressive job titles and salaries.
I love what I do, feel I’m still learning and am yet to reach my peak. Reset‘s sub-sub-title is The Unconventional Early Retirement Plan for Midlife Careerists Who Want to be Happy. Sure, I pay into my pension but I wasn’t thinking about planning for retirement yet.
Reset is a self-help book. But it’s an unconventional one. Its range is ambitiously diverse. Finding your purpose. Overcoming fears to future-proof your career (in Dave’s case, mastering digital). Decluttering mentally, digitally and physically. And, finally, gaining financial independence through frugality and sensible investment to amass a stash to live on and retire early.
It sounds like a grab-bag of current self-help trends. And yet, somehow, David pulls all the strands together to map out a cohesive, step-by-step plan to sort your shit out and get a better life for you and your family. What’s not to like?
And it’s an appealingly common-sense and easy-to-follow plan. The thought of putting some of the recommended steps into place and waiting for the ‘click’ as the fug clears and you gain a little headspace is attractive, even liberating. Take physical decluttering, AKA tidying up.
Last week I caught myself and laughed inwardly. On a return train journey to London for an industry event, I had just read cover-to-cover a second-hand copy of Japanese organising guru Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. A book about tidying – by an eccentric Japanese woman who talks to inanimate household items and insists you fold your socks. Purely on David’s glowing recommendation in Reset. The 22-year-old music journalist me would have been appalled. The 39-year-old me loved it. (My wife, meanwhile, thinks I’m insane and isn’t letting me anywhere near her sock drawer…)
I admit that I skimmed over the lengthy financial independence section. I have an aversion to the language of money and finance paired with an undiagnosed numeracy issue. Numbers on a page cause my brain to scramble and shut down. I’m a words and pictures man. I did take some sound principles that I’ve started to implement – not least budgeting and frugality, something I’ve failed at my entire adult life.
What of the rest of it? Reset may be written for someone like me, at my age, life- and career-stage, but do I really want or need to reboot my life?
On reflection, I realise it’s something I started doing a couple of years ago and have been taking incremental steps towards ever since.
There was a time not too long ago when I felt I was in a career dead-end, stagnating, questioning if that was what I wanted to do with my life.
Then a few things changed. Or, rather, I changed them, consciously but in steps, not big-bang. I formed new habits and routines that, with time and repetition, have stuck. I have reflected and re-evaluated where I am and where I want to be; how I want to define myself as a professional and as a human. And I think I’m getting to be in a good place.
Here are some examples:
Exercise: Running three to four times a week, joining the local athletics club and completing one marathon and two half-marathons since last October. Adopting a 5:45am 15-minute exercise routine to kickstart every work day.
Changing job and sector: Leaving local government after nine years to join a national charity in a less senior but more fulfilling role, focused on campaign delivery with opportunities to broaden my skills and be creative. And a shorter commute to boot. David doesn’t like commuting.
Continuous professional development: Joining the CIPR in 2014, becoming an Accredited Practitioner and maintaining that status through the annual CPD programme and recently becoming a member of my regional CIPR committee.
Managing my time: Using free online tool Asana as my to do list to manage my priorities and deadlines. Quitting worthy but time-consuming and stress-making community volunteering commitments to free up my spare time and get more sleep rather than burning the candle.
Digitally declutter: Switching off my app notifications. Muting WhatsApp groups. Putting my social apps in a single folder on the second page of my phone. Partially withdrawing from Facebook. (I’m still struggling with this one. I still need to find an accommodation in my love-hate relationship with my iPhone and social media.)
I may not have consciously decided to reset my life with a systematic plan like David sets out, but over the last couple of years I have made changes – some big, some small – that have, if I’m honest, made me more professionally fulfilled, fitter and happier than I’ve ever been.
I’ve got a way to go. There are still things I want to change. But, like David, I know there’s no perfect, no nirvana. We’ll always be striving and struggling. And that’s life.
And the book? I liked it after all. A lot.
I’ll write you that Amazon review now Dave, OK?