When I saw it crumpled up on the floor of that hall, maybe I should have just given up there and then – Saved myself 20 years of work, stress, time and pointless hope.
Because it was right – A portent of things to come.
No matter how hard I tried or what I did, it wouldn’t be enough. I wouldn’t be good enough to achieve the goal – the DREAM it symbolised.
It was 1997 and I was volunteering for the Hawke’s Bay Cancer Society as a “Youth Health Promoter” – particularly aimed at Smokefree initiatives – the “cause célèbre à la mode”.
I had been doing it for a couple of years, having decided I didn’t want to go to university upon finishing high school, I instead worked at a local radio station for six months and when I saw the Cancer Society’s “proper” health promotion lady in a community newspaper promoting some event, I thought I’d like to help out.
So I did.
I’ve always had great promotional / “sales” skills (though I much preferred “selling” ideas rather than the unrealistic, ever-increasing “sales goals” variety) and, like radio, I got a kick out of the performance aspect of promoting stuff – being unconventional, finding different, memorable ways of doing things.
We gave presentations in schools, held a camp for high school leaders to help spread the Smokefree message, went to Wellington to film a segment for a youth TV show called “Get Real” (that never made it to air because the “tape got lost”) and held Smokefree Speech Contests.
I had even been selected to be a (expenses paid) New Zealand representative at an Australasian youth health conference in Sydney (my first overseas experience) – So I must have been doing something right.
I was having a great time. I enjoyed the work (although I also had to work part time in a supermarket for income). I did interesting things and got to meet great people.
I was meeting so many people I wanted to learn from and keep in touch with that I made up my own “business cards”.
Inkjet printed on green cardboard, they weren’t the pinnacle of professional imagery, but I was merely a volunteer and it was all I could afford.
That is when it happened.
I had only just made them the week before one of the speech contests and handed two out at the event. I can’t remember who I handed them to, but I remember seeing one in someone’s diary – used as a bookmark as they left.
Then I saw the other one.
It was scrunched up, lying on the floor close to where I had given it to whoever it was.
The purpose of the card dead before it hit the ground.
I felt a bit crap and hurt about it at the time – That what I was doing had been discarded so thoughtlessly, but I moved on.
The compulsion behind throwing the card away didn’t.
It persisted – An origami albatross around my neck.
I had been doing this work voluntarily for two years and loved it so much I wanted to make it my career – to make a living out of it.
I asked those involved professionally what I should do and was told I had to get a tertiary qualification in marketing or something similar.
So, combining my volunteer work and an actual paying job, I added a one year, full time “Diploma in Marketing” course from Napier’s own Eastern Institute of Technology to my work schedule.
I passed, acing the communication aspects of the course and graduated with an A4 certificate, a few thousand dollars’ worth of student debt and, as it turned out, nothing more.
I applied for well over 50 marketing-type jobs in the years immediately after my graduation and equally got well over 50 rejections.
Many years later I was asked to do a short video for Baybuzz on what I thought Hawke’s Bay needed – in a take that ended up on the cutting room floor I symbolically crunched up and threw away a copy of my marketing diploma – that was what it is worth to me.
I still volunteered for the Cancer Society. They were great and very supportive, but being a charitable organisation they couldn’t afford to pay me.
In 1997 I had been to the (“Smokefree” it was at the time) “Stage Challenge” at the Hastings Municipal Theatre.
I fell in love with it.
High school students perform a piece of theatre on a (usually social or historical) topic of their choice to music over eight minutes.
It was loud, energetic, colourful and amazing – If you haven’t seen a performance before, it’s basically a Baz Luhrmann musical movie amped up to 11 by teenaged hormones, pheromones and whatever the loudest, most energetic music of the day is.
So in 1998 I made direct contact with the company who ran it at the time from rural Victoria Australia and offered to help and went around Hawke’s Bay high schools getting as many as I could involved in the event.
The previous year two HB schools had taken part; I managed to up that number to five, with another two schools I had approached joining in the following year.
Our local DHB’s Health Promotion Unit was the “official” local supporter of Stage Challenge in Hawke’s Bay. So I approached them to see if we could team up promoting the event – going around schools, getting stuff in the paper and on the radio.
In the end it was just me that ended up doing those things – The DHB set up a table with some health-related pamphlets at the theatre on the day of the show. That was pretty much their entire involvement.
The 1998 Hawke’s Bay Stage Challenge was a high energy, feel-good success and enjoyed by almost all involved.
I say “almost” because I was the exception.
I loved the performances, the energy, the music and the passion the teams put into and got out of their performances. The school teams thanked me for my help and input.
Having spent several months going around the region, promoting the event and almost TRIPLING the number of local schools competing I had to ask the show’s producers for any form of thanks. Even then it wasn’t forthcoming
For their table of pamphlets, the DHB got a framed gold disc as a sign of appreciation.
I got nothing.
It was the beginning of the end for me.
With the promotional and entrant numbers success (but appreciation fail) of Stage Challenge added to over two years of voluntary work experience, promotion, publicity and interaction, as well as my “tertiary marketing qualification” I applied to numerous local and national health promotion and similar, youth-orientated, agencies to try and get a foothold in paid employment at something I enjoyed doing and had been recognised (by a few at least) as being very good at.
The response: Nothing.
I gave up.
It wasn’t easy – When you dedicate all your free time over several years to something you believe in, enjoy and are good at, only to be shot down at every opportunity for advancement or even thanks it gets very physically and emotionally draining very quickly.
I packed up all my Smokefree things, returned them and walked away.
I went back to working for money, rather than enjoyment. It was all rather capitalistic and soulless.
I eventually found a job I loved in a bookshop. In that job I met someone I would go on to love and be loved by and end up marrying.
After some struggles the two of us would have a baby girl who we both love VERY much.
Love inspires – It encourages hope, it rekindles dreams, it makes you want to be a better person.
I started writing and promoting / “selling” ideas again – so I could be a better inspiration for my daughter, like my dad was for me.
But the shadows of an origami albatross started circling again….