Why I think rat-popping should be encouraged

So – let me start this post with one of my book drawings.  To remind those of you who haven’t seen it yet – here it is:


Hmmm.  I’ve had a couple of folk express their distaste at the page above.  Somebody said that – although she might select my book from a bookstore shelf and start reading… she would replace the book if she came across this page.  Somebody else mentioned that she found the page distasteful and unnecessary – and she felt that it might upset children.

I’m not going to go in to a (very) long-winded response about the rat-popping… (because I’ve been working hard on attempting to manage my disclaimeritis)…  but, there’s a few things I want to point out:

Firstly… the rats were dead already.  I don’t like killing things.  And I have certainly never tortured or hurt any animals.

The rats from my story were big field rats that had fallen into our partially-buried septic tank (on the smallholding where I grew up)… and they had drowned in the sewerage.

I was a curious child – and I wanted to open the septic tank to understand what a tank full of poo and wee looked like.  Yes… gross!  – but – as I say, I was a VERY curious child.  What I discovered – instead – was about 12 dead, bloated rats… floating on top of all the other stuff.

I couldn’t reach them with my hands (kinda like reaching into a half-full well… and I had no intention of falling in to the septic tank whilst trying to retrieve the rats)… so I grabbed the pool net (Dad would have had a melt-down had he known)… scooped them up one-by-one and examined them closely.

My first thought was:  WHY have they swollen up like balloons?

My second thought was:  if they look like balloons – I wonder if they will *pop* like balloons?  Will they make a loud… popping sound?  Will they explode?  If they DO explode – will their guts splatter everywhere… like on the movies??

My third thought was:  how can I go about popping these rats to find out?

I didn’t want to try and pop them with a pin or a knitting needle – simply because doing so would mean that I would be within close proximity of a potentially exploding rat.  I did not want rat guts all over me.  Especially not rotting, stinky rat guts.

So – I decided to pop them… from a safe distance.  I lined them up in a neat row on our driveway… took a few steps backwards… took aim… and tossed bricks on top of them.

To be honest – it was pretty disappointing.  They didn’t explode like little rodent bombs.  They didn’t make a nice, loud balloon *pop* noise, either.  It was more a dull, squishy, muted phlooooppfff  sound.  The guts kinda oozed nonchalantly on to our driveway.   There was no dramatic, splattered rat-gut-shrapnel (as I had secretly hoped).

But there you have it… it was a fun science experiment.  Carried out by a curious child.

And you know what?  I don’t think this kind of curiosity should be discouraged because it makes people squirm and wrinkle their noses and say:  “Eww!  That’s disgusting!”

As much as I’m an artist (and my rat-popping days are long over and I have no desire to concoct any further experiments on dead things)… there’s a whole bunch of kids out there who could be future scientists, biologists, doctors or pathologists.  And those kids are curious about this kind of thing!  And they want to know… and understand how stuff works… and I think we should encourage them.

Dead things… are a part of life.  We need people who will be curious about that kind of thing.  Sure, it’s not everyone’s cup of proverbial tea… but… for the kids who DO want to dissect the dead things… and figure out how stuff works or why dead things bloat… I say:  let them!  Encourage them to question.  Encourage their curiosity.  And later – ask them what they discovered and what they learned.

Personally… I learned that popping dead, bloated rats wasn’t worth the effort of retrieving them from the septic tank… cleaning up the aftermath… and trying to hide the poo-encrusted pool net from my dad.

I also learned that dead rats bloat because the decomposition process releases various gasses.  These gasses accumulate and cause the bloating.  Too much gas accumulating (or – a brick)… could cause the gas-inflated cavity to rupture… but not *explode*… or blow the entire carcass to bits.  Therefore, my experiment rendered significantly less dramatic results than what I had anticipated.

As the saying goes, we learn something new every day.

Hat’s Story (and pile of resources) #3

For those who are new to what I’m doing with this cluster of “Hat’s Story” posts…  first read this – and then this.

Okay – moving on, cheesecakes….

This SECOND Hat Story (& resource) post is about changing direction:

Here’s what this post will cover:

  • Some tough questions and issues I needed to address after shutting down COPS
  • My burdensome issues with low self-esteem, body-shaming and binge-eating (and what affect they had on the direction my life had taken)
  • Redefining “success”
  • Permission to DREAM
  • My Change List
  • Art Journals and how they can help you figure stuff out (plus photos of mine and tips on how to make your own)


After I had shut down COPS Creative Corporation, I found myself in a bit of a pickle.

“What now?”, I asked myself.  “Where to from here?”

Those weren’t simple questions to answer.

I knew what I didn’t want out of life.  I didn’t want to settle for *survival* any more.  I didn’t want *normal* any more.

I also knew that I wasn’t meant for a routine of sameness, money-management, corporate-schmoozing or office admin… but I wasn’t sure what I should be doing.  I knew that suburban-life, soap-operas and shopping-malls weren’t for me either… but I couldn’t imagine an alternative.

I mean… what else was there – apart from the *normal* way….?

_Normality is a paved road.It's comfortable

To complicate matters, my self-esteem was at an all-time low.  Many factors contributed to this (I could easily write a book about it all)… but, in a nutshell… I was miserable, unhealthy and oozing shame and self-loathing.

I weighed 131 kilograms (288 lbs) and had gotten into the habit of escaping my office daily… to binge on double-cheeseburgers, packets of chips and slabs of chocolate.

Food was my drug… a numbing mechanism of sorts.  But also… a way to hide.

People don’t really *see* you when you’re really fat.

I remember saying to Nick:  “People judge this book by it’s cover – long before the pages inside have been read”.

Anyone who has struggled with obesity and food addiction will know what I mean by that.  When you’re fat – people tend to see the *fatness*… before they see you.  You are, in a sense, defined by your fatness.   I felt at my most invisible – when I weighed 131 kilograms.

(This – by the way – remains a sore point for me and one of the things that frustrates me most about the way our society is wired.  It’s also the reason why I try to *see* people for who they ARE – rather than judge them by what they look like on the outside)

Ironically… at the time… a large part of me wanted to hide.

I was filled with so much shame and self-loathing that it felt – in a sense – safer NOT to be seen.  There was this weird tug-of-war happening inside my head.  Deep down, a part of me longed to be *seen* and *heard* and *got*… but that yearning was usually always overwhelmed and shoved out of the way by a deep sense of shame and embarrassment.

And so… I blended into the background like the proverbial wallflower.  I slunk along the sidelines… in the shadows.  I didn’t speak up or voice my opinion.  I wore black, baggy clothes.  “Hide” clothes.  My hair was tied up in a messy top-knot.  My shoulders – slouched.  Eyes… focused firmly on the floor-tiles.  Hoping that nobody would notice the “shame” that was me.

And – indeed – nobody did notice.  I was like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To most people (if they even acknowledged my existence in the first place)… I was either “the-fat-lady-with-the-small-children”… or “Nick’s wife”… or “Morgan and Joah’s mom”… instead of HEATHER.

Few people knew who Heather was… least of all me.

Morgans 2nd birthday 008

After I had made the Big-Decision and shut down COPS, I came to realise that I wanted *more* out of life… I wanted it for myself and I wanted it for my family and I wanted it for other folk too.  I wanted a beautiful life.

But what was a beautiful life?  And… what might my beautiful life look like?

Before I could respond to those questions, I realised that I first needed to figure out who I was… and what I actually wanted out of this precious, mysterious, temporary existence we call LIFE.

I know that people often talk about living a “successful” life… or being “successful”.  But “success” means vastly different things to different people.

The traditional understanding of “success” (largely perpetuated by our status-driven society) is some – or all – of the following:

  • Big house in nice neighbourhood… filled with lots of stuff
  • Status symbols like posh cars, designer clothing, accessories (watches, bags, shoes, etc) of a certain type of brand
  • Well-paying, corner-office job
  • Recognition or a “high social standing”
  • Being perceived as hot, sexy or good-looking (or having a hot / sexy / good-looking partner)
  • Titles, qualifications, awards or other kinds of recognised special’ness
  • Money in bank (the more money… the more “successful” you are, apparently)

By the time I had shut down COPS, I had been well aware (for a long time) that the *traditional* views of “success” just weren’t… y’know… ticking my boxes.

I have never cared about status symbols, brand-names or special titles.  Money in the bank is, of course, a great thing to have… but I have never viewed “money” as a measure of someone’s success… or someone’s worth (including my own).

So… one of the first important questions I needed to ask myself was:  “What is MY definition of success?  What does *success* mean to ME?”

Because… (well, this may seem obvious to many people – but I missed this logic for decades)… we have two choices in life:

  1. Drift along aimlessly and indefinitely for the rest of our days… on our little life-rafts… allowing the tides to take us where they will… as we endeavour to simply “survive” and “make-do” and “get-by” with our allocated-LOT;  or…
  2. CHOOSE WHERE we want to go (and WHY).  And then chart a course.  And then set sail towards that destination. This is called Living Deliberately.

My years of mucking about and passively drifting along (COPS being a prime example of that) had just created misery and frustration.

So I decided to try option 2:  DO something.  Take deliberate steps and DO something.

And the first DO‘ing step involved figuring out the WHERE… and the WHY.

And so… I started to think a lot about transformation.  I had met (and read about) a number of people who had managed to turn their lives around… and I knew that it was possible to change (I don’t buy into that leopard-not-changing-spots nonsense).  I knew that it was possible to slowly but surely… change course and head off in a different direction.

The question, however… was:  WHICH direction?

So… I began journalling ideas of what a different life might look like.


I started by giving myself permission to DREAM.

My dreams spilled out onto paper and notebooks.  I drew pictures of the possibilities.  I made lists.  I cut photographs out of magazines.  I created mood boards.  I bounced ideas off Nick – and close, trusted friends.  I asked myself:

  • “What do you actually want, Heather?”
  • “Who do you want to be?”
  • “Who do you NOT want to be?”
  • “What is your version or your definition of success?”
  • “What kind of lifestyle do you want for yourself and your family?”
  • “How do you want to live?”
  • “How do you NOT want to live?”

In response to those questions, a few important themes slowly started to emerge.  And (because I am a sentimental creature – and I keep all this stuff)… I still have the notes I made during that time.

Here’s what I wrote:

  • For a start, I’m tired of hating my body.  It has become exhausting and dull.  I want to re-think the whole “beauty” ideal.  I want to know what it might be like to treat my body with love and respect.  Is it even possible for such a prolific self-abuser?  Would it be possible to like the person I see in the mirror… or… (here’s a crazy thought)… even learn to LOVE her?
  • I’m tired of diminishing.  I’m tired of hiding in the shadows.  I’m tired of pushing myself down, biting my tongue, shrinking, allowing my boundaries to be trampled.  I don’t want to be a doormat.  I don’t want to diminish and disappear.  I’m tired of being “less”.  Invisible.  Silent and submissive.  I want to be *SEEN* for who I truly am… I want to be *HEARD*… I want to have a VOICE.
  • Oh, and I am SO bone-tired of people-pleasing.  Of trying so desperately hard to fit-in and live up to the expectations of everyone else (often at my own expense).  Of trying to mould and shape myself according to who other people think I should be.  To behave how other people think I should behave.  To do what other people think I should do.  To live how other people think I should live.  I’m SO tired of that.  I want to rediscover the Authentic *ME*… and life life on my terms.
  • I want to write my own rule-book and chart my own course.  I want to live deliberately… on purpose.  I want to CHOOSE where I go from now on.  I want to take control of the reigns of my own life from now on.  I don’t want to be passive any more.  I don’t want to drift aimlessly any more.
  • I want to learn how to focus on my strengths, talents and gifts… and the GOOD things about me (instead of constantly berating and criticizing myself for my perceived weaknesses and flaws).
  • I want to seek out a new career.  I don’t want to do any more graphic design for nasty corporate clients – ever again!  I DO want to generate an income – but I want to ENJOY what I do.  And it needs to be creative… and diverse… and different.  Also – importantly – I want my work to somehow impact others in a positive way.  I want to leave a positive fingerprint on the world… to contribute towards the Greater Good in some way.
  • I want to connect with like-minded people.  I want to feel less alone.  And I want other people to feel less alone too.
  • I want our family life to change completely.  I want us to work on ways that we can spend lots of quality time together… instead of just passing each-other in the evenings, like ships in the night.  I want to figure out ways that we – as a family – can re-write the rule-book.  What kind of lifestyle will work best for us?  What kind of dreams do we share?  How can we downsize the stress and the debt… without being broke?  How can ALL of us do what we love?  I think we should throw out the rule-book completely… and just start-from-scratch… and choose a way – a life – that will work best for us… for who we are as individuals – and who we are as a family unit.
  • My version of success:  a happy, content, meaningful life… doing what we love… spending lots of quality-time together as a family… a life of adventure, travel, learning, growing, creativity, diversity… income generated with work that we enjoy… AND… making some kind of positive difference in the world.


OKAY…  here’s some thoughts and resources for anyone who is reading this (and still struggling to figure out the WHERE’s and the WHY’s)…  (we’ll get to the how’s later)…

Firstly… the resource list at the bottom of my previous post has loads of relevance to THIS post too.  Chew on the questions in there… and, the books I mentioned there are also hugely helpful for those who are still trying to figure out where they *fit*…

Strengths Finder is another helpful resource.

This personality test is a fun (and free) little exercise that adds all kinds of insight (and is a great conversation generator too).  PS:  I’m an INFP.

Ask yourself (and ponder on) the following questions:

  • What can you do better than your closest family and friends?
  • What were your favourite things to do / hobbies / games / activities (when you were a child)?
  • What excites you?
  • What kind of causes get you the most worked up?


who I am

My art journals (and I now have a small mountain of them) have been one of *the* most important tools in my self-discovery / healing / life-changing arsenal.  And yes… yes… I *am* a creative-creature and illustrator but you do NOT need to be “an artist” to be able to create an art journal!

ANYONE can create an art journal.

There is no “wrong” way to create an art journal.  It’s not *for* anyone else – but you.  It doesn’t need to be pretty… or *correct*… or ordered… or neat… or anything else.

Art Journals are not scrapbooks (scrapbooks are lovely – but they are usually meant to be seen and appreciated by otherslike family photo albums – so folk spend a lot of time and energy making them beautiful and perfect).

Art journals are not meant to be beautiful or perfect.  Your art journal is for YOU.  In fact, leave all perfection, politeness and expectation at the door when creating an art journal!   An art journal is… a *SPLURB!*… a big, fat, messy… splurb!  It’s where you can take all the noise in your head… and let it flow out of you on to paper.

Make as much mess as you want.

Don’t hold back.

Express your anger and frustration.  Vent!  Be as potty-mouthed and foul as you like.  Even if you’re the sweetest, nicest, most polite person… your Art Journal is the place where you can be whatever and whoever you want… and SAY, WRITE or DRAW whatever you please!

the fuck-it list

Talk about what enrages you.  Write about what angers and frustrates you.  Express your thoughts… your fears… your hurts… your dreams… your desires… your gratitude… your regrets…

Talk about who you ARE… and what you want… and what you love and what you hate.

Write stuff… draw stuff… paint stuff… stick stuff in there… scribble…

(My art journals are filled with paint, ink, glue, paper, stickers, photos, cardboard, foil, rubbish from the dustbin… dirt, sand, blood, pressed flowers, used tickets, old letters, string, stamps… and yes – a couple of tears have fallen on those pages too!)

I once wrote this post about How-to-Spot-a-Dream-Poo'er... (a Dream Poo'er is, of course, the well-meaning person who finds it necessary to poo on your dreams and aspirations and tell you that your dream is a terrible idea... and you shouldn't even bother because it will never work... and they end by saying something like: "I'm only being realistic, you know".... or "I'm telling you this out of love"....


There is nothing too taboo for an art journal.

There are no art journal rules… except this one:  allow yourself to be completely free and completely honest in your art journal.  You will be amazed at what you find out about yourself when you give yourself permission and the freedom to be completely… unreservedly… HONEST.  About everything.

Scan6 12


In a nutshell… these are the points I’m trying to make in this long-winded post:

  1.  If you change nothing… nothing will change.
  2. If you’ve decided that you DO want change… then there MUST be some kind of deliberate action that follows the decision (change doesn’t just drop from the sky… you don’t *wait* for change… you CREATE change).
  3. In order to live deliberately – you need to figure out where you’re going… and why.  You need to have goals, dreams and direction.  You need to know who you are and who you’re not. What you want out of life… what you don’t want out of life.  The things that are important to you… that things that aren’t important to you.
  4. For me… the process of figuring out the answers to the questions above… took quite a bit of time, pondering, questioning and inner-wrestling.  It didn’t happen instantly.
  5. One of the most helpful things I did (during the process of figuring out who I am and what I want out of life) was to create art journals.

Okay… this post is LONG-winded (and over-due).  We’ve been on the road again – so my internet access has been sporadic (and – most of my time is going into the book… hence this blog being a bit neglected).

My next post in the Story & Resources series will be about the practical steps I took to create change (after I had figured out the “what’s” and the “whys”).

You guys are awesome… thanks for reading… following… and connecting!  X

PS:  Anyone interested in an art-journaling course?  Online – or otherwise…?  Add a comment on this post or drop me an e-mail:  heather@themadhat.co.za  so I can gauge the interest and see whether I should start putting something together.  x



Hat’s Story (and pile of resources) #2

If you haven’t already read my introduction on what these Hat-Stories & Resources are about… read this first!

For everyone else – this FIRST Hat-Story (& resource) post is about un-jobbing.

Here’s what this post will cover:

  • How I ended up in a career that I hated (and the toll it took on my life)
  • The final straw that broke the camel’s back and cemented my decision to change direction
  • A couple of photos of me taken during *those* years…
  • A couple of quotes, links & useful resources for those feel trapped in a job they hate.

For those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you might recognise the story I’m about to share from a blog post that I wrote  on the 1st January, 2014.  Please bare with me (if you’ve read this before).  I have added extra goodies (and new photos) – and there’s stuff in here that wasn’t included in that post from a few years ago.

The most dangerous risk of all:  the risk of spending your life not doing what you want… on the bet that you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later”


Me... in my office... 2007.

Me… in my office… 2007.

I call it my Bathtub Moment.  The moment I knew… with utmost clarity and certainty… that my life had to change.

My life didn’t need slight tweaks and adjustments.  It needed to change.  As in:  completely.  As in:  irrevocably.  The entire trajectory of my existence needed to shift onto a very different course.  And I knew, with certainty, that I could never go back.

It was mid-2007.  At the time, I owned a graphic design and below-the-line ad agency called COPS Creative Corporation.  I’m not sure how I ended up with that company.  It certainly wasn’t on my list of Life’s Big Dreams.  I probably ended up in that position for the same reason that (most?) people end up doing the stuff they do:  I kinda drifted there.  It just… sorta… happened.

It went something like this:

  • I’m a creative creature
  • I needed to make money, so I started doing some freelance design work for a few friends
  • Word spread
  • Other folk approached me and asked me to design some stuff for them too
  • Eventually, there was too much work for me to manage on my own so I hired another designer to help me – and voila! a business was born.
Some of the promotional material for COPS Creative Corporation

Some of the promotional material for COPS Creative Corporation

By 2007, the business had tripled in size.  I employed 9 people (excluding myself).  Six were employed by COPS and, on the home-front, I employed another three – including a full-time nanny (who cared for 2-year-old Morgan) and a housekeeper.

In 2007, my life was… kinda like a runaway train.  It surged ahead, full-speed – and although I knew that I should have been up in the front of the cab, powering the train and tooting the whistle… it felt as though the train was driving itself and I was limping on the train tracks – far behind the train – frantically trying to catch up.

This is not a fun feeling.

Anyone who has chased feebly after their runaway lives will understand how un-fun it is to live like that.


In 2007, Nick and I lived in a large suburban home which we had purchased, shortly after we had married in February 2005 (as one does).  Morgan arrived in November 2005 (and Joah followed in March 2008).

The house (and attached cottage) was our home… but it also served as a studio for Nick (a filmmaker) – and the headquarters of COPS.

My company created advertising and promotional campaigns for a number of clients.

I was once told, by the owner of a large, wealthy advertising agency… that his job (and mine) was simply this:

“To manipulate people into using money they don’t have… to buy things they don’t need”.

Somebody else (I think it was a copywriter) referred to our kind of work as:  “Rolling other people’s turds in glitter”.

Here’s a nice pic of a glitter-turd (that Ranty made with polymer clay):


And yes – sometimes, that’s exactly what it felt like.  Sometimes, I not only disliked my clients… but I extra-disliked their products and services.  Sometimes, I thought that their products were overpriced and badly made… or that their services were unethically ripping people off.

And yet – I’d don my polite-and-enthusiastic smile… and invent creative ways to promote said turd’ish product… to glitterize it… to make it more palatable to the general public and thus generate sales for my client.

Obviously, this wasn’t true of all of my clients.  I had some lovely clients too.  But it felt as though most of them (and certainly the over-sized, arrogant corporations) required me to do lots of turd-rolling.

My biggest client was a company that owned hotels.

Lots of hotels.

They were a large, hotel-owning company and (like all colossal corporations), they were concerned about one thing:  The Bottom Line.

I did lots and lots of turd-rolling for this company.  And I did lots of corporate brown-nosing in their bling-encrusted boardrooms (while sipping their shitty coffee).  I’d talk the talk and dazzle them with designer jargon and assurances of how gush-gush *amazing* their next campaign would be.

Then, I’d go home… and my designers and I would burn the midnight oil in order to meet the demands and expectations of the CEO and his minions.

My Bathtub Moment was, in a sense, the fruit of this particular hotel-owning client.  And I remember it as though it were yesterday.

Me... taking some photos at one of the hotel-owning client's hotels.  Don't I look terribly thrilled and excited?

Me… taking some photos at one of the hotel-owning client’s hotels. Don’t I look terribly thrilled and excited?


When it (the Bathtub Moment) happened, my husband was away on an international shoot.  Nick was usually my reliable buffer during times of stress.  If I had crazy deadlines, he’d ease the load and make sure that Morgan was taken care of during evenings or over weekends and holidays (when the nanny wasn’t there).

But, on this occasion, Nick was away.  For 3 long weeks.

And during those 3 weeks, my hotel-owning client suddenly decided (at the last possible moment) that they wanted to exhibit at Indaba (an international travel & hospitality expo, held in Durban every year).

Not only were they going to exhibit at Indaba, but they needed thousands of printed fact sheets, posters, brochures (and all sorts of other bits and pieces) for ALL of their hotels.

All of these items needed to be designed, printed and delivered to their flashy double-storey exhibit by 7am on the first morning of Indaba.

We had two weeks to pull it off.

Usually, a job of this size would take the printing company – alone – two weeks to produce (at a push).  And we needed to first design and typeset the whole lot… and have it checked, proofed and signed-off before I could forward a single item to the printer.

To cut a long story short;  I worked like a rabid insomniac for those two weeks.  I existed on a diet of coffee and Red Bull.  I slept in short spurts.  I paid the nanny overtime to help me with Morgan in the evenings (she bathed her, fed her and put her to bed).

At one stage, I humiliated myself when I begged Piet, my printer… (like a dog)… I literally begged him… with genuine tears stinging the corners of my eyes to:  “Please, please, please, please… make it happen, please!” when he expressed his doubts as to whether we’d make deadline.

“It has to be ready…”, I begged him, “Please, it has to!”…

Trying to do some last-minute work on the kitchen counter because my office was being used by a staff member...

Trying to do some last-minute work on the kitchen counter because my office was being used by a staff member…

I was worried that I wouldn’t have everything at the Indaba exhibit by 7am on launch day – as expected.  I fretted about what might happen if I didn’t meet that deadline.  What if I lost the client?  And how would we pay all the bills and salaries without the income that the rich, hotel-owning company generated?

The day before the deadline, I was pacing my studio like a restless, caged animal.

I’d phone Piet-the-Printer (a remarkably patient man).

“Hi Piet.  It’s Heather from COPS.  Is the job ready yet?  Can I collect?”

“No”, said Piet, “It’s not ready yet”.

The hotel-owning CEO’s secretary was also phoning me regularly;

“Are you on your way to Indaba?”, she’d ask.

“No.  I’m still in Joburg.  I’m waiting for the printing to come off the press”

What!!?  WHY isn’t it ready yet??” she demanded, seemingly oblivious of how much of my life I had given up and how much turd-rolling I had taken on for her company.  No, wait.  I wasn’t turd-rolling.  For this particular job, it felt as though I had submerged myself in an Olympic-sized swimming pool of corporate poo!

Here's another miserable-me pic.  You know that saying about how a picture can paint a thousand words?  I think this photo says a LOT...

Here’s another miserable-me pic. You know that saying about how a picture can paint a thousand words? This photo says more about how I felt about my life (at that time) than words could.

By 5pm, I was starting to get desperate.  I dialled Piet again.

“Please… please tell me it’s ready”

“It’s off the press.  We’re just waiting for the ink to dry.  Then we’ll score, fold and send it through the guillotine”

“It’s not cut yet?”, I asked, feeling the desperation and panic beginning to rise like bile in my throat…

“We’re doing the best that we can, Heather”, snapped Piet, sounding distinctly unfriendly.  He had a bite to his voice that suggested that he was rapidly running out of his usual supply of patience.

I don't know where I found this pic

By 8:15pm, the last of the printed material was ready.

I had packed an overnight bag, dropped Morgan off at my mom’s and had driven my Renault Modus to the printing factory.  Piet’s night staff had helped me to load 10 000 copies of fact sheets, brochures and posters into my small car.

The printed material engulfed the Modus.  It filled the boot, the back seat (I couldn’t even see out of my rearview mirror)… and it towered precariously on the passenger seat next to me.  I was worried that if I made an abrupt turn in my car, the mountain of printing would topple over and crush me like an insect.

The weight was clearly too much for the Modus.  The axles groaned… the tyres looked as though they would burst under the strain – but I didn’t care.  I had possession of the completed material.

Now, I just needed to drive it all to Durban – 700 kilometres / 435 miles away.

With my overnight bag, 8 tins of Red Bull and a tiny car, overloaded with printed promo-material… I drove through the night from Johannesburg to Durban.

Oh – and did I mention?  I was pregnant with Joah at the time.

Stressed and exhausted, I drove with the windows down so that the cool night air would (hopefully) keep me awake and I would (hopefully) not plunge myself off a ravine… or something.

About an hour in to my drive, I received a phone call.  It was from the hotel-owning client (the CEO himself).

“Where the fuck are you?”, he shrieked in my ear.

Just as I was about to explain… in my most polite, most professional glitter-coated, brown-nosing voice… and tell him that I was on the road and that the job would, indeed, be delivered on time… the battery on my phone went flat.

I drove the rest of the way to Durban with the knowledge that the CEO was foaming-at-the-mouth-mad at me… expecting me not to show up on time (if at all).

Just the knowledge of this filled me with dread.


Another photo for the evidence file…

I arrived at my hotel at three in the morning.  It was a beautiful 5-Star establishment and I was shown to my lavish suite by a polite porter (I had tried to book a cheaper hotel, but with Indaba on the go, every reasonably-priced hotel room in the whole of Durban was booked up.  Only super-expensive places were available).

I slept for two hours… woke at 5am… showered, dressed, swallowed some breakfast… and returned to my loaded Modus – only to discover:  a flat tyre!

The Modus was going nowhere.

Again, that familiar feeling of panic began to rise;  “Oh crap!  Oh crap!  Oh crap!  I have to get all this stuff to the hotel exhibit… at Indaba… in the centre of town… by 7am!  It’s now 6am… and I have a flat tyre!!”

Thankfully… mercifully… my cousin was also exhibiting at Indaba that year (she and her husband own a lodge in Limpopo).  I phoned Clare, explained my predicament… and her husband, Michel, drove to my hotel, helped me to re-load all the shrink-wrapped parcels into his van… and helped me to deliver the whole lot – ON TIME – to the hotel-owning client’s flashy double-storey exhibit.

After off-loading the trolley, I sank down on to the floor in a daze.

It was at that moment that the hotel-owning CEO arrived on the scene (the one who had cursed me on the phone the night before and who had since left a number of ominous threats on my voicemail).

He was striding, red-faced, down the expo aisle… followed by a small cluster of worried-looking, note-taking minions.  Upon reaching his exhibit, he stopped abruptly… glared darkly at me… and turned his attention to the mountain of neatly-stacked printed material that I had delivered.

Realising that everything was there – on time – he glanced back at me, delivered a curt nod, spun on his heel… and left.

No “hello”… no “thank-you”… nothing.

I was simply the hired help – and I was expected to do whatever it took to deliver the goods.

If I had plunged the Modus off a cliff in the middle of the night… and died… his biggest concern would have been whether there were enough salvageable pamphlets for Indaba.

This… by the way… was one of those slap-through-the-face catch-a-WAKE-UP moments (which cemented my decision to change things):  the realisation that I did NOT matter to those people.  That I was just another cog-in-the-wheel. Dispensable.  Replaceable.  Because what really mattered was money and profit.

And I didn’t like that feeling.

I didn’t like feeling like a cheap, replaceable cog.

I didn’t like feeling as though the primary purpose of my career (and the purpose of my creative gifts)… was to make money for other people… to help rich corporations get even richer.

It sounded like a pretty shitty and meaningless investment of my one, short, precious life.

“The price of anything is the amount of LIFE you exchange for it”

– Henry David Thoreau –

Michel dropped me back at the hotel.  I went to my suite, put on some music and sunk into a very hot bath.

I so desperately wanted Nick and Morgan with me.  I wanted them in that hotel room with me.  I wanted to lean against my husband and feel the reassurance of his warm hugs.  I wanted to scoop up my baby girl and just BE with her.  I wanted to see her beautiful little face.  I wanted to listen to her happy giggles.

But I was alone in that tub… in that big, 5-star-suite.

Exhausted… stressed… and alone (well, not entirely alone – I had a baby boy growing inside of me at the time).

And that was when my Bathtub Moment happened.

I started to cry… as in howl-cry.  Big salty tears plopped into the steaming bath water and I howled some more.

And then…

(and this is important)…

I started to QUESTION!

Here are the uncomfortable questions that I asked myself in the bathtub that night:

  • Why am I here?
  • What am I doing?
  • Why am I doing this work?
  • Why am I putting up with these turd’ish clients?
  • Why am I running this business?
  • Is it worth it?  Is it worth the humiliation, the stress, the time spent away from my loved ones?
  • Was this my dream?
  • Did I even want this?
  • If I didn’t want it – then why am I doing it?
  • Is this all there is to look forward to?
  • Is this what life is supposed to be like?  An endless cycle of working, eating, sleeping, stressing and bill-paying?
  • Is it possible to escape this?
  • Is it possible to change this?
  • Is it possible to dig myself out of this hole?
  • Is it possible to redesign my entire life?
  • Is it possibly to live differently?
  • Is it possible to be happy?

What are YOUR uncomfortable questions?

Deep down, I already knew all the answers to the questions I was spewing out.  I already knew what needed to be done.  The Bathtub Moment was simply the first time I had articulated it to myself… the first time I had given myself permission to feel… and dream… and to decide that I wanted something else for my life.  Something… different.

And so, right there… right then… I decided.

Just like that.

The decision was made.


After I had returned to Joburg and after Nick had returned from his shoot, I sat down with him and told him what I wanted to do.

“I want to shut down COPS.  It’s killing me slowly.  It’s robbing our family.  And the stress is not worth the money I make.  In fact, I suspect we’d be better-off financially without all the debt, salaries and extra expenses”.

Nick agreed.  And that was the end of that.  We closed the business.  Shut it all down.  My staff found other work.  I phoned all of my clients and told them they’d have to find a new design agency.  We sold the computers.  Shut down the shop.  Paid the last of the bills.  And just like that… it was gone.

COPS Creative Corporation was no more.

And just like that… I had the freedom to decide:  “What do I actually want to DO with my life?”

“Normal is getting dressed in clothes you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car you are still paying for… in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it”

Ellen Goodman


BOOKS I found useful (whilst trying to answer the question:  “What do I really want to do with my life?”)

  • The Element – how finding your passion changes everything (by Ken Robinson).  He also has a book called “Finding your Element” – which is a much more practical guide (but I think I prefer the first book).
  • The Four Hour Work Week (by Tim Ferris)
  • Eat, Pray, Love (by Elizabeth Gilbert)

I also recently came across a book called Roadmap – the get-it-together guide for figuring out what you want to do with your life”.  Although the book mainly seems to be targeting younger folk (perhaps high-schoolers and university students) – they DO have some fabulous thought-provoking, practical exercises in there that, I think, could spark a few ideas (for those who feel *stuck*).


This is your life

“If you like conformity, competition or pretense… then ordinary reality is a great place to be.  If you’re interested in personal growth, however, you’ll need to go through the cracks in ordinary reality and find out what’s on the other side”

– Troy Dayton –

BLOG POSTS about asking ourselves those big, deep, scary questions about whether we’re *surviving*, *getting by*, *making-do*… or are we LIVING…?

PONDERTUNITY (a pondertunity is an opportunity to ponder, think, dream, deconstruct old ideas and re-imagine new ones)

Ask yourself some of these questions (I found the questions uncomfortable – but my responses to the questions were telling):

  • How do you feel about where your life is at… at the moment?  Are you happy?  Are you content?  Are you miserable or frustrated?
  • What is the biggest cause of frustration in your life right now?
  • How did you end up with the job you now have?
  • Was it your plan (to work where you’re working now) – or did you just kinda end up there?
  • Do you enjoy your job?
  • If the answer is no… do you have an idea of the job you’d like to have?
  • Have you ever thought of changing the direction of your life?
  • If the answer is yes… what would you like to be doing?
  • What holds you back?
  • If you never, ever had to worry about money (ever again)… what would you DO with your life?

And finally – to end this post on a positive note… I need you to know (and especially those of you who are reading this post without any knowledge of my back-story)… that my story DOES have a happy ending *insert whoop of glee here!*

Here’s a recent photo of the current “me” (compare to the misery-me photos above – and you’ll see that a LOT has changed):


I LOVE my current life-work (to coin a phrase used by the folk who wrote the Roadmap book)… everything has changed.

It wasn’t a quick-fix.  It didn’t happen in an instant.  It was (and continues to be) a journey.  A journey of baby-steps… a series of teensy-tiny-daily CHOICES… a continued, every-day effort to question…. re-define… re-align… and live deliberately.

“Tapping into your purpose takes a great deal of discipline, because you have to ask yourself the question every day when you open your eyes:  ‘Who am I?'”

– Penny Brown Reynolds (quote taken from the Roadmap book) –

It’s a journey.

I have definitely not *arrived*… (any regular reader of this blog will know that!)…

I don’t think anybody *arrives*.  I think there are folk who camp on the side of the road, indefinitely.  Preferring not to move.  Preferring not to change.

But for those of us who choose to move… and change… and grow… and explore…  I don’t think the journey ever ends.  There’s a new lesson around every bend (and that’s what excites me!)… I like not knowing what-comes-next.

I embrace the beautiful unpredictability of life… it’s what makes me feel truly-alive!  🙂

Anyhoo… so that’s Hat’s Story (and pile of resources) #2….

I know it was pretty long-winded… but the truth is, I’ve only TOUCHED on this topic.  I have so much more to say and share about escaping a nasty, life-sucking career and doing what you LOVE… (but this post would turn into a book!)…

So – moving on…

The NEXT post in this Hat’s Story series will be about what happened after I had shut down the business and stopped doing the only thing (graphic design) that I thought I was good at…

By the way – feel free to respond in the comments… or on Facebook… or drop me an e-mail heather@themadhat.co.za

Lots of love to you all!  Hat x