The mother of all mistakes

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Bethany Joy is a freelance brand voice strategist, a handle she acknowledges is only slightly less wanky than ‘consultant’. Before running her own business, she spent a decade working in a variety of marketing, branding, and copywriting roles, which you’re welcome to read more about on LinkedIn if you’re one of the 0.00001% of humans who is genuinely interested in other people’s career histories.

Less pertinently, but perhaps more interestingly, she’s also a trained singer with secret dreams of a career crooning jazz standards in some smoky back bar in New York. She has a weird addiction to those odd little rainbow-coloured puffed-rice snacks that are clearly targeted at children. And she’s terrified of sharks.

Biggest fuck up

Hands down, becoming a mother.

Of all the mistakes I’ve made – the short-sighted decisions, the lapses in judgement, the missed opportunities – there’s no other single thing that’s had as significant and negative an impact on my career as having children.

It’s taken away my time, as childcare’s been a nightmare to find. It’s taken away my money, as once you find childcare, it costs a fucking fortune. It’s taken away my energy, as I’ve lost sleep and been drained
by all that parenting demands. And it’s taken away my competency, as my brain has been overloaded and distracted by the practicalities of life with small humans.

These losses are only temporary, of course. I’ll get my time back as they grow up. I won’t have to pay for childcare once they’re in school. My energy and my competency will gradually return as they become
more self-sufficient. But these fallow years have unquestionably stalled my career. Maybe even irreversibly damaged it.

The best-case scenario is that I’ll still manage to get to where I want to be, professionally – but 5-10 years later than I would have otherwise. However, it’s entirely possible that I’ll never quite achieve the goals I set for myself at the start of my working life.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love my children. I have a three-year-old boy and an eight-month-old girl, and sometimes I look at them and think they’re so goddamn gorgeous that I’d literally eat them if I could. Yes, parental love is essentially a kind of lunacy. So personally, sure – having kids has been a smash hit. But when it comes to my career? Absolute fuck-up, no question.


Lots of contenders for this. People who text while you’re talking to them. The phrase ‘jump on a call’. Anyone who writes their LinkedIn profile in the third person. The Faintly Passive-Aggressive Nature of Title Case.

But my current bête noire is hackneyed and overly simplistic tone of voice advice. Specifically, the idea that crafting a brand voice is “really just about sounding more human”. Even typing it makes me want to stab someone in the eyeball with a small, sharp fork.

I mean, let’s leave aside, for now, the fact that prefacing any advice with “it’s just about” is pretty much always going to leave you short. Very few things in business boil easily and conveniently down to only one thing.

The most obvious problem with this faux insight is what the fuck does it even mean? There are eight billion humans on this planet, and they all have different personalities and voices. If simply ruling out the idea of your business communicating like an animal or an extra-terrestrial is the best linguistic guidance you can muster, it’s probably a good idea to shut up.

But my real issue is that what the gurus who sagely hand out these lexical gems actually tend to mean by ‘more human’ is ‘more informal’. And it’s just vapidly ignorant to suggest that informality is the right course for every brand’s voice. MI6 would certainly beg to differ. As would The Ritz. The Bank of England. Eton. Dignitas. Rolls Royce. I could go on.

So if you hear anyone doling out this kind of bollocks, please do send their eyeballs my way to be stabbed.

Useful advice

  • If your career is your number one priority, don’t have kids.
  • Whenever you think something nice about someone, tell them.
  • Say no a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. Probably say it more than you say yes.
  • Avoid anyone who dubs themselves a ‘marketing ninja’.
  • Don’t bother with season five of Cobra Kai. It’s getting beyond ridiculous.


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