It was a heart attack at the age of 38 that ended my career at one of London’s most prestigious law firms and helped me discover my passion: working as a lifeguard and swimming instructor. I joined Freshfields in 1996 at the age of 24, ready to work my way through the magic circle of London’s top law firms. I started as a clerk but was quickly promoted to Purchasing Manager.
My team provided each department with the supplies they needed while negotiating the best prices with vendors. At a London company with 5,000 employees, that meant contracts worth £500,000 (equivalent to around €596,400) with papermakers alone.
The position wasn’t very glamorous, but Freshfields was an environment where I had to do everything right. Each “i” had to have a period, each “t” a hyphen. It was intense. As my responsibility increased, so did my workload. Even though my contract stipulated a 40-hour week, people used to work late at night and on weekends.
The boundary between work and private life gradually blurred. Drinking at lunchtime and partying extensively with vendors was part of the social fabric, as is often the case with business in big cities. Over the years I became more and more involved in the office. Hard work and intense parties were part of my daily life, fueled by Freshfields paychecks and the urban bustle of London.
Life was less exciting at the office. I spent my days eating junk food, smoking, and sitting at my desk for hours. At my worst, I was smoking 40 cigarettes a day, drinking for hours every night, and eating unhealthily. The parties became a coping strategy to deal with the stress of work. When I didn’t have to work on the weekends, I would go to raves and parties until Monday morning to avoid thinking about next week’s work.
So time passed. He was 38 years old and exhausted. I wasn’t living my life or enjoying my work, dragging myself from week to week, until one Saturday in 2009 when I was partying in Notting Hill. It was 12:30 am Suddenly I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I thought someone had put something in my drink. When I couldn’t walk anymore, a friend helped me home.
I tried to sleep late but ended up going to the doctor on Monday. Assuming I was still feeling the side effects from Saturday night, he prescribed Valium and sent me home to continue sleeping. When I woke up, I had tearing pains all over my chest and shoulders. After six hours in the emergency room, five EKGs, and another misdiagnosis of a chest infection, a new doctor on duty realized what was going on: He had had a heart attack. I was immediately taken to the operating room where the surgeons placed a stent in my artery. The doctor told me that drinking, smoking, partying and stress were completely taboo for me from now on.
Three days after my heart attack, I went back to work despite his warnings. It was there that I realized the psychological implications of my experience. Every time I felt pain in my chest, I became paranoid. I left the office without saying a word and went straight to the doctor. I couldn’t handle it. I finally decided to quit my job and started a year-long rehab to get really healthy.
I started swimming every day at a local pool to improve my fitness and follow my doctor’s advice. Over time I became healthier and happier. Doing something I enjoyed every day made me realize that I didn’t want to go back to business. I saw a job ad at the same pool and applied for a lifeguard position.
It was easy to qualify and get the job. Y: The pay gap was extreme: less than half my salary at Freshfields. I had to adjust my lifestyle. He helped me no longer go to parties or commute to work. The transition was difficult at first, but after living off my savings to get through the year of rehab, I had a steady income and only spent on essentials.
I immediately noticed the difference in my pool work. There were no deadlines or pressure. I arrived, I did my hours, and if someone was in danger of drowning, I saved them. In my 11 years as a lifeguard, I’ve only had to respond to an emergency a few times; usually it was a child with a cramp.
As a lifeguard I make much less money and there are regular arguments with the idiotic management. Sometimes I wonder if the grass would be greener if I could go back to Freshfields. I miss the benefits of a permanent office position. But in the pool I found my great passion: giving swimming lessons.
Every time I teach a child to swim and see them smile, I feel great. It’s good for my soul. I never thought that I could teach people something that would positively impact their lives.
This article was last updated on March 15, 2022. It was released on March 14, 2022.
This text was translated from English by Marlene Schulze. You can find the original here.