Taking a trip with my friend for a week down the Mississippi this past week was both rewarding and challenging. We kayaked around 160 miles from the Twin Cities to Lacrosse Wisconsin, and I still can feel the ghost of the tide rocking me back and forth as I write this three days later in my apartment. I had some interesting insights over this past week and a half but one of the most important ones is that I need to cut back on the amount of things I’m doing in my day to day career pursuits.
Insight One – A lot of my to-do list is voluntary, cut it in half.
My friend who is planning on kayaking down to the gulf of Mexico remarked that he notices how so many people come up with these heavy requirements for themselves, but how they often stress themselves out unnecessarily. I couldn’t help but let that set in over the next couple days, and having a week and a couple days completely off from designing, writing, or any kind of ambitious pursuit I found myself in a pretty relaxed mood.
Even with the physical exertion of rowing a kayak I didn’t seem to be clamping down and stressing out as I sometimes have a tendency to do. This seems to me to be directly related to how little I had on my plate, and how low my urgency level was most days. With the exception of a day where we had to set up camp quickly because of an approaching storm, we were rarely rushing and I realize now that I have to thin out my to-do lists and cut the unnecessary but exciting stuff in half if I’m going to be more laid back.
The trip was excellent for anyone interested. My friend Matt whistled at Eagles, and they started talking back thinking he was an eagle. We happened upon a Casino, and I doubled my money there (I only wanted to spend 40$.) We slept on several islands, under a bridge, and in a seedy motel. We worried about spiders one night, killing 5 that were perched not far from my face, and snakes another night as we found the island we had stopped to camp before a storm full of hatched snake eggs.
The last leg of the journey we met up with another traveler besides my friend Matt who was trying to take the Mississippi all the way. We had heard about him from a set of college students canoeing the Minnesota portion of the river, and they told us about a man who looks like Jesus, and indeed he did. We joined forces and after I came back Matt and “Jesus” continued down the river together. Hopefully to ride the quickly increasing speed of the Mississippi after it passes the northern-most states into the middle and southern states.
Insight two – We can have our goals in mind, but we have to keenly respond to the regular cycles of our environment
When absorbing the crisp air in the morning, battling or soaking up the hot midday sun, or finding a flat yet hospitable place to camp in nature, the thing that strikes me is that one’s routine is more about cycles than deadlines. There’s a strong need to respond to the demands of the environment than try to impose one’s personal idea of order onto it all. Perhaps our work lives are more like that than we’d like to admit. As a graphic or web designer even people not in an in-house creative team or an agency, are at the whims and beck-and-call of individual clients. We may hem and haw, deciphering our particular passions, articulating are most perfect idea of what being a designer looks like, but we have to take in consideration the environment that we are currently faced with, and understand that time is one of the most important factors.
Insight three – Prepare yourself to keep on going no matter what
When I was rowing in the kayak for nine hours straight I had to recognize sometimes that although I felt like I just had my limit, I needed to simply take a rest, breathe and start again. Sometimes it felt like I had gone a full days worth of paddling but the sun was still high in the sky or sitting at 4 o’clock and I had more work to do. Make little goals, give yourself some space to get done what you need to do, but always be prepared to keep going no matter what.
I suppose some of these insights are going to be more visceral for myself and may not stick as much if you didn’t experience them on this trip, but it feels good sharing. Thanks for reading.