Monday, July 15, 2013

IN SO MANY WAYS, THIS TRIP HAS BEEN ABOUT TAKING STOCK. It's given us time to reflect on how we've lived and worked. Every few days we try to hatch another plan to keep this going, how we can change our lives to make travel a priority, and push winter out altogether. We wonder if opening a B&B in a remote place is the answer, or just selling sunglasses to tourists on the beach is enough. We know the lives we had before were more-expensive than they needed to be. Participating in big city life adds up fast; a simple dinner out on a Tuesday costs more than a week's worth of groceries. 

And in that, we worry about returning to that dreaded cycle of living to work.

You've probably heard it before, but other places in the world are better at this. They hardly talk about their jobs. As soon as our plane landed in New Zealand, the question of "What do you do?" disappeared. We've tried to keep it that way, as we meet new people, striving to ask questions which will provide more detail about them. For North Americans, the question of our profession is often, really, a question of our socioeconomic status. We ask what someone does, when we're too polite to prod about their financials. Instead we just connect the dots.

And so when we dinner or cocktail with new "travel friends" we avoid these questions. Instead we ask where they've been or where the best place for falafel might be. We ask about their kids or their hobbies or that little scar above their eyebrow. And we haven't talked about what we "do", either.

All of this has made the return home more daunting and rife with anxiety. While we want to maintain some of these new lessons, we know how easy it will be to fall back into old habits. How quickly we'll start down the path of keeping up with the Joneses. We have this opportunity to actually change the way we live, to create something new and don't want to squander it. It's hard to shift things already in progress, but we have the benefit of this break. We can return and do (ie. be) whatever we want. We don't have to live up to our own high standard. 

I haven't decided if I'll go back to full-time freelancing. In the 18 months I did it before we left, I found it really stressful. I think some people are cut out for it and others just aren't. It requires a huge amount of confidence and seriously thick skin. To measure one's success by creative endeavours is a bold move, and I'm not sure it suits me.

The greatest irony about creative-work is that the people doing it - the ones I know, anyway - are often the least-prepared for it. So often imaginative, artistic people are the ones who can't climb over their doubts and scale their own fears to make it work. To turn their tangible skills into success without feeling tortured.

While we can appear outgoing and charming, we're more comfortable where things are quiet and structured. Adding insult to irony, the most dangerous place for us is in our heads, where our stupid, porous brains absorb so much. Creatives are often highly-sensitive and tend to process more information than others; we (despite our greatest efforts) take in every sound and smell, each beep at the grocery store or clack of our keyboard is really noted. We are more exhausted at day's end than our less-sensitive counterparts. We are more vulnerable to - well - almost everything. And yet we are the ones who decided to wake up each day and find the energy to work for ourselves, to manage our time, and our resources, toward creative success. 

We're factories of self-doubt. When things are good (which is measured by frenzy, not happiness) we are satisfied and productive, fired-up and likely to self-motivate. But give us a couple of quiet days and our brains - hard-wired since birth - start churning messages: "See? It's not working. You can't do this." A quiet barrage spurred on by another passing hour without a new email. It happens fast and it happens hard.

Before we know it, a few jobless days turn into the beginning of the end and we bury our heads - and careers - in the sand.  And good work cannot come out of this. Less work leads to bad work which leads to no work. Last year I spent my quiet days knowing these pitfalls, but not being able to climb out from under them. Another thing about sensitive people: We always know what works for us, because we're so intimately aware of our brains. But we don't always do what works.

And so we must think in larger spans of time. Months instead of days, certainly. One bad week is not the death knell of our creative process or our artistic life. The worst thing we can do is dig ourselves into that chasm of doubt. The world needs creative people and we need to learn how to be better at it.

But then, even those who don't work creatively need to get better at designing their lives. Sitting in this apartment in Paris, I know it's possible to choose. We are doing this instead of doing other things. Instead of a big white wedding, we're spending the year here. (And there.) 

My friend Julie has traveled extensively. She's dipped in and out of "real life", merely to find spurts of gainful employment which finance her trips, and she is sure of one thing. Years ago she told me, contrary to popular belief, that life is not short. Days stretch out before you, swollen with possibility. She doesn't torment herself with the quickened pace of life in a big city where it's easy to panic and condense days into tiny bits, minutes and hours which feed the notion that we're somehow doing it wrong or failing. She doesn't do that. And I don't want to either.

Selling sunglasses on a beach in Bali sounds pretty good. But if I go back to full-time freelancing when I get home, let this be my guide to living creatively: 

• I can change everything about my life whenever I want.
• One bad job will not define me.
• A flurry of jobs will dissipate, but my creativity will not. 
• I will remain positive through the lulls and work to engage my creativity instead of doubt it.
• I will not measure my creative success financially. 
• Life is long. And there's time for quiet stretches.

No Doubt (January 13, 2012)
On Taking Pictures (October 4, 2011)
Australia (March 26, 2013)


  1. Jason, I love this post so much. You've done an awesome job explaining the inside of a creative person's brain. THE SOUNDS. OMG. I can physically see the difference between me and other people when it comes to processing sounds in our environment. And the whole motivation/judgment cycle. We put so much pressure on ourselves, and much of the time it's ONLY coming from us. We hold ourselves to much higher standards than anyone else ever would.

    One of the things that's been hard to learn in my life of freelancing so far is to be okay with downtime. It's a weird thing - in some ways I love spontaneity, the unknown, and all the excitement that comes with that. Anything can happen. In other ways, it completely freaks me out when I don't have a project and am not sure when the next one will come up. What usually happens is right before I'm ready to look for a "job," something awesome comes up.

    I guess the best thing I've learned recently is that I don't have to have everything all figured out. So many times I've found myself sitting at my desk trying to come up with a solution or a "life plan", but that's not how it works. Well, not how it works WELL, anyway. If I want a sucky plan, that's the path. :)

    Hugs to you on your journey, both physical and creative. Happy anniversary! Loving your instagram shots and Jeff's hilarious captions. :) xo

  2. This is, hands down, the most spot-on piece of writing I've ever read about freelancing and 'being a creative'. I'm scrolling up to read again.

  3. Thanks, Melanie! Confidence is everything. And faith.

    Wow, Will, that's very generous. Thank you.

  4. Have you been taking notes at my therapy sessions?

  5. brilliant! spot on!
    i'd sorta forgotten how much i enjoy your writing. or maybe it's your perspective. or both.
    so glad you're back to it.

  6. This is so fantastic. Thanks for writing it.

  7. Love this! Months instead of days... definitely.

  8. Well said.
    Have been enjoying your journey.

  9. Wow this post is amazing! I need to read it again. Thank you for writing, it such a pleasure reading your posts.

  10. Mister, this is one moving and powerful post. I don't know which I want more... a tissue or a choir singing the hallelujahs? Our "porous brains absorb so much"... YES! Preach it! Insightful and brilliantly written. Kudos x 10.

  11. I came across this post through Jen at Rambling Renovators and I just wanted to say thank you for writing this, it was so beautiful to read!

  12. What an amazing powerful post. Life is long. There's time for quiet stretches ... so true and a fantastic takeaway.

  13. This is spot on, Jason! Such a wonderful post--so well observed and written.

    Thank you.

  14. wowzers - it's like you were writing for my soul. agreed that creativity can be both a blessing but also a curse - I definitely needed these words right now so thank you. I especially loved your guide to living creatively:

    I can change everything about my life whenever I want.
    Life is long. And there's time for quiet stretches.

    so great. hope 2013 continues to bring you happiness and travel.

  15. Can you please consider writing a book in that quiet time, mr? I am taking notes, thank you for this!

  16. This is gorgeous, Jason. Thank you. Beautiful to read, and relate.

  17. Your excellent words couldn't have come at a better time in my career. Thanks so much for normalizing the ups and downs of freelancing.

  18. Wow. I am often guilty of not realizing that others do not process the world the way I do. A complete eye opener for me being exhausted at the end of the day because I'm "noting" everything. Thank you so much for this, I think it frees me to quit putting pressure on myself to be able to live in this same world that so many of us thrive in.

  19. It's like you wrote about my own experience doing freelance creative work. I needed a quiet stretch after exhausting myself doing something that used to bring me joy. It's so nice to read this. Thanks.