It’s so joyful and fun. The bear sits overlooking Lake Needwood. The park where he lives is my favorite place to walk. It’s about 2.5 miles around the lake. It usually takes me about 90 minutes to complete the loop when armed with my camera or Pokemon Go.
If your time is being wasted, ignore sunk costs and change your situation by voting with your two feet.
I was initially skeptical of these bite-sized chunks of advice, seemingly for the self-employed followers of bliss. Though as I make my way through Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life I awoke this morning with a different perspective. I thought, this is advice I could apply to my life as well. So I gave it a shot.
At first read, I thought this was telling me to quit my job and walk away. That’s not feasible for a life constructed around the stable income. One that gives my wife the freedom to experiment. I am the rock. She is the stone.
If your time is being wasted, ignore sunk costs and change your situation by voting with your two feet.— Garrick van Buren (@garrickvanburen) May 12, 2014
At second read, I took it to mean get up and take a walk.
When I have a problem I can’t solve, I hit my head against it until I was exhausted. Frustrated and no closer to a solution, I’m slowly learning to step away. To change my situation by voting with my two feet. To take a walk. Think about something else. Do anything else.
Even getting up to get a cold drink resets my mind. At a former job, we had a soda fountain in the building. When I hit a problem I couldn’t see my way past, I would walk by my co-worker’s desk and utter a single word. “Drink?” And with that, we’d head upstairs to the fountain. With icy cold Cokes in hand, we’d chat about life, work, writing, whatever weird Internet thing we’d come across that day.
Sometimes we’d ride the elevator all the way up, or all the way down. Just for a few extra moments of conversation. Sometimes with others, but often alone, we’d chat and laugh. Then, when I got back to my desk, fueled by good cheer, cold carbonation and a few moments of joy, I would stare down the problem. And more often than not, a solution would come to me.
So next time I come upon a seemingly insurmountable problem, or one I just can’t seem to think through, I’m going for a walk. And maybe a drink.
Slow down. Stop and breathe. Take in the sights and sounds around you. Do you know how much you miss when you’re driving? Sure, you can get to places far away. But do you know what you’re missing near where you live because you’re busy racing by?
So often I climb into my car and race off to where I am going. The destination is the point. The journey fraught with annoyance and delay. I rarely enjoy the drive. I want to get where I’m going.
This morning I woke up early on my day off. I jumped into my car and drove it to the dealership to have some repairs made. I dropped off my car. I handed over the key and then…
I had to get home.
The dealership is about 2.5 miles from home. My way home could have taken many forms. I could catch a local bus and ride it right to my front door. I could hail a cab and pay dearly for those short miles. I could walk to the metro station and take the subway to a closer stop and walk the rest of the way home.
I decided to spend time instead of money. I have time today. I don’t have to be anywhere. I don’t have to get to work. The whole day is wide open to me.
So I walked.
The weather is cool. The scattered showers fell elsewhere. It took me about an hour and I feel good.
I feel awake and I feel ready to start my day. I am sitting in the sofa in my living room and typing these words. I am reflecting on some ideas I had walking home. I got through a few podcasts I’d been meaning to listen to when I wasn’t distracted by anything else.
And I noticed some new things. I noticed a little stream that runs under the road near my house I’ve never seen before. Despite working at the National Institutes of Health, I’ve never noticed just how much green space there was on the campus.
Deer are a common sight on the NIH campus.
I didn’t realize much (maybe all) of the NIH campus is an environmentally protected area. Deer are a common sight. There is so much concrete in the city, the NIH campus is an oasis of green plant life. It’s a welcomed change from the urban black and gray.
There is a church on a hill I drive past every day is the Bethesda Meeting House which is responsible for naming the modern city of Bethesda, MD based on the place of healing referenced in the Bible.
I spend too much of my life racing around and trying to get to where I’m going. It’s good to slow down and take in what’s around you. Walk around your neighborhood and see what you’ve never noticed before.
There’s been a jail break. Recently, I escaped. I escaped the basement. I escaped the glowing screens which bind me and beckon me to explore deeper.
I escaped the sonar pulse of email disrupting the calm.1 I got out of my basement office. I fled the Mac and the PC. I went outside without headphones, without any distractions and I walked.
I was filled with tension. I was on my lunch break and knew the moment I step away from my desk is when computers tend to break.2 But I took the chance and enjoyed the day.
With each successive breath, the tension lifted. There was no urgent ping to my mobilefruit. There was nothing breaking as I stepped through the threshold of stuffy stairway into the bright, breezy sun-flooded afternoon.
I took a walk down the block. I took in the birds chirping. I took in the cars racing by in the distance. I took in the children’s voices on a nearby playground. I took in the wind through trees and shrubs. I took in the world and listened to my breath.
I walked down the block taking in all the day had to offer me until I came upon a huge honey suckle bush. It was 12 feet high and easily another 12 feet around.
It had grown up at the edge of a dead-end road undisturbed for many years. It was covered in yellow and white flowers and smelled so sweet. It was alive with buzzing. A dozen bumble bees bumbling3 around, bathed in sweet, yellow pollen.
I stood and watched them. I soaked up the spring’s sun and listened to them bumble to and fro. They covered themselves in yellow pollen.
I listened to the bush, alive with the activity of the bees. I watched some smaller bees dance around other flowers, performing the same dance as the Bumble bees.
I listened to the birds singing in the distance and felt the warm breeze on my face. The scene washed over me with the scent of sweet spring.
I stopped and smelled the flowers. I watched and tried to photograph some of the bumble bees as they did their work.
I listened to the sounds of nature all around me. It was a quiet street. Two bicyclists whirred past me, silent except for their wheels blowing flower petals aside.
It was a perfect day for a walk. I needed to get out and clear my head. I needed to step away from the progress bars and dialogue boxes.
I needed to step out from the basement into the bright, gorgeous day and listen to something besides whirring fans, people arguing and laughing, and the buzz of electronics.
I needed something natural. I needed some peace and some solace. I needed an analog escape from the digital world I’m surrounded by everyday.
I needed to get out of my digital cocoon and into the natural world. I wanted to watch squirrels hunt for food in their constant battle for survival and incessant preparation.
I wanted to listen to the song birds, chirping and tweeting away to each other. I wanted their songs to replace the whir and click of cold metal.
I enjoyed the bees buzzing and bumbling about. They danced from flower to flower on dainty legs and blurred wings.
There is a forgotten balance. There is work and home4 balance but there is also a digital/analog balance that’s often overlooked.
With computers running more aspects of our lives, the opportunity to get away and enjoy something not powered by a microchip is fleeting.
An effort must be made to balance the analog with the digital and get away from the screens and chairs.
Take a walk. Smell the flowers. Listen to the bees. Watch the squirrels. Enjoy the birdsong.
Get outside of the rut of daily life. Step away from the office chair you’re toiling away in and losing hours of your life.
The chair will still be there when you return to it. The pile of paperwork, real or digital will still be there. The emails coming in will be just as “urgent” as when you left.
The phone will take voice mails and anyone needing to see you, can wait until you’ve returned.
Take a walk and relax a bit. Stop and breathe in air that isn’t pumped into your office through cold, uncaring metal.
Get out of the digital world and into something natural. Even if just for 5 minutes over a lunch break. Or do what I do, and when the smokers go out to smoke, go on a short walk, even if it’s just outside to where they are, but far enough away you’re not breathing in their exhaust.
I’ve been talking about walking to work for months. It was a little too cold this winter and the motivation to get up and walk to work.
I didn’t know how I was going to feel about walking. I didn’t know how the walks would go. I didn’t know if I would be able to keep up the walking when I did start.
I was excited about the opportunity to walk home after a long day. Being outside and enjoying the evening after being cooped up all day was a welcome change. However, the morning walk to get me to work was daunting. I am not a morning person and getting up and out the door earlier than I had been was holding me back.