Near the end of June I took a much-anticipated family vacation to the Greek island of Ithaca, an oddly atypical luxury vacation. Stateside we have certain expectations as to what luxury entails – down sheets, an efficient concierge, modern appointments. What made this vacation luxurious was the pace of the day, the luxury of time. Without technological distractions or appointments to bounce between, the day eased on at a leisurely pace. Playing ping-pong, lazily swimming in the Ionian Sea, or reading a book in the shade took on a new delight, as frankly there wasn’t much else to do except whatever you were doing in the moment.
I had this idea I was going into this vacation with a blog post coming out the other side – hell, Chase and I even sat down and mapped it out. “You know, I’ll go to Greece, and then I’ll drum up a pithy post about what I learned and how it applies to advertising.” “Yeah man, that’s a good idea. I’ll bug you when you get back!”
The thing is, once I got started on my trip, I willfully ignored my commitment to blog content. I didn’t want to think about Manifold. I didn’t want to think about anything. Looking back on it, that was the best thing for this post – I was just free to do what I naturally do. And now as I look back on a trip that ended much too soon, I’ve come to the conclusion I didn’t act much differently than I do when I’m sitting at work, albeit in a completely new environment. With that pre-amble out of the way, I don’t have much new to say, but can happily offer a few tips for any creative professional that desires the recalibration that only a vacation can provide, minus spending 14 hours getting there.
A fun idea requires commitment sprinkled with pain. At Manifold we obsess over Internet memes, and have an almost anthropological commitment to uncovering and studying them. One that crossed my desk 9 months or so ago was “the leisure dive” – a leap off a diving board where you straighten out into a leisurely, blasé pose, akin to being suspended in mid air for the benefit of the photo. Of course, as soon as I saw a diving board suspended above the ocean out in front of our villa, this was the first thing I thought: “My brother will love this! He’s going to laugh hysterically…”, which he did. It didn’t stop there – we found higher and higher platforms to perfect our “leisures,” until I pushed it too far and leapt from the 10 foot high bow of a boat, landing on the right side of my body with a deafening slap. While slowly drifting and silently screaming 3 feet underwater, I could hear the entire boat catcalling and whistling. And through the searing pain, that made me smile – I’d delivered the day’s entertainment.
It’s not unlike building a solar-powered Popsicle truck, or having zombies invade New York City to hand out popsicles. Those ideas always start with “This is going to be awesome” and soon become “What have I done…”. But the drive, commitment, and tenacity that leads to gasps and laughter makes the pain in between worth every moment. The trick is to never forget that the big ones – the FUN ones – are always fun in retrospect, never in the moment.
The leap always looks higher than it really is. There’s not much to tease out in this theory – if you’ve ever peered over the edge of a 50 foot cliff down to the water below, with every intention of jumping, you know that the muscle twitches urging your calves and buttocks backward are purely self-preservation instincts in play. Why jump into midair when you’re standing on perfectly safe and solid ground? Only a fool would trade the thrill of the unknown for the security of the familiar. Right?
The reality is, it’s over too soon, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from a momentary flash of bravery is so fulfilling the first instinct is to climb right back up and do it again. We should love pouring bravery into our work, as the other side of an insane leap into the unknown is the only differentiator between you and everyone else out there. Being more brave in the next life is for Tibetan monks – try to be more brave in this one.
It feels good to be in over your head…and ignore the depth. Around 30 minutes after our arrival, it was decided that either a cold shower or a dip in the ocean was required immediately. I live in San Francisco, and a hot day varies somewhere between 65 and 70 degrees – and that’s in the warm part of town. This 92-in-the-shade-nonsense has to be struck down like the climate rebellion it was. So it was decided – we’ll swim to the buoy off the shore: the water is as turbulent as a lake, 70 degrees, and crystal clear. Grab your trunks and I’ll meet you out here in 5.
Around 8 feet from shore my all-too-familiar deep-water neurosis jumped on my back. I could hear my heart hammering in my chest, and I tried to elevate my head around 7 inches from the water surface so I could attempt to look down and spot the inevitable bull shark that was rising from it’s murky slumber to tear into a pasty dogpaddler. You see, in San Francisco, we don’t splash around in the ocean too much, being that it’s commonly known as THE RED TRIANGLE, or THE LARGEST CONCENTRATION OF GREAT WHITE SHARKS IN THE WORLD (needs some fact checking but I’m pretty sure it’s true).
5 days in to the trip, I was serenely laying on my back and drifting through the Ionian. The salinity of the water kept you so buoyant you barely had to flip your wrist to be gently propelled forward. I had given in – I was in over my head and I was loving it. I had surrendered to the fates that lay 20 feet below, and you know what? I picked up a mild belly sunburn for my foolishness. It was true – my greatest fear was my fear. Nothing more.
Try new things constantly. This one is a bit of a fib – I love Sea Urchin sushi, so it wasn’t exactly new. A wise man once told me the way you get through the incredible repugnancy of “Uni” (I had tried and failed, twice) is to pretend you’re surfing with a mouthful of peanut butter. Ever since, I order it with zeal, close my eyes, and I’m the Planter’s peanut, humming “Good Vibrations” and doing The Twist. It’s no sweat.
I was dialed – I had this one down. This required a special culinary request from our Grecian hosts – can we have sea urchin for dinner one night? What I wasn’t prepared for was cutting them in half, stripping out the gonads, and scraping the spongy flesh away from the inside of the shell (ok, they did the first 2, but whatever, it was still gnarly). What was once familiar, was now intensely unfamiliar: scraping flesh from the inside of a shell to eat it? Sounded nasty, but in reality it was good. Great even – sweeter, more delicate, and delicious. Or as my French friend said, “So refined.” I was glad I braved it.
Read more. This goes without saying. Someone asked me 2 years ago how many books I read per year. I figured out that I must bang out on average of 1 per month. “Well, at 39…let’s see…and you’ll live until your 80? That’s uh, that’s…500 more books for you. Pick wisely.”
That’s all it took. I read books as much as time allows, and especially on vacation. The thing about books is that you come up with your best ideas when you’re actively NOT trying to come up with ideas. The shower, the gym, riding bikes, archery, reading, whatever – get out of your own head to do your best thinking – and if you’re in the creative profession, solid thinking IS your work.
So read more books is a no-brainer. Unless it’s Gregg Allman’s biography – I KNEW that was a stupid idea. When everything above fails, TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS.