I wrote this article in 2012 for NotesonDesign Magazine. Reading it for the first time in five years… still relevant and inspiring.
I enjoy watching documentaries and reading books about famous artists. What inspires me most about the lives of creative personalities is that they have all gone through times of desperation and uncertainty along the path to greatness.
Steve Jobs, endured the most challenging period of his life after he left Apple in 1985. During his “The Wilderness Years”, the struggle that he experienced for over a decade helped him to become even more convinced of who he was and how his ideas would change the world. He emerged from that period to become the “Thomas Edison of our day”. Frank Lloyd Wright, perhaps Americas greatest architect, frequently retreated to the desert during his “wilderness years” where he “endured a… wilderness of the spirit, of professional isolation and of physical and emotional uprooting”. (1) I believe we all have wilderness periods in our lives that we must learn to navigate.
In the past few years, I have endured an ever-increasing amount of stress and disappointment in my career. I convinced myself that I was a no-talent fraud who would be better off farming radishes than being an artist. I was working too much, while accomplishing too little… spread too thin and involved in too many things I had simply lost interest in. When it all started to affect my health, I realized I had reached a point where I needed to take an inventory of everything in my life, then shut it all down and restart… I needed to simply recalibrate. I am emerging from that dark place right now and here is what I discovered.
I came to enjoy the peace that comes with letting go. I was now free to develop new ambitions and focus on new dreams that are appropriate for my age.
When you feel you cannot continue on the same path; using the same methods you have used the past, then you need to change course. Life seems to happen in phases where what worked five years ago is ineffective today. By choice or by force, you must eventually clear a path through the wilderness. Facing new realities and making new choices can help you rediscover who you are and what you must do in the next phase of your life… as in earlier years, you still need to “grow up”. Yes, it’s scary, difficult and discouraging, but it’s necessary and exciting to discover what new possibilities are in the clearing beyond the trees.
When you hike in the wilderness, you must consider what you need to bring with you in order to survive. You can begin by casting off what is not needed to complete your journey because your chances of survival are greater when carrying a lighter load. Baggage you have carried for for the last ten years my not be relevant to you life or career today. You must first decide what you DON’T want to do (at least for now). I have decided to stop working 12-hour days because today I value time more than money. I discovered that I really don’t want to be a creative director if it leaves me no time to create my own work.
If you lose a dream, then enter the wilderness to find a new one… we must all have something to look forward to in life and a hike in the woods may be just the diversion you need to help you reexamine your priorities.
Once I discarded the things that seemed indispensable, I came to enjoy the peace that comes with letting go. I was now free to develop new ambitions and focus on new dreams that are appropriate for my age. I made a detailed list of things that I want to accomplish this year and over the next decade… short and long-term goals in development of my Spirit, Body, Family, Finances, and Career. I want to paint on canvas, simply for the love of it. I started taking yoga classes with my wife. I lost 25 pounds while in the wilderness and will continue on the path of better health. This spring I will resume training in Tea-kwon Do now that my daughter is old enough to do it with me. I am a bass player who now plays guitar. I am designing coins for the United States Mint…a life-long dream of mine, along with other exciting plans on the horizon that I could not see while I was in the weeds.
If you lose a dream, then enter the wilderness to find a new one… we must all have something to look forward to in life and a hike in the woods may be just the diversion you need to help you reexamine your priorities. Further advice on hiking is never go it alone. Sharing your struggles and dreams with close friends can help get you through the valleys because they have been down that path before and know the way out.
Whatever you enjoy doing, try to take it a little deeper. If you sketch on notepads, paint a mural. If you like fonts, design one of your own. Try apples in your salad. Serve at a food pantry. Play a djembe. What I remember most about growing up was that there were so many new people, places, and experience that were all waiting to be discovered. We all need to keep that level of excitement throughout our lives so we will be better prepared for the challenges and discoveries that come with our next walk in the wilds.