“Grown-up” things are rarely at the top of anyone’s list. Sure, everyone has that moment when we wish our friend or family member would just “grow up,” but I believe most people are looking for ways to bring back the fun and freedom we experienced as children. As adults, we seek out activities where we can let loose like we used to. We often throw around terms like “feeling like a kid again” or “that brings me back” because we tend to remember the past so fondly. After all, those were the days when we had fewer responsibilities and, it seemed, not a care in the world. But if I really dig back, even as kids we were looking for ways to escape reality. Not that facing reality all the time was so tough. An escape simply offered a more carefree, fun experience.
So we played sports and video games, did arts and crafts and other things to take our mind off Mrs. Krieger’s third grade class or our parents telling us to do the dishes. It recharged us, giving us a temporary outlet to forget about the daily grind of elementary school. And when we beat that team from across town, built that Lego Millennium Falcon or crushed every challenger in Street Fighter II, we approached our other responsibilities with renewed vigor. Or at least with some lingering satisfaction.
Looking back on my childhood, I feel this was the same kind of experience I now equate with becoming inspired.
But I didn’t always feel like that.
A career in any creative industry over a prolonged period of time can leave you feeling jaded or uninspired. I don’t think many graphic designers thought their work experience would include developing instructional graphics for adult incontinence products. But the reality of a creative career is that there can be times when the projects aren’t exciting and sometimes are even downright boring. It can be a challenge to learn how to keep thinking fresh and staying inspired even if the project itself may not be.
Teachers and peers have always encouraged me to go and “get inspired.” For a long time, I thought this meant delving into art and design and absorbing as much as possible via museum visits, gallery shows, blogs and even walking the bright painted neighborhoods of cities. Before I went to art school, and during my time there, this tactic worked well. But as time went by and I accumulated more work experience, I started to feel that these kind of “inspiration” days actually left me less inspired and more jaded. I’d ask myself, “Why don’t my designs inspired by the art I see painted on parking lot walls ever come to fruition? Why doesn’t the client ever choose my museum-inspired designs for their cracker packaging?” These things made me question whether or not I had picked the wrong career. It made me wonder how long I could keep going, let alone make a living doing it.
Once you lose the inspiration, I always thought you’re done and it’s time to move on. No artist or creative lasts forever. Thinking of musicians, I wondered how many of them can follow up a classic album with something as good or better than what they’ve done before? And how can they keep doing it album after album?
My conclusion? Very few. And those who can usually can’t forever.
I began to believe there is a limit to how long we can do our jobs as designers, and an even shorter timespan for how long we can remain good at it. It was unsettling to think that after just a few years in design my desire already was fizzling out. I still loved the idea of designing. Moreover, I was grateful to have a group of friends from work that made being there rewarding and fun, regardless of the project I was working on. Nevertheless, I became increasingly stressed out and worried. It reached a point where I planned to take some time off to seriously explore new career options. After thinking I had finally found a career that made me happy, I was again questioning everything.
Then something unexpected happened. Some of my colleagues at work started discussing going on a ski trip. The group’s main voice was campaigning for people to try either skiing or snowboarding.
“Who cares if you’ve never done it?” he said. “It’ll be so much fun! I’m gonna try it for the first time, and if I hate it, I’ll just go to the lodge and warm up with some cocktails.”
Trying to ski or snowboard for the first time as an adult is a rather scary proposition. But a group of others willing to embarrass and injure themselves with me made it seem less nerve-racking.
Fast forward to a few months later: I was hooked on snow. I had gone snowboarding every weekend since the work trip. And during that time something big had changed. I felt like a new person. My work had improved, and I felt good about being a designer again. In the past I had traveled, and always came back feeling refreshed. Indeed, those few weeks of work afterward probably were some of my most productive, successful ones. But I always knew I couldn’t go on vacation every month. Snowboarding, then, became a happy medium. It taught me that if I had some things to help me reset on a frequent basis, the benefits would be endless. It opened me up to finding other things that would help keep me feeling positive. I made reservations at Comedy Cellar, planned more happy hour reunions and bought a Playstation.
These are the ways I get inspired now. Going to shows and exhibits wasn’t doing it for me. Spending time with friends, laughing my ass off at comedy shows, going into a rabbit hole playing video games and just forgetting about anything stressful — this is my path to inspiration. It was so simple. I had done it countless times as a kid. I just never thought of it as “becoming inspired.”
Now it’s Fall and the snow hasn’t fallen yet, but living in New York there are countless ways to find the escape I want and need. Right up the block from ThoughtMatter is a local watering hole called Barcade. Flush with arcade video games from my actual childhood, this place is a gem. After a few hours there, the ideas start flowing. (Okay, maybe the booze helps a little, too, but for me it’s not the main attraction.) As Pfc. Lance Bean, I can navigate the perils of the Galuga Archipelago in Contra without no consequence. And before I know it, any stress I have will melt away.
For my turn at “Get Out Fridays,” I decided to get the entire studio out of the office with me. I took them to Barcade and we spent time playing games, drinking drinks, decompressing from the week and, of course, getting inspired.
This fall at ThoughtMatter, we’re ending every week with a “Get Out Fridays” discussion. During each session, a different studio member will tell us about a recent event they went to that has inspired them, and can in turn inspire each of us here at ThoughtMatter. It can be any event—as long as it involves getting out of the office and thinking in a different space.