If you’re the kind of great human being that makes things, you probably make a lot of things. If you’re a developer, you code a lot. If you’re an illustrator, you draw a lot. Designer: you design. Painter: you paint. Poet: you craft words. Maybe you do two of those things, or all of them, and a bunch of things more. You make things, you learn about new ways to make things, you’re inspired by other people who make things, and subsequently use what you learned to make more things. You go to work and make things, and then you leave work, go home, and keep making things.
And you know what? We love this. We thrive on this, the absolute freedom to think of an idea and bring it into the world in only a few days. You could even — and I speak here of my own experiences but knowing that I’m surely not alone — call it an addiction. An addiction that doesn’t mandate spending time alone but often does lead to that result. Expounding on this subject, however, is not the intent of this piece. Frank Chimero recently did expound upon this subject in his reflection on the XOXO Festival, and did so rather elegantly. Rather, I want to talk about the opposite, in a sense.
Lately I’ve begun to realize just how important it can be — occasionally, at the very least — to let your work fall to the wayside in favor of spending time with those you hold close to your heart. Making a concerted, regular effort to give yourself up fully to your friends and family. To be intentional and alert in your conversations with those people. To consciously push out thoughts of things you’re currenty making, or want to be making, or saw somebody else making.
Two things led me to write this: somebody coming into my life, and somebody leaving my life. The beginning of an amazing relationship, and the death of a family member and role model. Polar opposites on the spectrum of joy and sorrow. The awesome realization of wanting to spend a significant amount of time with a person, and the hard realization that you wish you had spent more time with a person. And yet both demand introspective thought that lead me to a single conclusion:
You can not discount how much your family and friends impact you in all aspects of your life, including your work. It could be something as simple as validation of your hard work by those people, but it’s likely something much more intangible: the people we care about fuel us. Our conversations with them motivate us and the adventures we have with them inspire us. It’s a rare person that can maintain creative output without experiencing new thinking and ideas to inspire that creativity.
What I’m saying here is something that I too can — and should — be better at. If you have family that lives across the country from you, or even just a few hours away: pay your hard earned money to travel to see them. If you have good friends in the city you live in: try to see them every week, even if it’s just for a meal. To reiterate something I hinted at earlier: when you are with these people who you care for with every fiber of your being, be present. Listen to them while they speak and stop thinking of the next thing you’re going to respond with. Try and have a conversation that isn’t about you or anything you’re working on. These are things that you will never regret. The opposite — spending too much time alone on your work — may not prove true.
A couple notes to close on that I won’t offer any commentary on, because I think they speak on their own behalf.
Last year a book titled “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying” was released, written by an Australian nurse who spent many years tending to patients dying in palliative care. From her conversations over these years she distilled their departing remorses into five items, and one of these reads: “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends”.
Chris McCandless, the subject of Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction book “Into the Wild” and subsequently Sean Penn’s partially fictionalized film of the same name, wrote the following line in his journal shortly before dying: “Happiness only real when shared”.