We really believed that our stay in Glencoe, Scotland was going to be highly productive. We were a little tired by the time we got there, but we were fired up by the success we had had on the Isle of Skye. On an Island known (accurately) for harsh conditions, we had managed to take many photos we loved, write more blog posts than we had in any previous month, and show our daughter the time of her life in a gorgeous, natural setting. We expected Glencoe to be a milder, greener version of the Isle of Skye, and so we expected that with our improved skills, we would be able to produce like crazy. But it turns out we didn’t know everything about Glencoe, and we didn’t know everything about ourselves.
Glencoe was milder. There were no thunderstorms. There were fewer midges (relatively speaking). At no point did we worry that our tent would blow away. We set our tent up on a sunny day, looked out over Loch Leven with our daughter Lisa, and thought we might have come to the loveliest place in the world.
But the next day it started to drizzle. It wasn’t severe weather by any stretch of the imagination. It was just unpleasant enough to keep a toddler from playing outside. The next day was the same, so was the day after that. The drizzle lasted for about two weeks. Trapped inside the tent with a cooped up toddler, it was almost impossible to work on the computer. The nearest indoor play area was half an hour away, and was kind of expensive (even if it was very nice). As Jake and I fell behind on our work, tensions started to flare as we struggled to keep Lisa out of each other’s hair.
In the process of writing one blog post we went through four drafts, had several long arguments, and shot numerous resentful glares at our daughter who couldn’t understand why we didn’t want to play with her. And after all that we scrapped the whole thing and were back at square one. Camping is never comfortable, but at least on Skye we got to stretch our legs and play around between storms. With our bodies bent all day we were aching all over. With the bathroom far away through the rain, our hygiene was starting to fail as well.
The only time it wasn’t stressful was at night when Lisa was sleeping and we both spent a little time reading before drifting off. As it happens, that was when I discovered the solution to our problem. More specifically, I discovered that we really didn’t have a problem at all. The book I was reading was Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evens. It has lot’s of advice on how to use a designer’s perspective to create a fulfilling life, but there was one technique in particular that I realized Jake and I needed to apply immediately – identifying a gravity problem.
A gravity problem is a problem caused by circumstances that you can’t change (like gravity). The authors point out that from the point of view of a designer, an unsolvable problem isn’t a problem at all. You don’t bother trying to design gravity away, you accept its existence and make the most of your situation. We couldn’t add a play room to our tent. We couldn’t change the weather. And yet it felt like if we continued trying to work under these circumstances we were going to kill each other. It had been raining for a week, and the ten day forecast was more of the same.
Suddenly the solution seemed obvious. We would stop working. The whole point of building up our website – of writing all these blog posts – was to create a lifestyle that we would enjoy. We had been traveling for nine months at this point. We’d posted regularly on our blog. We’d cranked out an Instagram photo every single night. Jake had dragged the family out of bed for photoshoots at sunrise and I’d kept us up late editing photos and writing. Even if we were seeing some of the most amazing places in the world (and doing things that we loved) did we really want to build a lifestyle – any lifestyle – from which we couldn’t take a vacation?
We looked at our situation, then we looked at it again as a relaxing (if somewhat damp) vacation. The stress and the tension melted away. For the rest of the month, we just enjoyed our time together. We went for car rides down mountain roads. We planned and cooked our meals together. We traveled that thirty minutes to take Lisa to the play area. When it did stop raining for a an hour or two, Jake taught Lisa how to skip stones, and I did Yoga by the water. We were just another family at the campground, there to escape the daily grind.
And as you can see from the pictures, the sun did come out once in a while toward the end!
And when it was time to pack up and go, our minds and our bodies didn’t ache so much. It’s easy to imagine that being self employed, there will be a temptation to slack off. It turns out that the problem is often the opposite. Sometimes you forget that you need to give your employees (yourselves) some time off. The plus side, if you listen to your own body and your own mind, and you keep an eye out for those gravity problems, you can take your vacations right when you need them the most.
Now let’s relax and enjoy some ice cream 🙂