When was the last time you tried something for the first time?

  • Categories:

    Creative, Inspiration

  • Date:

    October 19, 2018

When was the last time you tried something for the first time?

Creative Inspiration

Early in the spring of 2017, I was accepted into a program called Remote Year, which offers the opportunity to travel around the world with a community of entrepreneurs and professionals to live in a different city every month while continuing to work. This program intrigued me because I was curious to see how a changing environment could affect my creativity as a designer and animator.

After a few months and a lot of conversations with my family and company leadership, I officially joined a group of 50 strangers from all over the globe to travel alongside while working remotely for a year. I sold, donated or stored most of my belongings, crammed what necessary items remained into a 50-pound suitcase and backpack, grabbed my MacBook and flew to Split, Croatia, to begin my new adventure as a digital nomad.

Our group was made up a diverse team, including many creatives: 3D trade show booth designer, muralist, illustrator, videographer working on a documentary. These talented individuals became both my mentors and mentees. Many of us created workshops to share lessons and learnings from our respective fields; I led a video series on photography and attended an amazing Minimalist series that I know I will draw on for inspiration when concepting videos and illustrations down the road.

That first was followed by many others — some on par with droolworthy Instagram travel goals: paragliding over the hills and water of Cape Town, South Africa; feeding and bathing rescued elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand; and climbing the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru. “So, are you working or are you on vacation?” my dad would comment on Facebook photos.

Some of the more unseen moments were downright bizarre. Whether it was eating roasted cicadas in the markets of Thailand or drinking scorpion-infused whiskey in Laos, the unfamiliar cuisine experiences had me questioning whether I was traveling the world or on an episode of “Fear Factor.” My entire body felt like an exposed nerve after witnessing the organized chaos of scooter traffic in Hanoi, Vietnam, watching as bikes passed with four passengers to a seat or even balancing a full-sized refrigerator on the back.

The most meaningful firsts often surprised me with their simplicity. Around the Christmas holidays in a fishing town outside of Lisbon, Portugal, we shared a dinner with a Portuguese family in their home. We ate platefuls of sausage and drank seemingly bottomless glasses of wine and vintage port. Stories and laughs were shared despite our language barrier. It was a new set of customs, words and flavors, but the familiarity of a home-cooked meal, community and a grandmother’s hug was striking in its universality.

Not all firsts felt like winning merit badges. Finding myself lost in a subway and not being able to communicate was momentarily paralyzing. I spent my first Thanksgiving away from my family and missed close friends' weddings. My purse was stolen with my phone, wallet and keys inside. These uncomfortable moments don’t fall under an inspirational hashtag, but they have their meaningful place in the adventure of life nonetheless.

What surprised me the most were the hard-won victories found in the everyday, mundane experiences. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment when I was able to successfully navigate my daily commute walking the streets of Kyoto, Japan, without the assistance of Google Maps. “Do I want to take the temple route, the Nishiki Market route or the one where I get to pass the puppy store?” Each relocation brought about a cycle of learning the ins and outs of a new city: a different language, new apartment and complete reconstruction of the routine, only to start over again in a month. Over time, I found my ability to adapt became faster and less fatiguing. Travel forced me to make friends with change.

As a creative, establishing a routine is critical to developing good habits, working efficiently and getting into a focused groove. However, sometimes it’s difficult to tell when a groove has turned into a rut. Even when work becomes predictable, we may look for solutions along the well-worn path instead of in more uncomfortable places. Growth demands taking risks and being fearless. As professor Brené Brown writes in her book “Daring Greatly,” “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” Part of any great story will always include mistakes, difficult conversations and at times feeling lost, but it will also include a deep well of inspiration and experience with which we can make more rewarding connections.

And the answer to that question my dad asked on Facebook? Yes, Dad, I worked — and with a whole new perspective. While I missed my big computer monitor and collaborating in-person with my team, the time differences between Charlotte and my “office” provided a nice handoff of projects between my colleagues and me. With the view from my office window of the Adriatic Sea, busy metropolitan streets and the Andes mountains, I found inspiration in the ever-changing visuals around me. And I learned about cultures, traditions and ways of life that inform me as a storyteller.

Though I can say for certain I’ve eaten enough bugs for a year (probably a lifetime), I will be continuing to seek out more firsts here at home. This includes learning to grill a steak, walking to the office, working in a photography dark room, taking salsa classes and writing my very first Wray Ward blog post. The risks you take don’t have to be nearly as radical as traveling the world to have an effect on your quality of life and quality of work. So, while travel inherently brings with it a new perspective and wakes up the senses, with discipline and curiosity, you can change that for yourself anywhere in life.

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