Climbing 3,000 Miles, Every Day

4 min read


“Why the hell am I doing this?”

You’re struggling to figure out a piece of code. You need a concept for a print ad, a closing line for a TV spot. Your creative brain is taxed. You want a solution immediately, and many times you lose the patience to wait for the code to make sense or the big idea to knock you off your chair.

The struggle is real.

On my first backpacking trip, my friend (who’s now my usual hiking partner) and I decided to hike the Buffalo River Trail in Arkansas. We took a Greyhound to Harrison, got picked up by a friendly old man named Goose, and got dropped off at the trailhead. Or what we thought was the trailhead. Couldn’t exactly find it. I had thought she knew what she was doing, and she’d thought I knew what I was doing. Looking back, we probably should have talked about that before we left for five days. Don’t tell my mom.

Our first trip was hard, but we managed. We went up, we went down, and we crossed the river seven times in the feetmiddle of March. It was difficult and cold, but we managed. That’s when we decided we’d keep going and find bigger adventures. Cue the most difficult experience I have ever put myself through, both mentally and physically: a five-day trip in the Tetons. This is where I truly had my first, “Why the hell am I doing this?” moment.

When you’re going down the mountain, you never have to ask how much farther you have to go. Yeah, your knees might be hurting from the pressure of the 30 pounds of gear on your back, but you’re doing fine. You pass the other hikers trudging up the mountain and you can see the pain on their face. Especially if they’ve been climbing for awhile. When you start going up, you feel motivated—overwhelmed with the amazing views and excited for what’s to come. An hour passes. Then two. You slowly start to lose your patience; nature isn’t so pretty anymore. You ask the passing hiker much farther until you reach the top.

“Oh, not much. Just a mile, mile and a half or so.”

Then you start get excited. You’re almost there! You’ve almost done it. An hour later you’re angry because you think they’ve lied to you. Why am I still climbing? Why aren’t we there yet? Why the hell am I doing this to myself?

If you’re in a creative career, you usually hit this emotion at least once a day. You have to come up with something brilliant and creative and mind-blowing. Lots of times there are restrictions on the project; other times you have full control. Both can lead to a difficult day of developing a concept. But, once you just get that one great idea, the words or design start flowing out of your control.

The problem, always, is that big idea. Sometimes you have to climb and climb and climb until it finally clicks. Then the concept is yours. You reach that euphoric moment when you know your idea is great and you can start turning it into something tangible to give to your team or client. The entire time you’re struggling to get there, it feels like you’ll never reach the end goal. People walk by your desk and can see the struggle on your face, just like you’re climbing a bitch of a mountain.

You throw out ideas and hear people say, “You’re almost there. I really think you’ve almost got something.

There’s your “mile, mile and a half.”

The biggest thing to remember the next time you’ve got creative block: patience. The idea will eventually come, but you can’t force it. Just like you can’t teleport to the top of the mountain and not take on the climb. Sure, you might have to gain 3,000 feet, but it’s worth it in the end. You can’t stop halfway and hope somebody will carry you the rest of the way.

When we’re hiking, we take breaks. We lie in the middle of a meadow and let the sun hit our faces. We pick blueberries on the side of the trail. We jump in the creek to wash the day off of us.

Sometimes you lose sight of it, but the getting there is the best part.

People think everything you need to be creative is inside that handy laptop you hold onto with a death grip. Get your face out of your computer and look around you. New adventures and new experiences are the key to breaking your creative block. Sure, the getting there might be hard, but once you do, you’ve got something big to show for it.

When you look back on a climb, you don’t think, “Why the hell did I do that?”

You look down the trail say, “Holy shit. I just did that.”