This was originally shared as a letter 46 from a learn-it-all on February 10, 2021.
Think Weeks. I didn’t realize that these was actually a thing before doing one. I thought I was being original to intentionally devote time to myself for a retreat without technology. As Austin Kleon would call it a “practical sabbatical”. As I was driving six hours north to Petoskey, chatting with my friend Ben, he said “OHHH you’re doing what Bill Gates does every half-year.” Here’s Bill Gates below:
Twice a year, I get out of the office, breaking from my normal routine, for much needed “Think Weeks.” By actively disconnecting and looking at everything from 50,000 feet, I am able to effectively reflect, reset, and clearly rethink my goals and aspirations….For each “Think Week,” I create a life to-do list, do a lot of research, and think through big ideas and challenges deeply. Going through this process has been enlightening.
I packed up a lot of fruit, some hot cocoa, a whiteboard, some journals (old and new), nine books, a yoga mat, and lots Duraflame logs in case the heat didn’t work like last year.
The rules were no iPhone or laptop for 60 hours. Minimal expectations, other than to think.
My intent: I always feel inundated with media being me job and managing my time to be productive. It’s comforting to realize I don’t need it. It’s merely a desire to use the tools I have in my life.
To the right here, this was only half the mess. There were many more stickies around and markers everywhere. It was a fun type of mess.
I was finally settling into the normalcy of no notifications or screen time. I didn’t have the temptation and it was great. I accepted it for what it was. The first day I felt like I was fighting it and needed to fill the void with social media.
Apart from all my fun writing, reflecting, and reading, I want to share four anecdotes that you might find valuable or entertaining.
A snowplowing saga
Tick tocking clocks
My voice sounds strange
❄️ Snowplowing saga
This piece of art below doesn’t look like much. But oh it is. It took me all of the too many hours to admit to creating. Then the next day it all got ruined as it snowed again.
I’m grateful to the big red snowplow that helped me create this masterpiece. She died halfway in. Of course at the very end of the driveway. The manual start wouldn’t work. I got out 5 extension cords to trail to the apron of the driveway. For a thrill, I tried again manually. What are the odds after my treasure hunt in the cabin and garage for chords? Then she died again and the electric start was no hope either. This fine piece of machinery was so heavy she wouldn’t budge without being propelled with the engine on.
I was beyond tempted to go find my phone that I locked up in the bomb shelter of the basement to go google what the hell I was doing wrong. Or to call my dad. I resisted the urge as that’d be game over for my think weekend without screens.
That’s when sure woman power came and I tried to finish up the other half of the driveway with a handy dandy shovel. As I was shoveling I realized that it might not be a user error. Maybe the machine is out of gas. Huzzah! That was the problem. Coincidentally I found a tank of gas in the garage and that was the juice that was needed to finish the job. I hadn’t been this proud of shoveling this much snow in my life before. 22 whole inches.
So what’s the point of this story? You can rely on the old hardware up in your noggin. That’s what cavemen did and look how far they brought us. You don’t need Google as much as you think you do. It can needlessly break your concentration. Be patient and allow your brain to be resourceful.
I kind of felt like I was a white walker in my mornings. Those characters in Game of Thrones had such calm essence to each of their intentional strides (though spooky). I found myself meditating of sorts while I was walking. I was even crazy enough to close my eyes for all of 10 strides until I walked straight into a pile. That was a great laugh for me.
I started out with a warm-up of counting three steps breathing in and three steps breathing out (all through my nose). I eventually made it to breathing five steps, holding for five steps, and exhaling for ten steps.
I learned this breathing technique from my swim coach growing up. Thank you, Coach Michalik (I wrote a story about him here). It made me near-invincible before swimming my main event. The 50-meter backstroke. I could kick butterfly underwater all the way up until I’d get disqualified. It’s crazy how such a simple technique can open your lungs.
🕰️ Tick-tocking clocks
As I was stretching, I found myself hearing a bunch of tick-tocks. In retrospect, they are quite quiet, but when you are in the middle of nowhere with silence otherwise it becomes a pain. I went on a rampage to shut off or turn over all the clocks. This added up to eight. EIGHT clocks. No wonder I’m always tracking my time. I got completely uncomfortable not knowing what time it was. Is it time to make dinner? I can’t do mental math to add up the hours of my sleep, so how good was my sleep actually? Was that pomodoro of reading too long? I have absolutely no idea how long my walks were. They each felt long, but I loved it.
I think it’s beyond helpful to track time. Even if I weren’t a consultant, I would still track my time. I have ever since I jumped in a pool and started racing the clock at age six.
It was leaps outside of my comfort zone to not have a clock. I realized so much of my day is structured around the time that I felt confused and lost. I had to listen to when I was hungry or when I felt tired to go to sleep. Much of my routines are triggered by a certain hour of the day rather than feeling. This isn’t good or bad, it’s simply a tendency. This is actually a tendency of Type 5 enneagrams. We are the “thinkers”.
🤐 My voice sounds strange
I sang in the shower when I was into the second half of the 60 hours without human interaction. I realized that my voice sounded really funny. Only after one day, I had forgotten what I sounded like. It was kind of refreshing to be mute. I could just listen instead. It was sweet nothingness.
Apart from these four experiences I also brought up some books to stimulate my brain.
I brought up nine different books. I like to have options of what to read based on what my mood is. I didn’t expect these to be the ones I landed on. I read Austin Kleon’s book from start to finish on Show Your Work. Wow, it was such a great change of pace with the graphics. I highly recommend it if you are at all skeptical about sharing your creativity or the power of learning in public.
I was knocked right off my seat cushion reading Think Again by Adam Grant. I preordered his book back in October and have (high-key) had a countdown until it came out. I cannot wait to share more in-depth book notes once I apply them to my life and type them up. For now, I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes:
If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.” — Adam Grant
Nobody’s Perfect, Charlie Brown is a comic book I brought for fun. Surprisingly, I surfaced a lot of content that could get repurposed into some provoking pieces on what’s wrong with how kids view school. Comic books are so great. Even greater when they simplified for children where there is no assumed context.
I found myself listening to 12 Rules for Life on the drive up here. Jordan Peterson is quite the narrator. He makes such a dense book come to life through audio for a much better experience. I also listened through Big Magic by Liz Gilbert during my drive up north. I can’t wait to listen to it again.
Liz Gilbert gets me. I find myself going in circles reading from phenomenal brave female writers. Liz wrote a chapter on Brené Brown who endorsed Untamed by Glennon Doyle and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This was not planned people, I swear. I fell down here and as McDonald’s ads say it best: I’m lovin’ it.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is a 12-week course. I signed the creative contract in the intro so now I have no choice but to follow through on my efforts.
💭 Some thoughts I want to leave you with
Be like a snow plower. Perhaps the seasonality of jobs can create acceptance for our own with the stages of our life. Similar to how my accountant friends have busy seasons for taxes, I saw so many snow plowers zooming around plowing driveways up the wazoo. It got me thinking: what they do when there isn’t any snow? We all need to have different skills to lean on them for different seasons of life. How will you diversify your toolkit?
Venture onto the snowy road. Learning online is much like feeling like you are on a snowy road by yourself. It isn’t until you are near a fleet of other cars on the horizon that you feel less lonely. This is why I believe cohort-based courses are the best thing since sliced bread. You can see other’s tracks. You’re not actually friends but you’re both going in the same direction. You get kind of sad when one of them exits the road even though the Blue Ford 150 has no name, you felt like friends with parallel motivations. The destinations are different but you both made up your minds to trek out onto the snowy roads, shift on the four-wheel drive, and get uncomfortable with the uncertainty ahead of the snowy road.
Eat the rotten fruit. You don’t actually know when fruits taste best until you un-peel them and take a bite. I left bananas in my car and they froze turning black. To my surprise, they were perfectly ripe. What else in my life looks rotten but is actually blossoming and waiting to be discovered?
“When you feel like you’ve learned whatever there is to learn from what you’re doing, it’s time to change course and find something new to learn so that you can move forward. You can’t be content with mastery; you have to push yourself to become a student again.” -Austin Kleon