Time Out: balancing work, travel, and being a human

Salton Sea, California
Salton Sea, California

Hello, friends!  I’ve recently returned home from three weeks on the road, and I’ve been re-inspired to fire up this blog again – for something other than letting you know about bi-annual sales… I’ll still have those sales – and I’ll continue to tell you about them – but those posts were feeling incredibly stale and, if you ever went to my website, just made it seem like there’s really nothing going here at Power and Light Press.  But there is so much going on here!

I was thinking back to when I was on the road with my Moveable Type Truck (I’d link to the website, but it’s down for renovations – you can probably Google it to find out more, if you’re interested).  Basically, I spent the better part of two years driving around the country in a delivery truck that I had converted into a mobile letterpress studio and RV, teaching workshops and hosting demos and throwing printing parties along the way.  It was, as you might imagine, a crazy adventure – thrilling and exhausting in equal measures. At a time when my “home” was parked in a different town nearly every night, one of the things that kept me grounded and balanced was writing.  It started as just a personal exercise, to process all the experiences I was having, but then I started sharing some of my writing on the Type Truck website.  It took me a while to admit I was actually “blogging”, but I got over that.  It turned out to be such an important practice for me during that time, and allowed me to share all the crazy stories and the weird feelings and the fascinating people and places I was getting to know along the way.  And people seemed to respond to what I was putting out there.

And so, I’m thinking I might try it out again.  Of course, I’m not in the midst of a two-year adventure on the road, but I still get out there a lot, and travel is incredibly important to me and how I define my work and life.  This blog isn’t going to just be about road trips and adventures, though.  I’m not totally sure what, exactly, it’s going to be about – we’ll have to see how it unfolds.  I suspect I might want to talk about running a business sometimes. Maybe a lot of the time?  Also printing.  And dogs.  This inaugural post might be a long one, but I’m sure some others will be short and sweet.  I’ll try to mix it up for you.

travel hound
travel hound

So, as I was saying, I just got back home from a three-week getaway – part work, part play, all awesome.  I often get asked about my adventures on the road, how I’m able to take so much time away from work, and so I thought I’d write a bit about the choices I make when it comes to running a business while still keeping myself whole.  Because, believe it or not, even though I love the work I do in ways there are not words for, it’s not the only thing that defines me.

Ok, so, in mid July, I packed up my sensible Scion hatchback and hit the road.  My route included Yuma, AZ, Los Angeles, CA, Big Sur, CA, Pescadero, CA, San Mateo, CA, San Francisco, Point Blanco, OR, Portland, OR, Baker City, OR, the Great Salt Lake, Green River, UT, Moab, UT, and Cortez, CO.  A nice big loop up the coast and back down through the mountains.  There was time with friends and family, swimming in as many different bodies of water as possible, hiking, food and drink, camping with dogs, sunsets galore, a couple sunrises, some work, and a whole lot of quiet time.

My first stop was in LA, where I spent the weekend catching up with some friends before attending the first ever Biz Camp – a gathering of 100 creative entrepreneurs for a full day of workshops, speakers, and general shooting the shit about running a small creative business.  It was such a jam-packed day, full of information and inspiration about how to set goals, work smarter and stay on track, and “keep the needle moving forward” in your business – a metaphor I totally loved from Ban.do boss lady Jen Gotch.  The line up of speakers was great, but one of the best parts of it all was just being able to get together with so many of my peers and peeps and just talk shop.  I feel so lucky to be a part of such a supportive industry, and really cherish the friendships and relationships I’ve made with other printers, stationers, retailers, and creative business folks.  It’s taken me the past few weeks to really process all the information from that one day but, lucky for me, I’ve been traveling alone in a car most of this time and have had plenty of opportunities to sort through it.

Columbia River Gorge
Columbia River Gorge

It’s weird to be driving through the high desert of eastern Oregon, thinking about productivity and business strategy and all the “action steps” I want to take with Power and Light Press when I get home.  This is the meaty, big picture stuff – the stuff I don’t often have time to think about back home.  I get so caught up in the minutiae and daily task work, that I rarely have the perspective to think about these things – and this is the stuff that’s really going to drive my business forward.  Back home, it’s more about “did I answer all the emails today?  Did I get those orders out the door?  Did I finish reprinting that card?” – that’s the stuff that fills up my days.  But when I have a chance to step away, that’s when I get the bigger, abstract, and more important work done.

But it’s also not like I’m only thinking about business when I’m on the road.  I think a lot of things – my relationships, my own well being, things I want in life, things I want for lunch.  And sometimes I don’t think about anything at all.  I just look around, and take it all in, and breathe. And it re-sets me.

For me, travel isn’t about luxury, at least not in the sense of poolside massages and cocktails on the beach (though I would be totally down with all those things, given the opportunity).  For me, travel is more about getting reacquainted with the luxury of time, because that is probably the first thing to go out the window when you decide to start your own business.  I’m six years into Power and Light Press and, while I’m hardly ready or able to rest on my laurels, I’m also no longer interested in the whole “sleep when yer dead” mentality of starting a new business.  I’d rather get my eight hours now, do a bunch of work, take a little vacation, and then do a whole bunch of spreadsheets and invoicing when I’m dead.

One of the things about traveling for me personally is settling into the mental and emotional space that I don’t always get (allow) in my daily work life.  In many ways, I find being on the road, away from work, to be a really useful productivity tool.  And I’m not just making excuses for taking a vacation.  There are certainly times when I feel guilty and irresponsible for being away from the business (and so here’s where I give a HUGE shout out to my assistant Stacey, who keeps the ship afloat while I’m out of town – you’re getting a raise).  And there are times that I’ve really messed things up by being away, by hoisting too much on Stacey’s shoulders, by not returning a voicemail for a few days because I was out of range in Utah or whatever.  And I invariably come home to an enormous pile that needs catching up on, because I wasn’t there doing the work each and every day.  But still, it’s worth it to me to take that time away.

Great Salt Lake - Utah
Great Salt Lake - Utah

Being on the road brings me balance.  And balance is a power that I cannot underestimate.  Balance can come in so many different forms for different people.  For me, it’s the rhythm of driving, the open space, the views, the silence, and all that TIME spent alone.  Of course, I love traveling with friends, too (my partner Dustin and our tiny dog Frankie are two of my favorite traveling companions).  But traveling solo is where I feel the most like me. When you travel alone, you can feel very, very alone.  I like to really get into it, to really feel those long silences.  Because those are the times when I learn so, so much about myself – what I want, what I’m afraid of, and – most of all – what I’m capable of.

I work hard.  I want to be a good business owner, and I want my business to grow and be successful.  But I don’t want to burn myself out or pretend that my whole existence revolves around my business.  It’s important to me – it’s honestly the only job I can imagine having – but it’s not all of me.  Because besides my roles of printer, artist, designer, accountant, shipping manager, website tolerator, boss lady, neighbor, and tenant, I also play the roles of human being, partner, friend.  And I strongly believe that those last three roles are never improved upon by working an 80-hour week.  So I take time for myself, so I can try to be better at being a person.

Ok, so maybe taking a three-week road trip when you have a bunch of deadlines on the horizon isn’t your idea of a good idea.  I totally get that.  But why not take a walk around the block, turn off your phone for a few hours, take a coffee break or close up shop early on a summer afternoon and go swimming?  It can be a small thing, but I truly believe that getting some distance from and perspective on our work will make us better people – both at work and, you know, in all those other parts of our lives that we sometimes forget about.

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