Many years ago, I made the decision to avoid a corporate lifestyle at all costs and earn a living working for myself writing and making pretty pictures.
The freedom of working for myself has brought with it joy and greatly reduced levels of office small talk.
Having done this for over ten years, I would not — and now probably could not — do it any other way.
The route I’ve chosen has allowed me to make cool illustrations of apes and aliens, earn a bit of money, and live and work mostly anywhere I want (writing this in Bangkok — how awesome am I, right?).
It has not been without its challenges, however. Not needing to follow a formal structure has lead to laziness and watching YouTube for hours instead of working, many times.
Not taking full control as my own boss has resulted in days where I’d consider cleaning out my email spam box a triumph.
I’ve been lonely and sometimes depressed through isolating myself without someone suggesting that it might do me some good to speak to an actual person at some point in the week.
About a year ago, I went on a week-long trip to Iceland with a friend. We hired a jeep, and covered as much of the country’s wild, alien landscape as we could.
We covered the car in the dust and detritus, from the bright yellow sand dunes on the coast to the deep black lava dust of the foreboding Prometheus-esque interior.
The beauty and uniqueness of the country revived my spirit and infused new colour into my greying senses.
Physically moving through unfamiliar landscapes gave me the opportunity to think about and feel the world differently, almost as a different person.
As someone who relies on fresh, creative ideas, feeling alive, and being inspired, this kind of experience holds a tremendous amount of value for my work, and my sanity.
The illustrations here were inspired by Iceland, but going on such an adventure also led to a new change in the way I approached my life from that point on.
I decided to bring adventure into my daily life instead of a once in a year short burst.
On every day that I can, I will go on a walk, sometimes a long one, and I will bring my notepad and my phone to take pictures and videos. I will use this adventure to collect and note ideas or simply document things I see as I go.
I call them ‘Idea Adventures.’
All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking. -Friedrich Nietzsche
Idea adventures combine physical movement with adventure and actually sometimes getting stuff done. The walks get me out of the house, and give me something to look forward to.
I might meet new people, I learn, and I have new experiences. They get me moving, which as I often write about, is important for being productive and stimulating ideas through the increased flow of oxygenated blood.
Most of all, the walks create value in the form of new ideas and solutions to problems in my notebooks. I usually come home with several pages of notes that I’d never have come up with sitting at home worrying that I wasn’t working hard enough.
Idea Adventures might not always be as wild or thrilling as walking in Iceland, but they allow me to bring a sense of adventure into my average day.
Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow. -Henry David Thoreau
I’m ambitious and I like to work, so at first I wasn’t sure about spending time away from my desk. Adventures in the day just seemed a little too…Indiana Jones for me to take them seriously. But I’ve found that the walks have lead to actually getting more done.
The walks are in themselves usually very productive, because I take notes, and often create extra material that I can share online for people to follow my story. Because I’m occupied and moving, I don’t get lost in dreary thoughts as much, and any pent up or depressed vibes usually evaporate.
This has benefitted my general happiness and productivity in a really noticeable way.
This good energy gets transferred into the rest of the day, helping me ease into a productive mindset, working more fluidly.
The best remedy for a short temper is a long walk. -Jacqueline Schiff
I try to explore a part of town I haven’t been to before. Or I might go a little further out and walk in nature.
Sometimes I’ll walk for 20 minutes or I might take hours. But I will usually write notes and keep the ideas flowing. It’s like I’m a secret agent taking notes on the mysteries of life.
I try not to think too much about what I’m writing.
That can come later when I’m back in my office, going over the notes in my slippers. For now, I want to get thoughts out of my brain, on to paper. I’m looking to fill up as many note books as I can, over time.
Many of the things that held me back working freelance that I talked about before have gone, thanks to taking these creativity-inducing walks.
It’s my belief that the happiest and most successful people are those who physically move a lot and have lots of real-world experiences, combining that with lots of creating.
If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish. -Charles Dickens
It does not need to be every day, and you might spend 20 minutes on your lunch break doing this.
Walks don’t always have to be in weird, interesting places either, and in some cases you might get bored. I have, and in those moments, I try to get more tuned into what’s happening around me.
I see it as a test of concentration. It does us good to not always be super-stimulated.
You might also want to go with someone else, or walk somewhere inside, if it’s cold, like a museum.
Or you might just go to the gym and move, though it might be harder to take notes while you’re pumping iron Arnie-style. But try this and see how it might help you.
Meandering leads to perfection. -Lao Tzu
Tell me or tell us here what ideas came up when you did this, and where you explored. Send me a snapshot of your sketchbook or notebook or places you’ve been. I’d love to see what this leads to.
Enjoy the adventure.
Follow my Instagram (@alexjmathers) for photos and video snippets of my own Idea Adventures and beyond.