Updated: Oct 7, 2019
The Norwegian Air screen lit up my face like a Christmas tree. It offered possibilities of the unknown, of great adventure, of artistic fulfilment! Ashland, Oregon!
I realise that doesn’t sound very exciting to most, but to me, it sounded like a dream. Ashland is the home to the Oregon Shakespeare festival and Oregon is the home to mountains and lakes and wild animals and trees- the likes of which I hadn't laid eyes on in a long time. The door to Ashland was opened to me via Daniel, a cello player and personal training client I’ve been working with for a while. Being that we’re both artists, naturally our conversations steered toward possible collaborations, and out of the blue, I suggested I just fly out there, so as to have an in-person conversations about possible projects.
As soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted them. My to do list seemed as long as the dead sea scrolls and I felt a sense of dread about having to put things off. Even though my eyes hurt from staring at a computer all day, they strained to take in the screen as I searched the fine print for hidden costs, anything to add to my list of reasons not to go. I shouldn’t do it. I really shouldn’t. I have so much to do here. I’ll have to re-apply for my visa in another 2 months, I have work projects, I have to film videos for clients, I have classes to coach at the gym, I have a small bit of money saved up that could be spent on other, more productive things…I booked the tickets.
I booked the tickets because there will never be the perfect time to follow a whim. Or time to plan a whim or time to adequately think through a whim. That’s what makes it a whim.
I mainly bought the tickets because I know myself well enough to know that when something seems like it might be uncomfortable, the first thing I do is make excuses. While I could plan some aspects of the trip, there would still be a lot of unknowns. I also knew my brain needed something different because I was starting to feel a bit dumb- like my creative, problem solving thoughts were slowly dissolving into a soupy robot-brain doing things for the sake of doing them instead of knowing why. This was a good sign that I needed to let more whims in.
Additionally, I knew that if I realllllllyyyyy looked at my to-do list (the one I was making a lot of assumptions about, the thing I was using to prop up my sense of self-worth) I could find and make room to fit this trip into my schedule. Yes, I did commit myself before thinking too hard about it but I also asked myself what, on my list, was non-negotiable. There were some things, but a lot less than what I was assuming. With all the different calendars, journals, and productivity tools we have in front of our faces I often feel like I have to do everything NOW NOW NOW even if the things on that list aren’t due for another 2 or 3 months.
The dark side
There’s also a “dark” side to whims. There are times when saying yes to whims has been good for freeing up my mind, but there have also been times when they've produced more anxiety if I'm using them to put off something that needs to get done ASAP. For me, this always comes back to being more intentional about looking at my to-do list and sussing out what needs to get done and when.
It's one thing to have a visa application, dissertation, or work project due in a week. Sometimes you just have to make yourself sit down and do it. Othertimes, you need a 10 minute whim, and then you can come back to the work.
Ultimately though, I've found that it works differently from person-to-person because everyone has different values. If I massively valued being a whimsical human and following whims was all I did, then sure, there are upsides to that, but there are most-likely consequences too (maybe my flat would never get clean, meals would be last minute decisions, or I would become an unreliable person). On the other hand, if I massively valued my career and all I did was work like a machine, then I would get a lot of valuable things done, but there are also consequences to that (maybe I'd never have time for myself or my relationships) and following a whim could help.
Making decisions based on values
I was able to buy those tickets because I value connecting with new people. I also value working with kids (Daniel set me up with a friend who was leading a theatre camp for high school kids at Southern Oregon University), and I value getting to creatively problem solve. Following this whim would force me to get creative. The best part about this particular whim was that it turned into the formation of some lovely artistic relationships that are now moving in the direction of collaboration. This was what I had hoped for. When I follow whims that are in-line with my values, they can sometimes lead to this weird and often scary thing called networking. In this situation, the networking was a product of following curiosity’s beck and call.
Following a whim doesn’t have to involve buying a plane ticket, it could be going for a walk in the woods, signing up for an open mic night, or going to a fitness class or writers group. Just don’t think too hard about it. There will always be rivals to our creative whims and it can be easy to fall into the trap of waiting for the perfect conditions or for some thing or another to end or begin, but as C.S Lewis said, “favourable conditions never come”…especially for letting whims in.