As I contemplate retiring at the end of the year, I think of a phone call I received 14 years ago that changed my whole experience and expectation of work. I was invited to come back to Eddie Bauer as the brand historian, to be the company storyteller.
I had worked there previously for 10 years as a writer and became familiar with the company’s history and archives during that time. The invitation was a dream come true. I got to spend my days gathering, exploring, and correlating stories of mountaineering expeditions, polar explorations, and a government project to dig a deep, cold-water harbor in northern Alaska by burying and detonating nuclear bombs. (The effort to block Project Chariot marked the birth of the environmental movement.)
This wasn’t just a job. I got to go to work every morning.
The difference was startling. It was also sobering that the feeling was so new. Why had I spent so many hours a day for so many years at work without choosing to do something that did more than pay me? It wasn’t that I had hated my job. I’ve been blessed throughout my 30-year corporate career. I’ve been able to do work that I enjoy, in collaboration with talented, creative, and delightful people. But it was always just a job. My life was what took place outside of work.
Once I had the experience of looking forward to going to work every morning, I realized that until that moment, I had settled, and that was unsettling.
Choice is one of our most precious gifts, but only if we exercise it. I was reminded of this recently when a friend sent me the link to a 22-minute video called Music For Free. It tells the story of musician and poet Ben Weaver who, in 2018, rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the route and to celebrate “wildness.” He carried his guitar and banjo on his bike and stopped to give free concerts in the small towns along the 2,700 mile route from Banff in Canada to Antelope Wells, NM, on the Mexican border.
In fact, Ben has been doing this all over the Midwest for several years. He tells of one his first trips—cycling and singing from his home in Minnesota to New Orleans. Stopping near the end of the journey, he met a man who asked, “Where you from?”
“Minnesota,” Ben answered.
“Where you going?!” the man wondered.
“New Orleans,” Ben replied.
“I don’t talk to crazy people!” the man exclaimed, walking away. But Ben’s takeaway was, “I knew then I was on to something.”
In Music For Free, he goes on to say, “The other thing about the [Great Divide] route that I really appreciated is all of the people that live in the small communities who have decided to make life how they want it to be.”
In our cities, in our corporate structures and planned communities, it can be easy to forget that we have choices, and hard to find the courage to exercise them. But it can be transformative if and when we do. Ben Weaver’s celebration of the wildness of nature with his bicycle and banjo isn’t the choice for everyone. But that’s not his point. This is:
“You can do whatever you want.”
How we choose, actively or passively, says a lot about how and where we travel.
Watch Music For Free by clicking on this link: https://vimeo.com/353346019