‘I just won’t sleep, I decided. There were so many other interesting things to do.’
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
The Jackpine is a tree native to North America, although it will grow almost anywhere in the world. It is resilient. It has a basic form, yes, but grows to any shape that suits the light, suits the winds, suits itself.
Let just say unlike these perfect pine trees your not going be getting a Jackpine tattooed on your hip anytime soon. Unlike the supermodel pines trees, Jackpines are wonky and do whatever they want. They are alternative and adapt to their surroundings.
When I started art school, I was pretty set on being a Pine tree. When I decided to specialise in Graphic Design I really felt like I’d found my calling. Pretty early on in my time at university, I came across the Graphic Design Hall of Fame that has pictures of past graduates and the logos of where they now work; Nike, Apple, trendy design agencies and Google. I thought; ‘Yes, Google’. If I am going be successful, I need to get myself a big company logo on my CV, on my business card and on my Linked-in account.
Then I read a book. It’s by Cheryl Strayed called Wild, it documented her solo journey along the Pacific Crest Trail, with almost no experience she successfully navigated across this unforgiving terrain and came out the other side learning a great deal about herself. But it was something specific that Cheryl wrote that affected me so much I printed it out and put it in the front page of my Filo Fax, which for anyone who owns a Filo Fax knows is a pretty big deal. It basically said ‘You don’t have to have a job that makes other people comfortable with what they perceive as your success. You don’t have a career. You have a life.’
Now this really hit me, this woman that I admire was basically asking me, why do you want to work at Google? Are you doing it for the right reasons or are you doing it to impress other people? It was the first time I realised I actually had a choice, I could follow the road to a full-time job and all that goes with it. Or I could go in a different direction.
That is pretty terrifying for someone leaving art school. But that is not my biggest fear. My biggest fear is that my desktop screen saver will be more exciting than my actual life. I am terrified that I will never get round to taking my own photo of El Capitan or whatever Mac software version we’re on at the moment. I am scared of putting everything off until tomorrow and then realising tomorrow came and went.
'The trouble is, as people we put a lot of significance on our own significance.'
But we don’t often ask ourselves where it comes from. For me it was grades, Instagram likes, what other people thought, the future prospect of getting a fancy job. What I am coming to understand is that it’s far better to get your sense of significance from yourself rather than relying on others.
I think as soon as I realised that ‘Likes’ don’t matter, what other people thought doesn’t actually matter and that the job title might not make me that happy, I am suddenly free to decide what I actually want to do with my life. Maybe I could get my significance from contributing more, from doing good work for good people? Rather than doing work for a famous logo.
I came up with a pretty solid medical term for my anxiety. ‘Adventure Ache’ for me is that feeling you get in your stomach when your equal part excited and terrified by something. I know I want to travel and freelance, but something in the back of my mind is still saying ‘What the hell are you thinking go get a job and be pleased.’
So we made a plan. My partner and I tried figure out what we wanted from life after uni. What we would need in order to live that life and how our work would have to be to accommodate that. We researched what others where doing, how they were living. We found a snowboarder living in a self built tiny house in the back country of Canada.
We found a website designer traveling the world with only a backpack while still holding down a ‘full-time job’. We found hundreds of people living and working from their vehicles while traveling around America. We longed for that type of freedom, for the wildness of the landscapes and the intentional paths these individuals had created for themselves. We came to the conclusion we needed our work to be mobile.
So like any normal person, we bought a van. A bright yellow VW camper van. Who we have affectionately named Matilda. The idea being that she will fulfil our needs of having somewhere to live while travelling and also allow us to work by basically becoming a nomadic design studio. If you are familiar with the #vanlife on Instagram you’ll be aware that we are not the first people to be doing this. There are hundreds of amazing people out their already living and working from their vans all around the world. By freeing themselves from commitments such as paying rent, owning loads of possessions it lessens the need for having a full-time job in a city.
It’s not about being a gap year backpacker traveling around Asia finding himself, it’s simply having a small home on wheels that houses only what we need to live and work and travel in relative comfort. For us that’s is a pretty freeing place to be.
We basically want to be digital nomads. Which for those of you that don’t know is just a freelancer or company employee that can work from anywhere in the world remotely. So it’s not all about bumming around in a van taking Instagram snaps all day, it’s as much if not more about working hard at something you love. But it’s about giving you the freedom to bum around all day and take Instagram snaps if that is what you want to do that day, regardless of whether its a Monday or not.
So in summary what I am saying, is that my idea of success and significance has changed. To my fellow students out there, we need to remember that there isn’t just one road for everyone, that kind of thinking creates a lot of traffic jams and not a lot of progress. Chances are the main person doubting your navigation skills is you, so give yourself a break and maybe consider taking an alternative route.
‘. . . we need to remember that there isn’t just one road for everyone, that kind of thinking creates a lot of traffic jams and not a lot of progress.’
But don’t take my world for it I’m 23 and haven’t done anything yet. The Yellow Matilda Theory is still just that, a theory, an experiment still waiting to be conducted and conclusions waiting to be drawn. Go out and find your own ache, create your own intentional way of living. Maybe like me you’ve realised you want to be more like a Jackpine and grow in anyway that suits yourself. Because maybe being a perfect Pine tree just isn’t the thing for you.