Putting out a fire by throwing yourself into it.

To work in advertising is to work in the land of make-believe. We make ideas that our clients (hopefully) believe in. It’s extremely difficult to exert any sort of order upon the manufacturing of thoughts rather than things, which is why we allow ourselves to get falsely carried away. We even have a cute term for a faux emergency: a “fire.”
It’s easy to convince yourself that every wrong turn, every tight timeline, every downed website is “an emergency.” Sure, the mood turns panicky and people get pissed off, but real emergencies, they are not. I once had a hospital client who would say “the only emergencies are the ones taking place across the street,” as she gestured toward the hospital. That’s a nice way to keep yourself in-check, as long as you don’t start believing your own hype. Which is common.
I’m leaving for a week-long trip to Glacier National Park on Thursday. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for almost a year and it’s so close, I can almost feel the cold mountain air against my skin. My bag is all but packed and my brain has already left on our westbound train. For one glorious week, there will be no phone, no computer, no work email, no “fires.”

This thought seems a million miles away as I sit here panicking through a hectic day. I have a surly creative team member and a malfunctioning website to triage today. I gave a moment’s thought to working through lunch in order to get a little ahead of the shit storm. That is, until my coworker stood in front of the floor-to-ceiling window next to my desk, looked out at the bright blue sky and the downtown skyline sparkling in the mid-day sun and said, “It looks nice outside.”

“I know. We should be out there,” I said.

She stared out the window in silence for a minute more, then said, “It kind of feels like we’re dogs locked inside the house, waiting to be let outside.”

Outwardly, I laughed. Inwardly, I said, ‘f-that.’ I’m not a dog and I do have the ability to let myself outside. So I went to the rooftop, sat in the sun, stared at the flowers in full bloom and ate my salad. Twenty minutes later, I came back to zero missed emails.

While I was outside, I thought about how many of my emergencies are manufactured. Despite how bad they may feel at the time, they are simply not real and pose no actual threat to me, my clients or my company. The mild discomforts of the day become bloated focal points, and the more I obsess about them, the further beyond recognition of their original form they become.

Outside of the office, beyond the city and suburbs, emergencies do become real. A lost or injured hiker, an impending animal attack, hypothermia, dehydration, a fall, a slip, deep water and bug bites all classify as real emergencies. There is no room for error or time wasted. There is no sitting back and letting it ride when the fire is threatening to burn your tent down. How you handle the immediate situation will determine your survival or demise – FROM THIS WORLD.  Is this why we so rarely put ourselves purposefully in these situations?

For one week out of 52, I get to put myself squarely in the path of potential destruction by a much greater force than anything I encounter in my daily life. What if I happen upon a bear? What if I slip and break my leg? What if we get lost in the backcountry?

What if I never had the ambition to find out for myself how to handle real emergencies in the first place? That thought strikes real panic into my heart.  

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Life, Travel

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