Choosing Present Over Productive
My family just returned from a two-month road trip. Seriously, the stuff of dreams. After 18 years of teaching, my husband and I finally had a 100% work-free summer and traveled the country with our children. It was pure magic. We’d hoped for this kind of summer for many years, but it always seemed out of reach. By a series of unexpected events (both positive and negative), it finally became a reality.
I planned to write a lot while we were on the road, cranking out more of the manuscript I’d been working on. Of course, I would write articles inspired by our adventure too—real-time accounts of the journey. I imagined myself sitting in the forest in a camp chair, feverishly typing and jotting and creating. I’d be a real roving writer.
None of that happened. Not even close.
With the extensive driving, early morning hikes to beat the heat, and well-earned exhaustion by each day’s end, I did almost no writing at all. Practically zilch. This grieved me at first because it was “supposed to be” a fun-yet-productive summer. I chided myself for not having more creative stamina and discipline.
Then it occurred to me that the time with my family and the deep observations I was making about the world around me were the work. The experiences I’d longed to have for nearly two decades lay in front of me. These moments could be fuel for many written projects—once I got home.
Reinvigorated by this revelation, I took a few quick notes, snapped tons of photos, and immersed myself in the happenings of the trip. I decided the rest and observation I was doing were just as much a part of my writing process as the writing itself.
The drive to produce often overshadows the need to simply be in this hectic world. This familiar refrain of guilt has nipped at my heels most of my life. We feel guilty when we aren’t being “productive enough”. Sometimes the call is to recharge our souls and work at being present in our lives. This is its own brand of productivity.
The work of being present is critical for life and for art. Lessons on simply centering myself in the moment presented themselves all summer. The weight of beauty and wonder pressed me into place, forcing me to take notice. A firm yet gentle nudge from God I desperately needed.
I got to see the sunrise over Monument Valley. After a challenging hike, I stood under Delicate Arch with my family. We drove over Trail Ridge Road in the Rockies after a summer snowstorm. I had the privilege of seeing humpback whales breach and dive, showcasing their majestic tails.
We laid on our backs watching shooting stars streak across the sky in Great Basin National Park. There was even a moment of reveling in homemade pie made from fruit grown in Capitol Reef National Park’s homestead orchards. Now I’m back in my little writing corner at home. Now’s the time to marvel at it all and consider how I’ll put words to the page to express all I experienced.
The abundance of emotion and wonder from our trip will require contemplation and mental unpacking well into the fall. I’m sure as weeks and months unfold, fresh “a-ha” moments will present themselves. Our trip will be a gift that continues to give.
I’ve had the “step back to move forward” revelation several times in the past few years. At first, I’m always surprised by it. Then I remember how much good it did me the last time I had the same revelation and heeded its advice.
This time, I’ve decided to embrace it as a pattern in the ebb and flow of my life. Instead of being surprised, I aim to expect it. When I feel the discomfort of not being “productive enough” in any area of life, I’ll look for the opportunity to lean into the moment instead. Stubborn spirits eventually soften and learn their lesson. I did.
With Love and Gratitude,
Tracy G Cooper
Tracy is a New Jersey writer who loves Earl Grey tea, spending time outside, and painting. She lives with her husband and children in a home where birdsong and rainstorms provide the soundtrack for her creative life.
A dream of a lifetime with God’s direction beats anything you could have ever planned for. (do not cringe at the poor grammar..lol) So happy for you and your entire family. We are setting out for an adventure in the spring that will take us to Wyoming and beyond… we plan to go with the flow after following you this summer. Love and miss you