The trouble with keeping your nose permanently glued to the grindstone is that you never look beyond your hooter. It’s an easy trap to fall into. When times are good, you’re desperately trying to keep up with demand. When times are bad, you’re desperately trying to whip up that demand.
Either way, this constant focus on work has a habit of skewing your world view. From the moment the all-too-chirpy alarm bell rings, until your weary head hits the pillow, nothing could possibly be more important than meeting your deadline, impressing the client and raising the creative bar.
Unless we have large, watermelon-sized heads, we feel somehow beholden when a client picks us for a project. After all, there are thousands of other creatives out there, and these days, most of them would bite any appropriate hand off to secure some hen’s-toothy business. No matter how awkward clients may be, you’re always prepared to jump, because they’ve paid you the compliment of being awkward to you. At this point I should stress that none of this applies to any of my wonderful clients who are – each and every one of them – the most charming and considerate people to walk the earth.
Now I’m not generally in the habit of agreeing with old Joe Stalin, but he was spot-on when he said ‘gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs’. Clients may pay you, but that doesn’t mean you have to wag your tail, lick their faces and promise blind obedience. If your business crumbled tomorrow, do you think for a minute the client you’ve been killing yourself for would shed a tear? Not a bit of it – they’d be off with a merry whistle to the next design consultancy/photographer/illustrator/copywriter (delete as appropriate). That’s not to say they don’t like you or appreciate you – it’s just the way of the business world.
And that’s worth remembering. Business is business, no more, no less. It’s not life and it’s not death – and once in a while you need to get away from it. Right away. Abroad if possible. A long weekend in another country does you more good than a carrot’n’prune smoothie. It gives you a welcome sense of perspective and food for thought. For starters, it’s unequivocal proof that there’s life outside London (or wherever else you happen to ply your trade), and that it’s fine to get off the hamster wheel, switch your phone off and enjoy the feeling of doing nothing for a couple of days.
Drinking in another culture helps you realise there’s always another way. You look around more keenly at strange packaging on the supermarket shelves, the way food is laid out on a plate, unusual letters butting up against each other, buildings, haircuts, newspapers, trains, shoes, faces, places. You peek into unfamiliar corners, hear alien sounds and sample another atmosphere. You get this kind of heightened awareness partly because you’re actually giving yourself the time to observe, but also because the contrast tickles your curiosity.
And when you get back home, everything has its sheen back. You perceive the familiar with a newly appreciative eye. You remember how comfortable your bed is, slip easily into the groove of your music, enjoy the recognition of the people around you, recall why you enjoy your work so much. You even spare a thought for your more pesky clients, who, after all, are just doing their jobs.