A few years back I had a boss who was fond of staff meetings, whether we needed them or not. (In his defense, we usually needed them.) In the course of these, he would often share a personal philosophy or something else unrelated to work. Perhaps because it wasn’t always obvious why he was taking up time with something so apparently irrelevant, most of his wisdom went in one ear and out the other.
But not this pearl, which immediately got our attention: “Tonight, when you leave here, take the long way home.” None of us had a clue what this had to do with anything.
He added, “In fact, get lost.”
The staffers looked at each other with concern, wondering if this was his subtle way of telling us we were all fired, or if he simply had lost his mind and we were witnesses to the breakdown we secretly suspected would come eventually. But before we called
Lakeside – for him or for ourselves – he went on to explain.
“While coming into work today I took a wrong turn and wound up driving through a part of town I hadn’t been in years. On my way here I saw a house painted pink, businesses I didn’t know were around, and a couple of kids drawing chalk pictures on the sidewalk.”
Taking all of this in, we were at least semi-assured we weren’t fired, though the second possibility remained on the table. However, I’m happy to report that the reason he thought we’d benefit from this seemingly random advice was a rather creative one.
During the rest of his drive, he told us, he found himself thinking of pink houses and the type of person who would live in that house. He considered whether they might be artists, and whether the kids on the sidewalk would grow up to be artists too. He thought about a frame shop he saw right next to a Chinese grocery, and pondered what kind of framing is suitable for Chinese rice paper artwork. His ultimate point was, he dwelt on things he normally wouldn’t have thought about, and on this particular day, it opened his mind creatively.
In honesty, we still didn’t quite get it, and those of us who preferred going straight home rather than waste time expanding our minds never altered our route, at least on purpose. Years later, however, the truth of our boss’s suggestion has rung true many times, usually in retrospect. Trying out a new restaurant has led to enlightening conversations with owners about why we like the things we like. Visiting a sick friend at the hospital elicits strong reactions in the presence of countless details we don’t think about in daily life. Even stopping for a moment at the mall to take in the hubbub can inspire elaborate imaginary stories about a complete stranger.
The muse is constantly feeding us ideas and information we can make use of in our writing, but we’re often too ingrained in our usual path and our typical way of thinking to notice them. Looking back, haven’t some of your most original ideas come out of the blue when you’ve taken a road less traveled?
You may we wondering, as we did, why our boss told us to try his approach going home that night, instead of following his example the next day and coming into the office all inspired.
He didn’t want us to be late for work.