The Walking Cure
It started as a way to master Instagram. It ended as a path to a richer, slower, more engaged, and more self-determined life.
[Ed. Note: Every soloist has a personal Operating System — some are just more intentional than others. They can govern anything from guiding principles to strategic tactics to (seemingly small) routine practices. Some are about competing better or working more productively. Others are about satisfying the kind of hunger that attracts so many to the solo life in the first place: the desire to live in a richer, slower, more engaged, and self-determined way. To find one’s groove.
Sometimes, almost miraculously, a soloist manages to design an OS practice that helps her gain ground on all of the above. That’s what Libby DeLana did. In this first episode in our “My OS” series, we explore the simplest of moves: a daily walk.]
Who: Libby DeLana, celebrated creative director in the branding world. Also: chicken farmer, mom, former elite competitive rower.
Not to mention: Tall, prone to festive hats, hard to miss across a room.
The work: DeLana works independently on several fronts — including a book on this exact aspect of her OS — while simultaneously remaining fully jobbed-up as a founding partner at the Newburyport, Mass. branding firm Mechanica.
Which makes her: Technically, a “side soloist,” one of the 13.4 million soloists who hold full-time jobs while pursuing indie work on the side.
The OS practice in question: Her morning walk.
Specifically: “Every single day, no matter the weather, no matter where I am, I go for a walk. Most of the time it’s between 5 and 10 miles, so somewhere in the neighborhood of an hour to two hours.”
No, really: Every day. Rain or shine, snow or sleet. Whether waking up at home or in a hotel room on the business-traveling road. The everyday-ness of it matters.
When she goes: Dawn, basically. Earlier in winter. (“Sun comes up, I head out.”) Think 6:00-ish.
The point of it, at first (short version): To understand Instagram.
Which explains why: Most days, DeLana photographs something on her walk (with her iPhone 6, no special add-ons) and posts it on Instagram. See ’em here. (DeLana’s IG handle: @parkhere).
The point of it, at first (longer version): “Four or five years ago Instagram was sort of coming into being, and given what it is that I do for a living and being the age I am I just feel that it’s required that I really understand how all these social media tools are being used. And I believe the only way to get to know them is actually to really use them. So, part of the morning walk was figuring out a project to do so that I would really get Instagram.”
The bigger point(s) of it, as it turned out: 1) “Don’t know why this took me so long, but … I began to understand that I personally am happiest outdoors. As an art director there’s so much time spent inside sitting at computers or in meetings or orchestrating things. And I realized that the best creative medicine for that was to be outside. So part of the walk was guaranteeing that I would be outdoors for a chunk of the day.” 2) “And then, what began to become clear was that it was also the most creative time of my day.”
Which means, among other things, that: “It’s hugely valuable processing time! As part of a lame sort of meditation practice, I now set an ‘intention’ when I head out. Sometimes there’ll be a project at work that we’re trying to figure out, or some personal thing, and I try to focus this hour — this “moving meditation” — on that thing that needs solving. Here I am in the place I’m most comfortable, and I allow my thoughts, my feelings, my brain to sort of deconstruct and then reframe the issue in this completely more mindful way. It’s astonishing, really. And it turns the walk into both an escape and also a focused act.”
Logistical requirements: “Ridiculous as this sounds, some of it is about having the proper gear.”
Doesn’t sound ridiculous to us. (At least, not before this part): “A dear friend told me, Libby you really should go to a secondhand shop, get a men’s cashmere sweater, put it in the wash, dry it so it’s almost felted, and then cut the sleeves off so you have this sort of incredible wool layer.” She did. “And it’s a turtleneck so it’s incredibly warm. Then I’ve got these blinking lights that I put on, these headlamps. Sometimes I’m on roads, in the dark. I travel with my headlamps.”
And then there’s the sheer mileage, at speed. Is this a workout? Not so much. “It’s a very different thing. Though, honestly, it took me an entire year initially to get over myself, because I had that sort of hangover like, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me, I mean you’re an athlete and here you are at age 54 and what do you mean you’re going for a walk… .’ But it’s a creative, meditative act, rather than a what’s-my-heart-rate kind of thing.”
Intended consequences of the walk: 1) “It’s made me a better art director, just by slowing down and learning how to see again.” 2) “I got into this to understand Instagram and how brands could use it, and now I feel like I can walk into any meeting and be an expert — which is what I need to be. It’s a powerful tool for brands.”
Unintended consequence of the walk, #1: “Suddenly, my Instagram is almost like a mini focus group. It’s really fascinating: before I post a picture I can pretty much guess how many “likes” a picture will get. The number is really inconsequential to me, but as a tool for an art director to know what gets responses … I now feel like I’ve finely tuned that capacity.”
So … what pictures get ‘likes’? “Pictures that have kind of an inherent romance to them, as if there’s a story waiting to bubble out of the photograph rather than it being simply an accurate depiction of what’s shot. There’s something left unsaid, something that needs to be told.”
Unintended (and most important) consequence of the walk, #2: “I’m not sure I like these words particularly, but the walk has become a sort of ‘radical act of self-care.’ The thing about setting aside an hour, for yourself, outside (or sitting with a cup of tea if that’s your thing), is that it creates space for ideas, hard subjects, feelings, all to reside and exist and rumble. Life is brilliant, and messy, and joyous, and sometimes I go for a walk and I feel like I just finished it in about 30 seconds because my brain is lit up with, just, joy. Not always, but more often than I’d ever have imagined.”
Which is why: “It’s sometimes a challenge to fit it in, but I know 100% that I am always intellectually, emotionally, spiritually in a better place after I’ve walked. It is essential to my operating system.”