Did you ever hear the story about National Geographic photographer Jim Brandenburg?
Back in the fall of 1994, he got tired of the grind. The endless treadmill. The pressure to produce more.
So what did he do? He hightailed it back home, to the Boundary Waters area of Northern Minnesota. In that wild and beautiful landscape, he embarked on an experiment that would change his life and work.
Instead of shooting roll after roll of film, as he had on many other projects, he decided this time to take just one photograph each day for 90 days. And he declared that at the end of every day, there would be no do-overs. No regrets.
He book-ended his experiment with the fall equinox on one side and the winter solstice on the other.
The result was an impressive collection of photographs, and a show called Chased by the Light: A 90-Day Journey.
I had the pleasure of catching it on exhibit at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in summer 1998. And as stunning as the photographs were, if I hadn’t known about the story behind them, I wouldn’t have been nearly as mesmerized on my walk through the gallery.
Because it’s a great story. One that has much to teach us.
Apparently, many people have reacted this way, sharing with Brandenburg that his experiment touched them and made them think about their own lives. In fact, during an interview with Kari Knutson, he said: “I don’t think it was the photography that moved people. It was the story.”
And as I make my way through a year of Meaning Mondays, it’s a story that has come back to knock at the edges of my consciousness for another look.
Of course, it has applications to creativity. There’s certainly wisdom in placing limitations on ourselves in order to enhance creativity.
But I have a hunch it also applies to life in general, since many of us have been in Brandenburg’s shoes, feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and spread too thin.
Kind of like when the mayonnaise jar is pretty much empty, but we go there one more time. And the paltry bit of mayo is not nearly enough to cover two slices of bread. So the sandwich ends up being dry. Sticking to our throats.
Just as life can be dry when we’ve spread ourselves too thin.
Another way of life, though, glimpsed during Brandenburg’s 90-day journey, requires more deliberation. Stopping. Noticing. Bringing full awareness and intentionality to each day.
That being said, I know the world at large doesn’t function this way. We can’t go to the boss and say, “Gee, today I think I’ll talk to just one customer. I’ll focus all my attention on that person, and give her the best service possible.”
Nah, I don’t think that would go over too well.
Yet, in all of our days, there is probably room for some of this. Personally, I can imagine a handful of opportunities to put this philosophy into practice right away.
For my garden, I could plant one perennial each day rather than all of them at once.
For my business, I could reach out to one person each day.
For my writing, I could set aside one hour each day.
For my relationship, I could practice mirroring once each day.
For my decorating projects, I could sew one pillow each day.
Yes, I could slow down, and do one thing per day. Sink into it. Do it well, but also be content with good enough. Then move on. And do one thing the next day. And again the next.
There’s some delicious irony here. I suspect that slowing down to do just one thing, doing less, actually results in more. Not only more time for play. But literally more productivity. More accomplished, over the long haul.
What about you? If you had the chance to do one thing per day for 90 days, what would it be? And would you even want to try an experiment like this?
Which raises even further questions:
Is less really more?
Or is less just less?
And is more really less?
Or perhaps, is more simply more?
OK, now I’ve managed to thoroughly confuse myself! So you know what? I think I’ll just hightail it over to my little spot in the woods, where I spend the last week of each month mostly unplugged.
Last time I went I turned off comments, seeing as how I wouldn’t be around much to chat with you. But this time I’m going to mix it up, and leave comments on.
I’m intrigued to hear what you have to say about less is more. So if you’re game, please comment away!
WHY NOT START NOW?