17 Days Later

After being on the road for 14 months straight, I feel incredibly blessed that I’m able to look back at the journey with bright, optimistic eyes. So many things could’ve went wrong along the way, yet due to the kind nature of everyone I met, I was able to make it out unscathed and with my sanity intact.

Of course, nothing in life is perfect and there were a few times I considered packing my bags and heading home. Some of those moments were brought on by exhaustion, others from simply missing home. However, I made a commitment to the project and was determined to see it through regardless of the circumstances. In fact, there was only one time those thoughts ever made me pause and second guess our journey.

Before I get into that though, I need to preface it with a bit of backstory.

During my last week in each city, I took time to reach out to local organizations and publications at our next stop. Being that I am only one person, I often relied on those outlets to help me spread the word to other creatives in the area. In turn, many of those people would reach out to me and I was able to connect with so many individuals at agencies and schools around the country. That’s why I’m so grateful for the Creative Group, the Art Directors Club and The Egotist Network. They continually promoted the project each and every month and without them, things would’ve turned out much different.

Not everyone saw the value in our project though. 10 months in, I reached out to the Seattle branch of a prominent “creative” organization—one whose other branches had helped me in several other cities along the way. I sent their President a personalized email describing the project and asking for his assistance in spreading the word around town. It was an email I had been sent many times before. Yet, the reply I received this time was far different. To call it a shot in the heart would be an understatement.

While I no longer have the email (I deleted it), there were three sentences in particular that will linger with me for the rest of my career.

1. “I don’t understand how your project would benefit our members.”

While I try not to take anything personally, especially in this business, this statement took me by surprise. I had explained the project to a lot of people at that point and I actually took pride in my ability to succinctly tout the project’s value. Yet, in my road-weary state, it made me second-guess all of the progress we had made. Were there others who didn’t understand the project? How many opportunities had we missed out because of it? 

2. “To me, your project just seems like a drawn-out attempt to land a job somewhere.”

This is a question I received many times during the first few months of the project. As it continued, however, that question dwindled and I heard less of it with each passing day. But there I was, nearing the 11-month mark and someone was still unsure of my commitment. It, again, brought me to wonder if others still thought this whole thing to be an elaborate resume stunt. If I couldn’t win some people over in a year’s time, would I ever?

3. “You might want to rethink the copy on your site, because I didn’t understand what the project was until you described it to me.”

Now, this sentence came further into our back and forth e-mail conversation. After I was finally able to convince the person why #TGAA was important to me, he placed the blame on my site copy for the misunderstanding. And you know what? I’m really glad he did. His statement made me realize that I didn’t care what he thought. Especially since I described the project to him using my site copy word-for-word. It took any doubt he had placed in my mind and instantly erased it. It let me know that he had passed judgment on the project, without ever looking into what it was about. Sadly, that email didn't come until three days into the whole ordeal. So, I spent several nights wallowing in doubt. It wasn't a good time—at all. 

Once I read that sentence though, it reminded me that we had already met and won over hundreds of other people across the country. My mind snapped back to reality and I realized everything this man was saying to me was personal opinion. I can never change what people thought or continue to think about #TGAA. However, no one can ever take away what we accomplished. The friendships we’ve made, the lives we’ve touched and the places we’ve gone. Fact will always trump opinion.

Was #TGAA a way for me to land a job? In a way, I guess so. Then again, shouldn’t everything we do be a step toward improving our lives or the lives of others? Was it an excuse for me to travel the country? Sort of; but how else can a writer know the world without having seen it? The point of #TGAA was to have a shared experience and see what we could accomplish together.

And that’s exactly what we did.

So, no matter how tough things get; no matter how far you are from home, just keep doing what you love because no one can ever take away your accomplishments… unless you’re juicing... or cheating (Sorry, it was getting a tad too serious there).

-Steve-