Visiting Sydney after living abroad for so long always feels a little strange. When you spend your time surrounded by the same group of people in the same places, you can start to get lost in the rhythm of your life and your work. You become so focused on what you're doing, or where you're going, that you stop paying attention to the world around you.
When you're a visitor, though, you're forced to take a step back. You start to see details that go unnoticed when they're part of your everyday life - the sound of the birds in the trees, or the cicadas in the bush. You begin listening for stories, points of view, snippets of day-to-day life that catch your ear or your eye. You give yourself the space you need to do your best work - both creatively and personally.
As a writer, the ability to take a step back and truly notice the world around you is one of the most valuable skills you can foster. One of my favourite ways to do this is to change up where I'm working.
A few weeks ago, I was working in a local cafe, and started talking with the roaster as he was pulling out a fresh batch of beans. Daniel told me how he'd moved to the States from Colombia, before discovering a love for good coffee and working his way up through Starbucks and a scattering of other places before becoming the head roaster. His story was fascinating - I ended up getting very little work done that day. Stories and inspiration are everywhere - you just have to take the time to look for them.
Stepping back also lets us gain perspective on our work, and how it fits into our world. When you're in the thick of things, it's easy to become so focused on what you're doing that you forget to even think about whether what you're doing is worthwhile, or if it's right. You end up so focused on nailing every little detail that you start to lose sight of the why.
Take a moment right now and think about the bigger picture behind your work. Who is it helping, and what problem is it solving for them? Look for things people wish they knew. Search for patterns in what they're struggling with, complaining about, questioning, and wanting. Use this information to guide your work - write blog posts answering their questions, create services to help them overcome their struggles, or make your boss's life easier by solving a problem they didn't even know they had.
It's not just about your work, either - stepping back gives us space to notice things about ourselves that might otherwise be missed. How does what you're doing make you feel? What's the reason you're doing it? Does it fit with your core values? What are your core values? I know it sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how little time people spend thinking through the why behind what you do.
Take a good look at the path in front of you. Is it the direction you want to be going? In 6 months from now, or a year, or 5 years, are you going to be happy with where you end up? What's one step you can take in the right direction today that puts you on the right path?
Stepping back doesn't have to involve taking a longer break - it can be as simple as changing up your routine by taking a walk over your lunch break or working from somewhere different every now and again.
The key is to give yourself space to notice the world around you. You'll start to notice things - about yourself, about other people, about your work, about the world, and about where you want to be in it.
I promise you - amazing things can happen when you do.