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Not long ago, I read that we should personally know most of the people we follow on Instagram for our own maximum happiness levels—lest we be swallowed whole by beautiful strangers and the curation of their devastatingly interesting lives.
But, at least for my own self, there isn’t really such a thing as too much beauty. As a lifelong city dweller, I’ll never tire of images of tremendous vistas and the awe they inspire. I feel endlessly motivated by women like Anna Ehrgott and Emily Polar and Meg Haywood Sullivan—artists and entrepreneurs I follow on Instagram who manage to make nature a part of their everyday lives.
These ladies were kind enough to share their thoughts and wisdoms on the outdoors, staying motivated within their sports, and how they balance work and play.
Take Your Work Outside—and Bring the Outside In
As freelance outdoor and travel photographers, Meg and Emily naturally get to spend a good portion of their days outside (lucky!). But that doesn’t mean they’re free from all indoor tasks: Editing images means time spent in front of a screen, so they choose to surround themselves with beautiful objects and what Meg calls “natural treasures.” Items like “a beautiful rock from a high peak that brings me right back to the mountains when I hold it in my hand at home,” Meg says.
The same goes for Anna, who, as the founder of Sage Brush Bags, a surfboard bag company, spends most mornings at a table under an oak tree, responding to emails and updating her website. As Anna says, it’s important to work “in a space that’s aesthetically pleasing, decorated with art and photos, and well-organized. I burn incense, surround myself with windows and pretty stuff, drink lots of tea, and use my hands to sew and mail off board bags.”
Photo courtesy of Anna Ehrgott
Feed the Love—Make It New
In all of my investigations of movement, from dance to improv to yoga, a hard truth I’ve brushed up against over and over is that any practice also involves plateau: that place where repetition turns to routine. It’s the moment where accomplishment is borne less of effort than of persistence, a willingness to feed the love you have for your chosen sport by making it new and staying present. Emily believes that it can be as simple as “movement, focus, and being in the moment.” She carries these actions out in her life and yoga practice. It’s a good reminder for those of us who lie in savasana considering tomorrow’s to-do lists.
Anna’s approach has some similarities. I love how she strives to feel fresh every time she jumps onto her surfboard, as she told me: “My stoke [excitement] is revamped by trying new boards and getting accustomed to different sorts of wave setups.” She’s a big believer in taking care of herself and understanding her sport—and recognizes the payoff. “Between being physically strong, eating the right food, having an understanding of the ocean’s powerful cycles, and feeling confident with your equipment, surfing can be highly involving. There’s always something to be fine-tuning and there is always great reward for putting the time in.”
So go ahead, practice until you’re bored with it. And then, inside of that boredom, examine the subtleties, the tiny details of what you’re working with, and why. There might just be freedom on the other side.
Mother Nature does more than ask us to stand and wonder. She demands that we consider the elements, and that we prepare for what we might encounter. Emily believes the secret to a successful adventure is all about putting the right foot forward—literally. “My most necessary piece of gear is the right shoe for whatever activity I’m doing, whether that’s climbing, mountain biking, hiking, or mountaineering. Whenever I’m traveling, it’s usually just flip flops.”
Anna goes the practical route as well when it comes to pursuing her passion, making sure that she always has a surfboard in her car, “something that’ll work in various wave conditions just in case I get a chance to hop in the water after work.”
Photo courtesy of Meg Haywood Sullivan
Photographer Meg totes her camera around every day. “It’s a tool to capture my perspective of the world and share the resulting art with my friends, family, and beyond,” she says.
But beyond the equipment they carry, these wild women come ready to sink their teeth into an experience. For Anna, it’s about knowing where everything comes from and how it comes to be: “Being human doesn’t make us somehow different from our environment. I think it goes against everything in our nature to assume we’re better off indoors… We get in touch with our instincts by involving ourselves in situations that provoke fear, hunger, thirst, and uncomfortable weather. These opportunities to be humbled make us appreciate life.” So explore the outdoors, go on an adventure, and get excited—just maybe check the forecast first, and wear the appropriate shoes.
In the end, the truth is that we don’t have it all, all the time. We have a little bit every day. Or a lot of something one day and very little of it the next—a “pendulum game,” as Anna calls it. So how do these ladies maintain a satisfying work life with the fulfillment of play?
Meg does it by prioritizing her well-being. “I work because I love what I do, and at the end of the day my overall happiness comes first,” she says. “We are on this planet for such a small time, so it’s my goal to squeeze as much fun and enjoyment out of every moment, whether it be work or play. And one tip as a freelance creative: Remember to take time off to keep the inspiration flowing!”
Similarly, Emily says that “doing yoga, meditating, and being outdoors help me keep perspective of what’s important and that helps me balance.”
So step back. Think of the big picture. Toggle back and forth between the all the big and little things that matter. For photographed or not, they make up your whole life.
See more of Emily’s nature and travel photography at emilypolar.com
Scope out Meg’s lifestyle photography at meghaywoodsullivan.com
Take a peek at Anna’s board bags at sagebrushbags.com
Jessica Kulick is a certified vinyasa and hot traditional yoga teacher, as well as freelance writer. She has contributed travel writing to sites such as Matador Network, Literary Traveler, and Spotted by Locals, and currently manages the offices of Wanderlust’s Brooklyn headquarters. You can find her on Instagram (@jess_kulick) where she is usually chasing sunshine and eating pistachios.