Stopping Places

Finding “stop” moments when life calls for a pause.

When are we going to be allowed to just stop?” a friend asked recently, as we sat in our smoky homes, hundreds of miles apart. She was trying to continue working as fires spread across California. I was toggling between editing windows and EPA air quality and fire charts for Oregon.

This year has been rough. I’m all for a silver lining, but I’m also writing this while wearing a mask indoors. The Pacific Northwest is on fire, though we’re among those who have not had to evacuate. Our air quality is off-the-charts bad, literally: 506 on a scale that tops out at 500.

Thinking of those losing homes, businesses and family members, I know we’re lucky. And as you look at a sea of shuttered businesses, I’m sure you feel the same. At the same time, I am trying to find “stop” moments now. I don’t want to tell my story in 50 years by saying, “Well, I’m not sure. We had a deadline that day.”

Work can be a positive distraction. While I’m in figure-it-out mode, my brain has something to focus on other than unanswerable questions about the future.

What I appreciate about the creative ingenuity of the sign industry is that it is, as a whole, unstoppable. The world will always need signs, and sign companies are making sure the world knows just how many different things can become signs, and thus, markers of organizational identity and culture. Signs symbolize who we are and why we do what we do.

That being said, the sign industry will move forward without its members working ceaselessly. The best signmaker is a human first, and a businessperson second. And human beings naturally go through cycles of rest and work, stuckness and inspiration, hopelessness and joy. Sometimes, we have to stop, or at least pause, to allow those cycles to continue, to allow life to naturally swing back toward the positive.

In the interim, we can be “human first,” through the simple act of checking in on one another. Emergencies are when we tend to do it, but any time will do, and nearly any message will help. When I thought we might have to evacuate, one simple email I received resonated: “I’ve seen the fires in the news and I’ve been thinking of you.”

My friend’s question sounds simple, but is truly momentous: When and how do we look at the bigger picture? When and how do we find stopping places, moments not governed by a ringtone or the buzz of a text? I think, for most of us, it’s time to add ourselves to the “folks to check in with” list. Maybe that, as a tiny first step, is a good stopping place.

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