When we stop to think about what brings us purpose, our professional vocations and personal passions often create feelings of joy and vulnerability. 50k Principal and President Jim Misener spoke with Graphic Design USA to share his love of swimming and what life lessons the sport has taught him over the years as he finds the flow in leading a creative agency.
Katherine Dunn, the author of the best-selling, indie break-out Geek Love, says that at the time that she was writing her seminal novel, she “swam a mile a day, five days a week, at a pool in the basement of a school near her apartment. I wrote most of that book in the water.” (Caitlin Roper, New York Times, December 21, 2016). The same daily habit is recounted by Oliver Sacks in his autobiographical series of essays, Gratitude, as he found recuperation in a daily, mile-long swim. For many of us, swimming can provide that same refuge, helping us navigate that terrifying yet freeing sink-or-swim feeling that the mind conjures while helping us tame and tap into the ocean of emotion that lies within.
Among its many effects, water’s ability to cool, quiet and calm puts it in the realm of magical elixirs—a perfect antidote to the everyday. Swimming honors the primal place that water holds as a force of nature—both powerful and soothing. It slows us down, makes speaking nearly impossible and dunks us into a blurry world where land bound distractions no longer exist. We relearn how to breathe and move in a way we can’t anywhere else. Swimming requires no apparatus or equipment, and less is more in terms of movement, thought and dress, inviting feelings of vulnerability—if not humility—among even the most self-assured.
Maybe it’s this otherworldliness that makes swimming such a grounding experience for those of us who are already prone to getting lost in our heads. Ironically, swimming can anchor our unmoored minds while bringing us together. Swimming might seem like a solitary sport yet it’s an activity that embeds itself in our memories of childhood and marks our later years as a coalescing force. In Isabel Berwick’s At the Pond: Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies Pond, she collects the stories of the many extraordinary frequenters of England’s women-only natural swimming pools, where a generation of women have found community—and perhaps themselves—in the water. Berwick’s account of the remarkable effects of swimming is one that leaves us all to wonder what’s in the water.
As the days are long and the living is easy, let’s stop to consider how and where we do our best work—whether that’s far from the office or somewhere in the undeterring discipline of a daily routine. Reaching our full potential requires a balance of creative freedom to explore new possibilities, getting lost in the what-if and the discipline to tighten the lane lines, keeping us moving forward in a natural and orderly rhythm. It may be in this paradox that we can begin to appreciate the different strokes we take to keep ourselves happy, productive and creative. Swimming reminds us of life’s simplest lessons: relax, breathe and avoid creating unnecessary resistance whenever possible. It’s up to each and all of us to find our flow and set out for the greatness that lies in the depth and the expanse of the wild blue before us.
Jim Misener is Principal and President, 50,000feet, overseeing the strategic direction of the global brand consultancy and creative agency as well as business development and client services. With leadership and experience across financial services, consumer electronics, automotive, retail and luxury, Jim works closely with many of 50,000feet’s clients. Thrown in the pool at the age of three as a cure for childhood croup, Jim has been swimming ever since. Today, he is a proud member of U.S. Masters Swimming and can be found in the pool every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. 50,000feet develops integrated experiences for many highly respected brands, including BMW, Harley-Davidson, Knoll and Sony.