How Teddy Stoecklein of The VIA Agency Gets Creative
Jack Welch once said, "There's no such thing as work-life balance. There's work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences." What an asshole. I'm a fan of fucking off, as often as I can. Because if I didn't, I would suck at my job.
In a previous life, I was most likely a Labrador retriever. Not because I'm dutiful (I am) but in the sense that a creative brief to me is like a tennis ball to a retriever. Once it is presented, I can't stop thinking about it. It becomes all consuming. Fucking off is the only way for me to stop staring at the tennis ball.
I love my job, and the people I work with, but being a creative can be a curse. You take your work home with you, to the grocery store, on hikes, to your kids' lacrosse games (even when you're the coach), and to bed at night.
To distract me from the tennis balls, I need to put them away. I have my own techniques, which Jack Welch would most definitely disapprove of, but they're critical to me and my success.
First, I don't have a typical day. If you're in this business, you know what I mean. I spent 22 of 28 days in February on the road this year. It's hard to find routines when you're not home. But here's a blend of some things I do more often than not.
Checking the surf report
In Maine, the sun smacks you in the face early (5:02 a.m. this morning). You don't need an alarm clock. I also have two girls who are early risers. I like being up when they get up.
I love to surf and live seven minutes from a great beach break. Before I go to bed, I check the surf report. What I love most about surfing is I don't think about the tennis balls when I'm in the water.
If the waves aren't around, I might ride my bike, which also takes my mind off the tennis balls. I just bought a fat tire that rolls over roots and sand like a dream. On the trails by my house, I can ride for an hour without seeing pavement. I think if I were on a road bike, I'd still think about work. On the trails, I find myself distracted by things like not falling into a vernal pool.
Coffee and waffles
When I get home, I make coffee and waffles. My kids eat waffles almost every day, so I learned how to make them from scratch.
My kids and I are tinkerers. In the mornings, they're usually making something like slime, and I'm usually helping them clean up before their mom sees. They head to the bus stop at 8 a.m. That's when I hit the shower. My shower is filled with tennis balls. It's my think tank. I have a clock facing the shower, and I always seem to be racing it.
My commute to the office is shorter than this paragraph.
At The VIA Agency, we start at 9 a.m. This was an adjustment coming from New York, where we sauntered in at 10 or 11 a.m. Nowadays, my meetings start at 9 a.m., and 90 percent of my days are spent in one meeting or another. The tennis balls are everywhere at the office, and take on many shapes, from resourcing and personnel issues to internal reviews and brainstorms. There is no escape.
Bocce, beer and fiction
We've found something that helps. We built a bocce ball court at VIA. Now, many of us can fuck off. It helps. Trust me. The court is 15 feet wide by 45 feet long. About 80 people play in the VIA Bocce League, on teams like Boccelism and The Boccenistas. My team is the Dandy Warballs. We're the defending champions. It's a fantastic way for everyone to take their eyes off the tennis balls, just for bit.
We have other ways to fuck off, too. At 5 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month, we have "Free Beer and Fiction," a creative show where three VIAns read their own short stories—something they've written based on a topic given the month prior.
Anyone at VIA can do this. It's sort of like The Moth, only fiction, and with free beer. The only rule is you have to read your story aloud in under 20 minutes. Maine has over 100 independent breweries, and we invite one of them to tell their story, too, even if it's non-fiction. They bring the beer.
I rarely get home in time for dinner with my family, but I've been coaching my kids' lacrosse and soccer teams, which involves evening and weekend games. This is not easy to pull off, but I work hard at being present for them.
After my kids go to bed, the tennis balls come back. It can be difficult for me to fall asleep. My final technique for not thinking about the tennis balls is a home business I started. I make a Western toy, by hand, in my garage. It's called the Cowboy Yoyo. I'm a tinkerer, like my kids, but more than anything, my yoyos have proven cathartic. Drilling holes in wooden balls and cutting rope each night is a fantastic way to take your mind off the tennis balls. Check them out at CowboyYoyo.com (shameless advertising plug).
After making a dozen or so yoyos, I'll have a glass of red wine, put on some surf porn, and promptly fall asleep to dreams of waves or pow-pow. (Yes, I fuck off in the snow, too.)
—Teddy Stoecklein is executive creative director at The VIA Agency in Portland, Maine.
About our 'Work/Life' series
Tell us about the balance between your work life and your personal life, and how each feeds the other. Email pitches to email@example.com.