This week marks the beginning of my life post-academia, and this post marks my initiation into the blogosphere! A lot of changes are happening all at once for me, so many that my life will become nearly unrecognizable within the space of the next month. The funny thing about change is that it makes you take a fresh look at the constants in your life and ask whether those things — habits, people, places, objects — still serve you the way they once did.

I am a routine lover. Structure makes me more productive, and as a doctoral student, productivity was paramount. Yesterday I woke up early, as usual, and started to get ready to go to the gym, as usual. I was already thinking ahead to what I would have to do after my workout when suddenly it hit me: nothing. I didn’t have anything I needed to get done that day, for the first time in months, maybe years. In fact, I didn’t have to go to the gym either. I didn’t even have to get out of bed!

But I was up, and I do love a good workout. The blue skies and 75-degree weather planted in my head a marvelous idea, something I haven’t done in a good six years. I decided to take my bike out to Chicago Botanic Garden, an easy hour’s ride away. I threw my camera in a bag along with some water and almonds, pumped up the tires and greased the chain on my trusty steed, and proceeded to have the best morning ever.

Routines are great — they keep me focused on my goals and prevent me from having to constantly make decisions about what to do at any given moment. But sometimes, breaking out of a routine, even just temporarily, can let in a breath of fresh air that rejuvenates my creative spark. Yesterday’s spontaneous excursion gave me the chance to be alone, surrounded by beauty, in a place that invites slowness and contemplation. The experience was made even more precious by the contrast to my usual headphone-encased morning at the gym.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not going to chuck my workout routine anytime soon. What I will do is pay more attention to those little opportunities in the everyday to try new things and appreciate what the world has to offer.

It’s something any of us can do, no matter how busy and hectic our lives are. What is something that you do automatically, every day or every week? Maybe it’s what you eat for breakfast, or the route you take to walk the dog, or the playlist you put on in the car. Maybe it’s something bigger, like what you say on the phone to your parents or what you do when you hang with your friends. Next time, what if you try something new? It just might let in a breath of fresh air.