Working on Old Projects

Sometimes life gives you exactly what you need. I’ve been over stretching myself lately with a project that seems too big to handle. It’s stressed me out even though I’m under no obligation to complete or work on it. For months, I’ve shoved it to the back of my head. Today was one of the days where it roamed back to the front of my mind again.

Staying motivated for projects that are completely voluntary can be difficult. God knows 365 projects are rough at times. Yet, when they are complete, it feels good to have worked on them. I’m pumped about this project and can’t wait to start working on it again.

Also, I randomly ran across a friend’s video. Joel is so inspiring, I encourage you to check out his work on Flickr.

BLOGtober day twenty!

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“Don’t Change for Anyone”

As human beings, we like security and having a regular schedule. Life is easier when we know what’s around the corner. However, our desire for new experience conflicts with our desire to remain the same. We are unable to be happy if we continually do the same activities, but we desire the security that a boring life provides.

Over time the demand for regularity in our lives turns destructive and we suffer. The unknown is difficult to deal with, and forming patterns is an easy way to alleviate the pain. Waking up at the same time every day, driving the same road to work, and getting the same food at the same restaurant you always visit, are ways to avoid potential discomfort.

Our happiness, however, is directly proportional to how willing we are meet the unknown. By accepting the possibility of both the good and the bad, we lose our rigidity. If the road we take to work is closed, no problem, we try a new one and accept the possibilities. Even if that road makes us late or brings us a more scenic view.

On my cousin Tabitha’s blog, she inspired me by writing:

“No one is perfect, everyone can understand that but when it comes to living it and believing in the statement and idea to accept everyone for who and what they are we become lost. We become defensive, “I’m not going to change for anyone.” If you won’t change for anyone change for you.”

In our relationships we tend to preserve our rigidity, not daring to accept the others or the unknown. We value remaining ‘true to ourselves’, and usually that leaves us suspicious of others. We fear being manipulated or having our opinion changed.

Again, our happiness is equal to how much we accept the world. That includes allowing experiences to expand our horizons and accepting that it’s alright to change your views. We need to let go our routines and the avoidance of new adventures. If you want to feel alive, then you must act like you are alive.

The most influential people in my life are the ones that can entertain possibilities. They can debate from another person’s perspective, even if they don’t share the view. By seeing the world from many perspectives, they understand that life isn’t perfect. One day your route to work is going to be under construction, the job you currently hold may not always be there, and you will have to adapt to changing circumstance.

Let go of the image you have for yourself and accept the world as it is. Find people who thrill you and be open to the possibilities that life throws at you. Your time here on Earth is far too short for nonacceptance, so let the world change you and you will change the world.

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The Rise of the Jack of all Trades

Finding your skills can be difficult, so two months ago I took a survey on Authentic Happiness that measured my 24 character strengths. My number one character trait was “Love of Learning”, and I think that it fits me well. People describe me as a Jack-of-all-Trades because I have a very broad range of interests. Needless to say, it wasn’t a shock to be told that I’m passionate about learning.

Currently there’s a stigma in our society that we need to specialize and that being a Jack-of-all-Trades is a bad thing. It stems from the phrase, “Jack-of-Trades but Master of None”. We think that if you have too many interests, that you cannot be skilled in more than one area.

This is a silly thought because with how much information passes our faces, it’s near impossible to choose one interest. This conflict stems from grade school, where we’re taught to “pay attention” and to “focus” on school work. The teachers tell us that it’s bad to lose focus or to daydream. What’s worse is that we think these traits are for children and that we’ll eventually grow out of them.

As we age, we believe that we need to focus on one subject. We should go to college and be a doctor or an accountant. The truth shows itself when you look at statistics about college students: at the University of Florida, 61% of students change their major (NYtimes). People simply have a difficulty in choosing one interest.

“Shop Class as Soul Craft” (Mathew B. Crawford) discusses this dilemma extensively. It focuses on how we’ve shifted from a society that desires “to know” into one that desires certificates and diplomas. It’s self-evident that we learn from a young age to focus on one category and get that diploma. This model of education and learning has destroyed Aristotle’s statement “All human beings by nature desire to know”.

The Jack of all Trades is rising in popularity again because we have a large volume of information at our fingertips. During my parent’s era, if you wanted to learn, you had to go to the library and find a book. Today, you can pull out your iPhone and learn about polar shifts or current quantum theories.

However, the education system is still built on specializing in one area. You either become a mathematician or zoologist. At best you can major in one area while minoring in another. You can’t minor in too many subjects or you’re clearly not a specialist. This sentiment lingers into our personal lives: we believe that we should only have a few interests.

As a Jack, I follow what I’m interested in. If I hear an electro-swing song and it has my fancy, I’ll go listen to more of it. When I’m scrolling through Facebook, articles grab my interest. Maybe one will be about animal testing in Europe and the next will be about the FIFA World Cup. It doesn’t matter what it’s about, as long as I’m interested in it.

Tim Ferriss has written about this on his blog, and he’s spoken about it in interviews before: our society measures success with dollar bill signs instead of with invigoration. The goal of life should not be to become rich but to instead to be passionate and interested. If you are bored, you have failed.

If we reorient the purpose of our life from getting a well-paying job into a life that we are passionate, you’ll find that the money doesn’t matter. When you find excitement in your daily life, you have succeeded. The more interested you are, the more you’ll find happiness in life.

When I took that survey a few months ago, I gained an appreciation for learning. I’ve found passion in my daily life and while I choose to specialize in certain areas, I don’t limit myself to one subject. If I find something that interests me, I follow it until I no longer fancy it. I urge you to do the same thing; find what lights a fire in you and make it part of your life. Blogging was a spark to my belly full of fuel, and I’ve felt more alive since starting this project. People aren’t born passionate, they learn to cultivate it in themselves. Find what you love and chase it, life is too short to stay in and watch TV everyday.

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Oh, and here’s some of the photos in color from yesterday!

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Life is in the Small Moments

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When you stand in front of a huge space, your mind wanders. You realize that in the grand scheme, you’re tiny. Your purpose on Earth doesn’t matter in the long run. You’ll be dead in another 60 years, or before this century is over. The world you will leave won’t be very different from today’s world. At the very least, we will still have wars, a separation between the poor and rich, and oppressive or manipulative governments.

These moments that make you feel small, hold onto them. When you realize you’re not important, you’re suddenly free. The obligations that you hold yourself to are gone. Jack Kerouac wrote, “No matter what you do it’s bound to be a waste of time in the end so you might as well go mad.”

Your life is too short to hold back your passions. To others around me, I look like I’m running around in circles. I chase every whim of passion that I find. This week I like painting, so I find an easel and do what I love. Next week I may love writing, so I’ll chase that too. Photography was a whim that I stuck with for a long time. Passion will invigorate you and make you feel alive, so when you find it, hold onto it.

The purpose of life is to be alive. If you spend much time staring out at the world, you’ll miss out on what you could become. These grand gestures, they’re not the purpose of life. You can’t spend your entire life waiting for these feelings that make you feel alive, you have to find what makes you jump with joy and smile wider than your face can handle.

Then you put yourself completely into it: emotionally, physically, and psychologically. Do it as much as you can and until you can’t do it anymore. Push yourself into it. Tell others about it and fill your voice with passion. Smile with your eyes and let them know that you’re alive. Let yourself know that you’re alive.

When these great moments come, they make you feel small. They remind you that you’re human and mortal. We feel alive when we experience this because we know that our time is limited. When we grow appreciation for our passions, we feel small. We realize our short time on Earth and recognize that we don’t have much time to do everything.

That feeling you get when you have those grand moments can be experienced daily. Find the fire within yourself and throw coal on it. Cultivate what you love into your life and you will be fully alive. Life is in the small pleasures, not waiting on the grand moments to happen. Grab life by the foot and chase it down until the end, that’s really all we can do to become passionate and alive.

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Grabbing onto the Wheel

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July a couple of years back, a girl named Elodie lived in my house with my family. She was from France and came wide-eyed to America with the intention of improving her English. At the time, she was only 16 years old with the curiosity of a 4 year old. Her goal soon became to explore as much of our culture as she could.

As it turns out, part of that culture was taking private flying lessons. When the opportunity presented itself, she took up the offer and flew away with it so to speak. Having no previous experience with flying, she hopped in ready to go.

When the plane took off, her nervousness became apparent. She sat quietly in her seat while her whole body trembled. The flying instructor got her into the air and when we reached a high enough altitude, he took his hands off the wheel.

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Elodie slowly reached forward and grabbed on. It was clear that she was unsure of herself and her ability to steer the already flying aircraft.

It took a few minutes until she became comfortable with turning the aircraft. After many more sweeps she gained a confidence in herself. The trembling was gone and she steered fluidly left and right above the beautiful chain of lakes below us. For the next 20 minutes, she was in bliss at how remarkable it was to fly. We were thousands of feet in the air and she could direct us anywhere.

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Life moves in the same way; we’re nervous to grab the handles and steer for ourselves. Internally we quiver at the thought of being in control of our lives. We understand how to steer the plane but we’re busy thinking about how many things could go wrong. After all, when you’re a thousand feet in the air, you have a thousand feet to fall if you make a mistake.

Everywhere people are telling you what to do with your life: “You should go to college” or “You should start a family. Where you’re from, the society you live in, the people you hang around, and the family you love, all tell you where to go in life.

Equally importantly, they tell you what you can’t do with your life. “You can’t fly to Europe, where will you stay? How will you afford it?”, “You can’t go to art school, you’ll never make enough money to live!”, or even “What are you doing with your life?”

It’s in these moments that you’re shaking like Elodie was during that flight. Internally you know how to fly the plane. You know generally where you want to go and a little on how to get there. At this time everyone’s voice has gotten into your head and suddenly the voice you hear is your own. “You can’t do it, you’re going to crash this plane.”

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Deep down inside of yourself, you know this isn’t true. When the pilot took his hands off the wheel, Elodie nervously grabbed on. She didn’t know how it felt to fly, or how to move, but she had to take charge.

I want you to feel that same responsibility in yourself. After a few minutes of flying, Elodie calmed down. She took a breath of air and steered us around the lakes. After you start steering your life, you’ll calm down and realize you can go wherever you want to. The sky is the limit.

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People snicker at me, and I assure you it isn’t because of this beautiful face. Instead it’s from openly telling others my dreams. I want to hike the Appalachian Train (2,000+ miles), I want to spend six months CouchSurfing across the country, study at a school in Denmark, and somewhere in there I want to WOOF in Australia.

It is my greatest hope that other people realize that their dreams are within their grasp and that they are free to fly their own plane. When I share my goals, I hope that the fire in my belly lights a flame in yours. When you see that I’m not listening to everyone else, I hope that you grab that steering wheel and set your own course.

At first you may shake, but after a few turns you’ll calm down. I guarantee that you are capable of doing so much more than what other people say. You can set your own course and fly until the skies end. If you do this, when you finally land, you’ll find that you’ve gone to the place you’ve always wanted to be. There’s no greater feeling than doing what you love.

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A Joy That You Cannot Contain

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This image was taken almost two years ago when I traveled for my third and final time to Basque Country. There were fiestas every night for the summer throughout the entire Basque state. Many nights we would go out to the parties and hang out with friends. This image was from a party in the village I lived in: Ea.

The fiesta started early and the streets were filled with people dressed in costumes. To an American it looked like a summer Halloween. Everyone took time out of their day to come out to the streets and celebrate Basque culture.

Songs and dances filled the air. Even greater was the joy that radiated from the crowd. All of the hardships, losses, and stress were surrendered. For this moment, everyone was together and alive.

This photograph has a lot of meaning to me because the main subject was an older woman whose joy radiated like sunbeams. She was jumping and moving more than any other person. You could feel her joy in the air, as if it were reaching out to those surrounding her. She danced on the tips of her toes and she wasn’t part of this world anymore. She was something greater.

Often I struggle with stress and a goal of mine is to live more like this culture. I want to find that happiness within myself and bring it out to the world. There is no greater joy than to feel truly alive. When I found this picture, a smile broadened across my face. Let that be my goal for this week – to express that bubbling joy within myself and share that love with the world around me.

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Following Your Dreams

As humans we relate through emotions, whether that means sharing laughs or sulking against the world together. A side effect of being able to pair up with others, is taking on the each other’s problems. Often times, when we relate we become defensive over one another: “if you mess with my friend, you mess with me too”. While this connection is great, we need to make sure that we don’t confuse our dreams and ambitions with our friend’s.

What I’ve found is that I can learn what motivates other people easily. I learn how the gears work and I try to drive myself with their ambitions. Friends of mine were ambitious about going to college (as much of the population is) and it started to wear on me. I started to think that the only way I would be happy was if I went to college too. Photographers that I’m friends with decided to become freelance artists and shifted their work towards commercial art. Most of their work became weddings and senior photos. So I started thinking that the only way I could become a freelance artist was if I shifted to wedding and senior portrait photography.

The difficult with taking on other people’s dreams is that when you achieve them, you don’t get the satisfaction of doing your own thing. When you follow someone else’s dream, you neglect what you need. What you need is to follow what you want to do. You don’t want to feel unfulfilled but how can you feel fulfilled doing something that you’re not passionate about?

Deep down, the comfort you find within yourself stems from having a purpose for what you are doing. When what you’re doing doesn’t have a purpose or bring you fulfillment, you suffer internally. You may not notice it at first but living someone else’s dreams leaves you feeling empty inside. That rush of excitement isn’t long-lasting or deep-rooted.

Take some time out of your life to reorient yourself towards your ambitions. Write out a dream list of everything you want to do. Don’t neglect anything. This is an exercise I do weekly with whiteboards hanging on my walls. Currently I have 6 whiteboards in my room for various things. The one to my immediate right is called “The Crazy Board”.

On “The Crazy Board” I write everything that “if I could have it, it’s here”. It consist of interviews with famous musicians, photographers, reviews of movies and photo series. It also has simpler ideas like featuring some of my friends or asking questions to people on Facebook. Unsurprisingly, travelling often appears on this board. It’s a board of everything that I want to do at any given moment.

All week I add to this board and at the end of it, I erase it. The things that keep coming back are the ones that are important for me to do. If I continue to write “travel to Iceland” for a month straight, I know that it’s something I’m serious about. If the interviews with celebrities fall off the list, then they aren’t as important. They’re not a consistent dream of mine. Basically, the things that disappear are things that I can live without doing.

With how short life is, prioritizing and finding your own path are of the utmost importance. We’ve only got 80 years to live and we can’t spend the whole time dreaming. We also can’t spend the whole time living someone else’s dream. If you find something that you really want to do, you’ll find a way to get to it.

Don’t worry if your dreams are different from everybody else’s. Other photographers want different things out of life than I do, so of course their dreams are going to be different from mine. If you want something unique, you’re going to have to do something unique to get it.  Just follow your own unique path and you’ll be surprised where you end up. There is nothing more fulfilling than following your dreams.

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