I Don’t Want to be the Smartest One in the Room

My mom used to tell me, “You don’t want to buy the nicest house on the block.” She didn’t just say it when I was buying real estate, but used it as an analogy when she was dispensing other words of wisdom.  Maybe that’s why I grew up not wanting to be the “smartest person in room.”

When I was very young, I used to create characters that I wanted to hang out with. Hot air balloon floating overe Hunterdon County, NJ One was my imaginary friend Peteso who was a “newspaper boy” in China, doing dare devil stunts on his bicycle as he delivered his papers.  There were plenty of others, each one bringing something exciting to my more mundane life of a typical 5 year old child.

By the time I got out of college, I had traveled the world, building all sorts of relationships with people from many different cultures who had broadened my mind as to how I saw the world and myself.  I gravitated toward people who were NOT like me.

When I first began my career as a photographer, I had the great fortune of having  an incredible art director, Adrian Taylor as my mentor.  Adrian had a colorful career as an art director for magazines like Holiday (the original) and Travel & Leisure, which is how I connected with him.  Adrian took my partner Tom and I under his wing when we were first starting out.  He encouraged us by believing in us and he made me always want to put everything I had into an assignment and improve with each one.

We learned a lot from Adrian, but perhaps one of his greatest gifts was to include us in lunches, dinners and parties with some of the best photographers of that time – Arnold Newman, Slim Aarons, Pete Turner, Al Satterwhite, John Lewis Stage, Fred Maroon and countless others.  Being in the room or literally “at the table” with these legends and listening to their stories and advice was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. What I learned from these photographers is the kind of stuff you don’t learn at a photography school.  And it wasn’t necessarily things like business tips or photographic technique.  They talked about their passion and their ideas and it awakened me to the possibilities within myself.

I’ve been preparing a presentation that I’ll be doing for ASMP at the NAB Show (National Association of Broadcasters) next week. As much as I’m grateful to be able to share my knowledge at this prestigious conference, I have to remind myself that it’s only possible because I’ve lived my life, putting myself in situations and environments where there are people who are much smarter than me.  In fact, for me the best part of NAB is to sit in on some of the panel discussions with the movers and shakers of the industry and listen to what they’re talking about.

These days, when I fantasize, I no longer create make believe characters to hang out with.  Instead I imagine myself at a table, having a discussion with people who intrigue me on some level and expand my mind to a place it hasn’t gone before. And then I set out to make my fantasy come true.

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