As I prepare to head out of the country next week I’ve been thinking about why I travel. I’ve been a bit of a rolling stone most of my life, moving 10 times before I graduated high school and pursuing a career as a professional photographer which has taken me to over 100 countries.
I think if I ever had to give up traveling I would wither and my spirit would die.
Here are my top ten reasons that I think every American (and other citizens of the world) should travel:
It gives you a much better perspective on our world rather than just experiencing it virally. Let’s face it, when you are an armchair traveler, you are getting someone else’s perspective.
It makes one grateful for what they have. Many, if not most Americans are very privileged but don’t really have an understanding of that because they isolate themselves in their own environment.
You get to be a true diplomat for your country. When I’m traveling I try to give people from other countries and cultures a more realistic idea what an American is beyond our government’s policies and how we are depicted in the movies.
It creates lasting memories of importance or at least memories that last longer than buying a consumer product.
It teaches you a lot about yourself. When you travel things don’t always go according to plan. You get to see how you handle stress in situations beyond your control.
You learn how to communicate. Many times you don’t understand the language and you learn to read body language and pick up people’s vibes.
You meet people you would never get to meet at home. It makes you less fearful when you get to meet people from other lands.
As a photographer my camera has given me access to incredible experiences that I have shared with the world.
You can affect change.
When you travel you realize that regardless which country you come from we are all part of the human race. We all share this planet and we are all stewards of keeping it healthy.
It brings wonder to your life. I have had many awe- inspiring moments and not all of them were at typical tourist sites. Some of my greatest memories are the simple conversations that I’ve had with people all around the world.
Be optimistic – I’m going to start with the hardest one of all, because it’s really difficult to be optimistic these days. But I find that if I can maintain a positive attitude and turn my thoughts to what is possible, I actually open myself up to more opportunities in my life, instead of creating more roadblocks.
Be open to possibilities. – Be more flexible in how you perceive things and who you are. Change is always happening, but it’s usually gradual. Most people don’t take notice until “change” forces their hand to act. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive so embrace “change” as an ever-present fact of life that creates opportunities for those who are open to seeing them.
Collaborate – Photographers are very independent creatures and collaboration is not part of their norm. As the “photography” business continues to change, photographers will find that collaborating with other artists will make their own businesses stronger. There is so much more to running a business than there used to be. While social media marketing has opened up numerous possibilities, it can also be overwhelming to a solo photographer. You can’t do it all. Work with people who can bring out each other’s strong suits.
Diversify – I’m not quite so sure why so many photographers are so rigid in how they define who they are and what they do. Having a “style” is great, but the trick is to not to be so narrowly defined by that style, so that when styles change, you don’t find yourself obsolete by your own design. It’s kind of like being type cast, where your audience or your clients can only see you in one way. Diversifying might be creating a whole new niche of your business. I recently created a business niche that is more geared toward the retail market. We create high end “Ken Burns” style family biography videos to preserve a family’s legacy with personal interviews with ones loved ones combined with old photos and home movies.
Concentrate on “the story”– I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of still photographers and filmmakers this past year and I began to notice a difference in the conversations I was having with each. Most times, filmmakers would be telling me a story, whereas still photographers would be telling me how they executed a photograph, or essentially telling me the “back story” of the creation of the image. It’s all interesting but “the story” is the bottom line – if that doesn’t come through to the viewer – the rest doesn’t matter – including how it was executed.
Be authentic – be true to yourself. That means that you have to trust your gut instead of second guessing it. This is hard, especially when things don’t always work out the way you had hoped. Step away from the “noise” and listen to the voice inside.
Fail more. – Rejection is a tough pill to swallow but it usually means that you are either pushing yourself to try new things, you are too far ahead of your time or it just wasn’t meant to be. If you look at successful people you’ll see that most have had failures and rejections in their lives but they stuck with it – instead of letting failure defeat them.
Self-Initiate more projects. – I don’t like to call non-commissioned work, “personal projects”. That co notates that there is no monetary value, and these days just the opposite could be true. With more and more lopsided contracts being presented to photographers for commissioned work a photographer has a better chance to make more money and keep ownership of their work by creating self-initiated projects. But they need to be prepared to work hard. We’ve been working on a project entitled “Like A Woman” where we shoot environmental portraits and a short video about women who are working in traditionally male professions. It is a subject I know all too well after working in the career of photography and now filmmaking my entire adult life.
Forget about the past and learn from mistakes. – You can’t change the past but you can learn from it and then, move on. Look toward the future but make sure you take time to enjoy the “now”.
In the scheme of things, you’re just one small speck in the universe. – I think we all get way too stressed about things that really don’t matter and we let those things control our life. When we become more conscious of that, we really begin to live life.
Most folks would write about what they would say to their 20-year-old self, but I chose to address myself a decade later when I’ve had some time to experience more of life.
You’ll be OK – How many of us have thought at times that things will never work out? I have survived a lot of experiences that I thought I would never get through. I’ve done some stupid things and made some dumb decisions. Some have taken their toll but I’m OK.
Don’t confuse “young” with “emerging” – It’s common in our culture to equate youth with fresh or emerging. Don’t tell yourself that this will be the only time in your life that you will “emerge”. I was young when I first started out but I am only now “emerging” in terms of my craft. I am creating from a lifetime of experience and my authentic self.
Business is personal – Relationships are what it’s all about. People will come and go in your life in both business and personal. Be mindful of the relationships that have value and keep those connections secure. As singer/songwriter Don Henley wrote, “you get the best light from a burning bridge”.
Don’t preach to the choir – Don’t just hang out with likeminded people. It’s boring and provincial. Broaden your perspective by connecting with people who are different ages, genders, races or religions. It will bring more understanding and tolerance in your life and others.
Don’t be a quitter – but know when to walk away – I tell folks, “I’m not a quitter. I don’t even walk out of a bad movie”. I’m tenacious and it has gotten me far in my life. At a film festival where I won best documentary, I told a filmmaker that I might have never started to make my movie if I knew that I would still be involved with it, 3 years later. He told me “that’s normal” and then said “you’ll know when it’s time to walk away”. I have found that to be true with all kinds of things – not just making movies.
Make each day count – I’m paraphrasing a bit,
but in the movie Titanic, Leonardo di Caprio’s character, Jack makes a remark about making each day count. I love that scene. Life goes by in a blink.
It’s February 29th and that means we all get an extra day this year. Let’s celebrate leap year by taking action to leap forward – not just today, but every day this year and every year.
Finish something you started. This could be anything from an online course, a book you put down, a personal project etc. I always tell myself that a start is a start to nowhere if you don’t finish it.
Identify one thing that you’ve talked yourself out of (for all the right reasons) and take action on it. This could lead to the start of something. After you’ve faced your fear or resistance and have overcome your inertia – follow up with a plan for completion.
Toss out one bad habit. It’s easy to fall into a rut with bad habits. Identify one bad habit and change it. Start easy. If you find yourself starting your day in an unproductive manner change it. If you begin your day by checking your emails and then letting it consume your entire morning then start your day by tackling something that you keep putting off before you get distracted by someone else’s urgency.
Get rid of the resistance in your life. Are you letting toxic people derail you? Misery loves company but I’d rather hang out with people who energize me than those who bring me down. There are plenty of people on both sides of the misery camp. Surround yourself with those who add value to your life and stay away from those who suck the life out of you.
Tell yourself you can. Take notice how often you stop yourself by telling yourself you can’t. Really take note and every time you find yourself in that default mode of “I can’t” – tell yourself you can. You are your thoughts so be careful of what you tell yourself.
Have you ever talked yourself out of doing something that you felt passionate about?
Have you ever bought into others’ advice, even though it was contrary to your own beliefs?
If you answered yes to either question then you are like most of us humans, and you second-guess yourself by buying into your fears.
Now ask yourself – Did anything good ever come out of NOT doing something? Other than stopping yourself from following foolish pursuits that may have put you in harms way, stopping yourself probably never led to a positive outcome. In my experience whenever I stopped myself from following my own instincts, it not only didn’t move me forward – it set me back.
So, why do we let resistance keep us from what we are meant to do? It’s fear of the unknown. And why do we let others’ resistance and fears stop us from taking a leap of faith? Can other people predict the outcome anymore than we can? Just because something didn’t work for someone else doesn’t mean it won’t work for you or me. There just are too many variables that play a part in whether someone succeeds or fails.
I’ll make one prediction – If you stop yourself from pursuing your big idea or even your small idea – it won’t happen.
So why are you letting resistance rule your life? That’s just plain stupid.
Watch this and then ask yourself – what are you waiting for?
Have you ever felt like your hours and days are spent doing things that aren’t beneficial for you? I certainly have. I’m sure we all have. But, when I sort through and analyze how and where I spend my time, I realize that even the time I’ve spent on some mundane tasks or my self-inflicted distractions have had merit. Everything, in it’s own way plays a role in our lives. It’s up to us how we play that role.
I’ve been reflecting on this of late, because I’ve been feeling a shift happening in my life right now. I feel a creative surge and energy, fueled by ideas and the technology available to bring them to life. I’ve gone through many creative surges as well as the times when I didn’t have a single creative thought or idea. I’ve learned not to try and buck those tides, but rather go with the flo and recognize it all serves your “purpose”. Here are some things I do to get back “on purpose”:
Connect with an old friend. They’ll remind you of who you are.
Get away from electronic devices and do something simple – sit by a fire or on a beach, look at the clouds, let my imagination take over.
Go with the creative energy when it is present. I have been working on a redesign of our company’s website and have been frustrated by it, excited and totally energized – stay tuned.
Have conversations with people. Nothing formal or forced. The best ideas and observations come up organically.
Find interesting stories. I love stories – whether I read one in a book, watch one play out in film or listen to one on the radio. A good story provokes thought and that leads to a million possibilities.
I don’t stop myself from making a decision because I’m afraid it won’t be the right decision.
I remind myself that I’ve made a lot of decisions that didn’t seem like the right ones at the time……but they led me to the right path.
I listen to music.
I pay attention to small things that most of the time I barely notice.
I remind myself, I’m not here long and to make the most of it.
I’ve had a long career with a lot of successes and failures. Here are 3 tips with examples of lessons I learned along the way.
Get rid of the resistance in your life – Long before I became a photographer, I was on a different path. I was studying architecture at Syracuse University. During the summer of my sophomore year, my friend and I went on a hitchhiking journey to Canada. Along the way, we met and stayed with people we met. I remember one such stay very well. It was pouring outside and we decided to just hang out, rather than face the elements. There were quite a few other travelers sitting around the room, smoking dope and talking about what everyone talked about those days – their disenchantment with the war (Vietnam) and everything else that was status quo, when one fellow erupted and said – “I’m sick and tired of hearing the same old complaints – why don’t you all do something about it.” That stayed with me my whole life. To this day, I try to get rid of the whiners in my life and be the one who does something. My proudest achievement to date has been making the documentary Opening Our Eyes, a film about individuals who are creating positive change.
Don’t hide your vulnerabilities – It took me a long time before I could tell anyone one of my biggest embarrassments, but when I did it was liberating. I was working on an assignment about Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket for the National Geographic Traveler Magazine. I had made an appointment to photograph Walter Cronkite, who was a well-known figure on Martha’s Vineyard. The day before our scheduled appointment, I called Mr. Cronkite to confirm. This was way before cell phones and email and even before everyone had answering machines and his phone just rang and rang and rang. I kept calling throughout the day and the same thing happened. By evening, I was upset because I thought that Mr. Cronkite had stood me up. That night, I had a terrible feeling. I thought perhaps that when I had re-written my production notes and contact info for the job, I might have written down the wrong number for Cronkite. I had kept my old notes and discovered that I had been calling the wrong number all day. Imagine how horrified I was when I discovered that it was I who had stood up Walter Cronkite – not the other way around. I called the correct number, Walter answered and I was profusely apologetic as I explained the situation. He was kind and understanding and rescheduled and then he said, “Why didn’t you look me up in the phone book?” I replied that I assumed someone of his stature would not be listed. I learned never to make assumptions. It took me years before I could tell anyone this story. It’s really hard to admit mistakes but when you do, you gain trust.
Be who you are – not who you aren’t – I had just graduated from Brooks Institute and I wanted to pursue my passions. I wanted to be a photojournalist and use my craft to gain access to a world full of stories. Before I enrolled at Brooks, I had spent a year backpacking around the world. I had one camera and one lens and came back with my snapshots and a whole lot of desire. But it was a bad time for magazine photojournalism – Life Magazine had just folded (the second time) and everyone was telling me that if I wanted to make a living as a photographer, I needed to do commercial work. I bought into that and built a pretty good commercial photography portfolio. Then I went to see legendary NY photographer Jay Maisel, a man known for being blunt. He looked at my work, threw a print at me and told me it was “garbage”. Then he asked me if this was what I wanted to do. I told him no, that I wanted to be a photojournalist but that everyone had been telling me to pursue commercial work. He asked me how old I was and I replied “25” and then he looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re 25 years old and you’re already making compromises”. It changed my life and I remind myself every day to be who I am and dream big, even though I may have to settle for less.