Things not to ask your dad: Do you think I have what it takes to make it in life?
So, of course, on one very vulnerable day as a teen, I asked just that.
I think he relished the opportunity to finally share some of his wisdom.
He stared at the floor pensively, lips pursed. After a long, pregnant pause, he took a sip of his tea and looked up at me. “You can succeed at anything you put your mind to.”
Phew. Very diplomatic, but, OK. I can live with that.
He took another sip of his tea. “But I’m not sure if you really will…you don’t stick with things.”
Of course, he was right. By nature, I’m a serial hobbyist.
Relationships aside, I never used to stick with anything. I loved the chase, and I loved the hunt. I loved the idea of falling in love. But loving what you do?
That was harder.
See, there’s wanting to be something, and there’s actually being something.
Wanting to be something means holding your dreams at arms’ length. Wading in the shallow end of the pool, where there’s no risk and limited reward. It’s putting the idea of being good above the actual goal. It’s caring more about how you’re seen than how you actually are.
It’s pixel-peeping and unboxing videos and useless arguments over which pre-set is better or whether to use them at all instead of just going out and shooting.
It’s a life of constant enticement and the idea that a new and improved shiny life is out there waiting for you. You just need to find it. It’s built on the fundamental idea that better is outside of you, leading to a constant chase.
Being something, on the other hand, is embracing the dream. Asking the hard questions and doing the hard things, because doing the work is what matters. Not because it means you’re good, but because it makes you better.
It’s believing the best, shiniest life is exactly the one you have, because better is inside of you.
Not to mention, really, what other life are you supposed to have?
We live in a disposable culture. A time with so many choices that the moment the hard begins, we give up the fight and bolt for better things. And the market is nothing if not a smorgasbord of better.
Better ways, faster ways, easier ways to solve whatever problem you got.
Sometimes, we spend so much time trying to find the better and easier we actually forget to do the obvious.
Just solve the fucking problem.
That’s how life used to be. You got up. You dealt with the cards you were dealt. And you went to bed knowing you did what you had to do.
Now, we stockpile our problems, sweeping them under rug, stuffing them in to-do lists, and distracting ourselves to…well, distraction.
But nothing has changed.
Solving the problem is the surest path to better.
Researcher Carol Dweck divided NYC students into two groups. After taking a test, one was praised for their ability. One was praised for their efforts.
The students were then given a choice:
- Take a harder test, where they’d probably do worse, but learn more.
- Or take a similar test, so they’d more likely score well.
90 percent of the students praised for their hard work chose the harder test, but the majority of students praised for their intelligence chose the easier one.
What do you praise yourself for?
When you do the work, you trigger a domino effect that leads to a deep, unshakable sense of belief. You build up your courage and stifle your fear, learning that in the face of adversity, I can do this.
When you show the pictures you’re afraid to show. When you shoot what you weren’t supposed to shoot. When you listen to the voice that tells you to trust yourself, and give yourself the room to fail without judgement, you give yourself the best thing there is: the ability to grow past your limits.
Or, better yet, you find that they were never really there at all.
But we’re sold a false bill of goods.
We want the lottery. The result. The quick and dirty path that gets us to the promised land, when it’s really the means you want and not the ends.
Victories hard won have the most enduring value.
Life is either about appreciating less and constantly needing more. Or appreciating more and needing less.
So much time is dedicated to the idea of finding your passion, but so little is spent keeping it alive.
As for me, more times than not, I never had the passion to begin with. I jumped ship as soon as the going got tough, waiting for the next thing and the next. It was no secret. My dad knew it. Everyone knew it, but me.
I was only lucky enough that I had to stick it out with photography, because my livelihood depended on it, so I never had any other choice.
Only after sticking it out and wanting to quit, and getting back to it, and wanting to quit, and, finally learning to really love it, did it all make sense.
There’s a story about a man caught in a flood. A neighbor came by in a canoe, and said “Get in! We need to get to safety!”
“No,” replied the man. “God will save me.”
The waters tose, and the police come by in a boat. “Get in!” they said.
“No,” said the man. “God will save me.”
Eventually, he was standing on the roof of his house, the waters still rising. A rescue helicopter flew by, throwing down a rope.
“No thank you! God will save me!”
Finally, he drowns. When he shows up in heaven, he asked God “Why am I here? I trusted you to save me.”
God replied “I tried! I sent you a canoe, a boat, and a helicopter!”
You have what you need. We all do.
Are you going to use it?