From a young age, I was taught to conform and when I couldn’t conform, was left to believe that I lacked some sort of basic intelligence that everyone else inherently had in abundance.
As a child coming from an Asian (Persian) family, I was expected to be good at school; to grow up and become an engineer, doctor, or lawyer. My father was an incredible engineer, and I am sure there was more than a little desire there for me to follow in his footsteps.
Unfortunately, my academic endeavors never really met up to my family’s expectations. I struggled through school. Math and science simply didn’t come easy, and while my friends’ GPAs were perfect, mine was not. Family, friends, and relatives would compare and ask, “why can’t you get grades like so-and-so?”
What I didn’t realize was that I simply wasn’t interested in what was being taught at that age. I was interested in art, photography, movies, video games, and the majority of that did not fit into the school day.
I interpreted the situation and everything being said as “you are inherently stupid and you aren’t good enough to succeed.”
Realizing math and sciences may not be my forte, I took quite a few art classes. Interestingly, I had a hard time there as well. In a portraiture class, I struggled with the semester-long assignment to draw a celebrity portrait. I recall seeing students who were new to drawing come into the class and create an amazing portrait. I struggled to stay interested long enough to complete the assignment.
My teacher was concerned that art wasn’t the correct career path for me. This teacher pulled me aside to say, “Pye, you aren’t good enough to make it as an artist, I’m worried this is going to be a waste of your time.”
That would be the last art class that I would ever take. In fact, for the next 14 years of my life, I would never paint, draw or take another picture. There was simply no reason to continue doing something that I was clearly no good at.
So there it was, I just graduated high school and had no aspirations to go on to college or pursue art. I couldn’t hang with my friends academically, and I clearly had no talent in the arts.
When I was 19, I decided to spend 2 years of my life serving a mission for my church. A mission that would require me to learn Cantonese and Mandarin so that I could render service to Chinese people living in Vancouver.
My friends and family expressed their concern of me learning Cantonese, the second hardest language in the world. We all knew that I was no good at academics, and there was genuine concern that this may be a mistake.
Yet at a certain point, I just said, “look, if I’m supposed to do this, then I think God or whoever is up there will make it possible to do.”
My life changed during those 2 years of service. I had never enjoyed studying in the past, yet I loved studying Cantonese. I found that I was good at it, a huge surprise to myself. I memorized 4 Cantonese dictionaries, learned how to read/write Chinese, then moved on to learning Mandarin during my 2 years of service.
When I returned home, I realized that I had the ability to learn, I just had to select topics of interest and then focus and put in the effort.
My father was proud of me when I graduated from the University of Utah Magna Cum Laude in 4 years with 2 Bachelor degrees in Business/Accounting and Mandarin Linguistics.
I moved on to a full-time position with Ernst and Young, one of the most prestigious accounting firms in the world. I soon found accounting and business was a “safe” career, yet for me, it was difficult to excel because I simply wasn’t passionate about it.
When I told my father that I wanted to pursue photography as a career, it was not a pleasant conversation. In fact, I remember him saying, “had I known you would quit EY to become a photographer, I would have never helped pay for college.”
My father was an incredible man, and honestly I can understand his perspective. As children, we grow up with grand dreams. Our parents have seen and know how hard it can be trying to earn a living in the arts. They wish to protect us and keep us safe.
But I learned something at Ernst and Young. While it’s difficult to succeed in the arts, it was more difficult for me to succeed in a career where I had no passion.
When I decided to become a photographer, I knew one thing: I could be passionate about photography and about creating art. I just needed to figure out how to do it, and how to do it well.
Today, I am one of the three partners and co-founders of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge. We run multi-million dollar creative companies with a team of nearly 40 in-house associates and a total of 80 creative professionals.
I will never forget that I was the child, teenager and young adult who wasn’t “good enough to make it as an artist.”
I want to help each and every one of you to not only persist through opposition, but to see the world differently. To realize that having a vision that differs from those around is what makes you unique, and is what will eventually make you successful in your career. And that is exactly what we’ll be teaching you in Incredible Engagement Photography.
Learn more from Pye Jirsa from his class Incredible Engagement Photography class where you’ll learn how to persist through opposition, communicate effectively to devise creative and meaningful poses, and see light from a new perspective.