Learning to Leap
So the next lesson is Learning to Leap, and I'm gonna talk about trusting your instincts and pushing through those times of discomfort, those times of transition. So in 2008, my friends and colleagues across the country were losing their jobs at newspapers. And so rather than me wait to be part of the next round of layoffs myself, I took a leap of faith. I wanted to move to an area that was rich with news, Washington, D.C., right? A place that I could start my own freelance photography business. So that's what I did. But one thing I forgot to consider is that Washington, D.C. is a little bit competitive. So it took me a while to break into the industry. And it was really difficult. It was a difficult time. So after months of sending emails and phone calls to editors that went with no response, I thought, I have to come up with a different plan because if no one's hiring me for work, I don't want my skills to suffer. So I started creating my own "self assignments". And at first, this wa...
s just going around D.C. You know? Getting used to the new area that I lived in. Visiting memorials, significant sites, covering seasonal occurrences like the cherry blossoms and just putting myself proximate and seeing what happened. And sometimes finding these really beautiful, creative moments. Creative photos. And sometimes I just took pretty pictures that made me happy that I liked. And so later, I'd realize that these self assignments actually helped me a lot because when I did get hired for work, I actually knew how to get around my city. So, election night. I was living in an apartment in northern Virginia, so just about 10 to 15 minutes away from the White House. And I was sitting on my couch in my pajamas, watching the TV, probably depressed that I wasn't covering election night for a newspaper. And I saw people celebrating, thousands of people in the streets, celebrating. All moving to the White House. And I was like, wow, I can't believe this is so amazing. This is happening right down the street from my house. So you know what I did, right? I got a ride into the city and I stayed up late making photos and it was actually liberating to not have a deadline. No one was waiting on my images. I was just there for me. So I got to really be totally present and feel the energy of the moments and make photos. A few months later was the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I wanted to document this important moment in American history. But I still didn't have press credentials. So I thought I'd cover it from what I did have access to, the people's perspective. So I got up early and got on the bus at 4 A.M. like everyone else, (chuckles) The boy's face? Yeah. I love it. (audience chuckles) I had my hand warmers in my pockets and my shoes. Had a backpack full of snacks, prepared to stay the whole day in the freezing cold and make photographs. And I'm so glad that I did. It was a thrilling, thrilling day. And you can see where I am in the crowd. I mean, I don't even see President Obama there. It's like this is the closest I ever thought I'd get to President Barack Obama and I was absolutely thrilled just to be in the same National Mall. So, you know, this was the first day that I was like, Yes! I trusted my instincts. This is exactly where I'm supposed to be. I'm on a high like, I can do this. This is how I'm supposed to feel. I made the right choices. (sighs) 10 A.M. the next morning, my father died unexpectedly of a heart attack. And while this was one of the most challenging moments and times of my life, it also brought me extreme clarity. Life is short. We don't know how long we're gonna live. We don't know how many breaths we're gonna take. We don't know how many times our heart's gonna beat. I wanted everything to matter. I wanted my life to matter. I wanted to live a life that was my dreams. I wanted to take chances. I wanted to dream big. I wanted to leap. (laughs) You can see we're a family of goofballs. (laughs) And so after taking some time to grieve the loss of my father, I set out with a new determination. A new perseverance. Send another round of emails and another round of phone calls with links to my "self assignments" that caught the attention of a photographer and an editor and ended up kickstarting my career as a freelance photographer for the New York Times. So I share this to say life is full of ups and downs, and sometimes the day before, you could be on a high and the next day you could not want to get out of bed. So it's these waves of emotion are also like waves of creativity, right? And you have to be able to ride these waves and in times of challenge, it's okay to get down. But resiliance and character is built every single time you get back up. So I want to challenge you to think about a time of transition in your personal or professional life and what part of this experience has been most difficult for you? And what are some active steps that you can take to help you achieve your goal? And what have you learned from this experience? So I just thought I would ask all of you and for those of you at home, there's a workbook that you can work through these questions in the extra materials. Does anyone want to share?
Well I probably took a cue from what you just said. I went through a major life experience going through a long-term divorce and being a single at an age where I didn't expect to be single and a future that I envisioned was never gonna happen. And I've always also been interested in creativity and I, too, sort of set a goal just to take evening classes at community colleges in addition to work and doing caregiving for an elderly mom and a handicapped sibling. And it's been very rewarding because I actually have been producing art and feeling very good about it even if I don't necessarily have an audience but I did get fortunate enough to come across some interesting material post-fire in the Napa Valley and actually, I'm having a photography show that I never expected to have, never really set a goal to have, but by just happenstance of returning to a property that had been very beautiful and burned to the ground, where I had healed from my divorce, I found some burnt fruit that was half burnt and half color and to me, it was sort of a sign of survival in a difficult time. So in some ways, that experience gave me a lot back and also produced, unwittingly, a show.
Wow, that's amazing.
Yeah. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing your story.
That's an inspiration
Thank you. for so many people, and what you said about the photo that was burnt or half burnt is sort of what I've come to recognize about accepting that, sort of the light and the darkness in everything. The beauty in things you might look at and at first, have hard feelings about, so-
I sort of forced myself. Well, it's sort of interesting you should say that, because I went back to that property because it had given me so much healing and I felt like I couldn't turn my back on this property because it was no longer beautiful and as hard as it was, it was nice to see one element there that gave me a sign of hope.
Right, right. And can I ask you this? Are you happy that you made the leap even though it was uncomfortable?
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, it was a gift that I didn't expect to get but like you, I like to see the benefit sometimes of something that you don't anticipate, just shows up in your life.
Exactly. Thank you so much for sharing.
Thank you. Hi.
Thank you for sharing your story, very inspirational. Your story actually brought a lot of clarity for me because I lost my dad in similar way, suddenly from a heart attack.
I'm sorry. A few years after you but for me, I was expecting my first child at the time and he was born just 20 days after (choking up) so so close. But you sharing your story just brought a lot of clarity for me of part of the reason why photography's so important to me because it was my son being born that really sparked that interest for me and just realizing, you know, at a different level, why it's so important for me to capture the everyday and these moments. So thank you.
Thank you so much for sharing. Yeah, I have a two-year-old myself so I've had that experience, too, when I brought her into the world feeling like something was missing. But then, in our observant nature, watching her every day and seeing the things that she likes to do and it's like, oh, there's Poppy, my dad. There's Poppy. And at night she'll say, "Tell me a story about Poppy, mama." You know? (chuckles) So I'm storytelling, and so I think that oftentimes when we miss the people that aren't here in our lives, it's like... I mean, look at these lines in our hands. This, they're right here with us, right? These people are all connected and it's in your art form, so... and so I'm really thankful that you shared your story.
Amanda, I just wanna share a story of somebody who was online, willing to share their stories. Stephan who says, "I was bullied in high school. It escalated to a climax where I had both of my ankles broken.
Oh my gosh. (audience gasps) A month after this, I found my calling in photography. And that has helped me work through my pain and struggles with life." And so thank you as well, Stephan, for sharing.
Yeah. Thank you, Stephan, for sharing and I think that sometimes, these experiences we have make us a better photographer, you know? There are stories that you can tell about bullying that you've experienced and that you have extra sensitivity. So I think it's not pushing away from the things that are uncomfortable, it's just like the burnt photo. It's accepting both sides of it, and finding the power in that, the power in that story. And to be able to share that with others to find the work that's impactful to you. That can make a really positive difference in the world.