Hello 2011. I’ve seen you coming for awhile, but it’s kind of crazy we’re already over a week into the New Year. And while every minute is just as good as any for a fresh start, there is something inspirational about a brand new day, the start of another month, and a shiny new year full of possibility and hope.
I am a dreamer. Always have been, always will be. StrengthsFinder pegs me as “feel[ing] enthusiastic about life when [I] contemplate everything [I] can accomplish in the coming months, years, or decades.” Yep. That pretty much sums it up. I’m just idealistic enough to believe that I’m not alive to live an ordinary life.
I’ve learned quite a bit about dreaming this past year though. I showed up in Chicago ready to take on the world and excited about what the year would bring. I had been working in other people’s photography businesses for years and had even been running my own for a good year, but 2010 marked my plunge into the world of full-time photography. And it was good. But I was very much like Donald Miller in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. As he began to reframe the story of his life in such a way that it would translate well into a the movie screenplay being written about him, he realized the elements that make for a powerful story are the very same elements that make for a meaningful life. “A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it is the basic structure of a good story.” He decided his plot line needed some change. He needed a goal. And so he decided he’d start biking. And….he did. Except at first that consisted of him sitting on the couch watching Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France. As Lance overcame sweat and pain with each mile towards victory, Don would pump his legs every once in awhile and cheer him on, as if he were riding with him. It sounded a lot like what I had been doing- watching friends and others in the industry run their businesses, getting inspired, and every once in awhile booking a job on my own. In a lot of ways, I was merely daydreaming. I had no idea what was coming.
Oh 2010, you just had to slap me with a dose or two of reality. And thank God. Miller talks about how as humans, we seek comfort. We get really excited about an idea, but when it comes to down to it, we don’t want to do what it takes. In a story, the author creates an inciting incident for his character- something that forces him to jump into the fear and discomfort and undergo the transformation he needs on the way to accomplishing his goal. For Don, it was buying a bike and some gear. He told his friends about it, and signed up with 18,000 cyclists to ride across the bridges of Portland. It was a start of a change in his story.
For me, it was being gut wrenchingly honest with those who were closest to me and then doing something about it. We must dream and long for things. But it is not enough to simply daydream. Accountability comes in writing down a vision and even declaring it to those we trust. My dear friends, Bob and Dawn Davis, know something about that. Their lives and business have been transformed radically over the past several years by a vision that continues to grow. It is Dawn that first encouraged me to keep these dreams in front of me at all times. So in this spirit, a few friends and I decided to “Dream Out Loud” in 2010, to have just enough audacity to confess to one another those big things we we working towards. I couldn’t hide behind vagueness any longer. And while it had every bit as much to do with hard work, there was something in that dreaming out loud that made a huge difference for all of us. By admitting what we wanted, we realized we had something to lose. And so we had no choice but to choose failure or to jump into the story wholeheartedly. It was an epic year. One friend began to book various sessions locally and across the country specifically themed towards her style, and had her work published multiple times. Another had the boldness to change career directions and relocate his family creating many more opportunities for them. One gained greater freedom to travel more extensively on adventure trips while continuing to be a valuable educator and resource to the local and national industry. One went to Africa for a non-profit event and had a chance to work with musicians in Nashville and LA. Another photographed two weddings in Mexico, and broke into several photography niches among specific local communities. I was invited to photograph a wedding in India and traveled with good friends and colleagues across the country and internationally. I was blessed to meet some incredible professionals in the local wedding industry and to see my work published in several national blogs. And I began to meet clients with a similar vision and an outstanding attitude towards life, who have become so dear to my heart and make me thankful everyday.
The fulfillment of some of these dreams came with great struggle. It became real. I was no longer pumping my legs, but actually riding and feeling the sweat trickle down my face. And yet, this has only been a glimpse into a bigger story unfolding. Dreaming out loud is only one part of the process. It helps propel us into the transformation we go through on the way to our goal. But the dream is not enough. Don says a character is what he does, not what he thinks about doing. “Good stories don’t happen by accident. They are planned.”
In order to keep up the momentum, we need to continually introduce inciting incidents into our lives. But it must be done strategically and with a purpose in mind. My friend, Dane Sanders, explained it to me this way. Change will happen if and only if my vision for what I want, combined with a plan to get there (even if it’s only the next step) and a dissatisfaction for the way things currently are, outweigh the cost I am willing to pay to enforce change in my life. I’ve been meditating on it a year and a half now and it still blows me away. It’s so simple. And yet so obvious why we often settle for the less exciting story. Change is expensive. It is going to cost me massive amounts of something that I care about. It takes pain.
Don Miller signed up to hike the Inca trail and invited the girl he wanted to impress, and ultimately date. He had a clear vision for what he wanted in the next chapter in his story. But Don knew he wasn’t in any shape for the excruciating challenge. He continued to research how intense it would be until his dissatisfaction with his current level of athleticism increased. And then he joined a gym and hired a personal trainer. He made a plan. And only with a compelling ambition, an explicit strategy, and a healthy frustration with the way things were was he able to face the pain of daily workouts that often had him doubled over puking. Does he get the girl? You’ll have to read the book for yourself to find that out. But recognizing the power in how to effectively introduce change set him on a course towards pursuing a more meaningful life than he had been living.
2010 was amazing, overwhelming, challenging, humbling and rewarding all at the same time. Life really keeps getting richer and fuller. But it’s time for some new dreams and some greater adventures in 2011. If I’m being honest, I’ve been feeling pretty frustrated and uninspired recently. I’d venture to say it’s because I’ve gotten a little comfortable. And it doesn’t feel very satisfying at all. So I locked myself up in the library for a few days to get clearer on my goals for 2011, to increase my understanding of what steps I need to take next, to allow myself to be dissatisfied with the status quo, and to determine what price I am willing to pay to live a greater story. Sitting there amidst thousands of books and silence surrounded by the magnitude of words penned by other writers, philosophers, artists, dreamers and adventurers, I became very aware of my own call “despite my faults and despite my growing fears.” These lyrics from “The Cave” by Mumford and Sons tell me they know a little something about taking a risk for a greater story. “And I’ll find strength in pain, and I will change my ways. I’ll know my name as it’s called again.”
Vision makes us aware of the price we have to pay, but it also reminds us how fulfilling it is “to live life as it’s meant to be.” I am pointed towards the horizon of what 2011 will bring, full of expectation. I’m still going to be dreaming and reveling in life’s mysteries, but now my ambition is more clear and I have some specific, measurable goals as I intentionally strive to live a greater story. <3
These are just a peak at some of my adventures last year. As I was preparing these images, they each brought back a different emotion- awe, amusement, laughter, giddiness, wonder, joy. Each one represents a story (including some pretty hilarious and outrageous ones), and it makes me even more thrilled for what’s ahead!!
Maroon Bells, Aspen, Colorado
Chichen Itza, Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico
Mosque in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Village in Coimbature, Tamil Nadu, India (while photographing for Thirst Relief)
Beach in Alleppey (Allappuzha), Kerala, India