A Hard Lesson
Being OK with where you are in life is probably one of the hardest things for me to accept. I’m always itchy, always want something else, always plotting to get away. I may have vague ideas of how to implement a plan, and even fuzzier sight of the endgame. But I know something — I’m aching to get out of here.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that mind set. After all, it’s that discomfort that drives us to do better, gives us hope to go further so we strive to achieve higher.
Not knowing what to do, where to go, or what to ultimately achieve is where things fall apart.
Some people are content — either because they have achieved everything they set out to, or they really don’t care to do more than just enough. If they don’t have that discomfort, that’s OK. It means they are satisfied. It must feel nice.
And for those that feel the discomfort like a thorn in their sides, that’s OK too. Feeling it isn’t the hard part. Figuring out what you want to do about it and being clear about it is.
For probably way too long in my life, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I constantly think back to how long I’ve had to figure it out, and how much I didn’t spend my time figuring it out. We all grow at different paces, but it seemed like I fell behind.
I knew in general what I liked, but I never honed in on the focus until it was sharp like a razor. Whenever I thought I couldn’t focus any more, I stopped. Until the hum of discomfort got too loud to bear. Then I’d try a little bit more, but feel like I was hitting brick walls everywhere.
So, what are you into? What do you want to do? Financial issues aside, what do you really want to do? What would you do voluntarily without being paid to? Start there, then narrow it down. If there’s even one minute inkling of ‘meh,’ then you haven’t found it yet. Keep trying.
You can’t go somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going. You either get lucky and get there by accident (which is more rare than winning the lottery,) or you figure it out so you can find a path.
Sometimes you can’t see what it is you want because you don’t even know it exists. It’s not in your vocabulary to know that’s what you really want. The only cure for that is a combination of 1) keeping your eyes open for new things to try, 2) meeting people who may expose you to new ideas, and 3) time.
You may get impatient. I certainly did, and it took me a long time to get to even starting to map out how I want to proceed. And this is where being OK with where you are in life comes in. Allow yourself to be aware of that discomfort, then go. Give yourself a break if you don’t find it right away, but don’t forget to keep looking.
One night, almost two years ago at 1am, at possibly the lowest point of my life emotionally, I answered a Facebook post on a whim. A student film was looking for a unit stills photographer for a one day shoot. The pay was whatever, but I didn’t care.
Sounds like it could be interesting, I said to myself, and responded to their post. They got back to me right away, and welcomed me to the crew.
Let me just tell you how bad at it I was. My camera was loud, which is a no-no while filming scenes with recorded sound. I stomped around and almost knocked over C-Stands multiple times. I spilled coffee trying to climb on the table to get the angles because my lens wasn’t versatile enough. I was not good, but I managed by only clicking during rehearsal takes, to crawl out of the way, to observe. I realized something that day, after 12 hours on set.
It was that I didn’t even notice 12 hours had gone by.
I knew instantly that I found the thing. The focus couldn’t have been sharper. I didn’t not like photography enough to chase it, the fact was I loved it! This exact aspect of it! I didn’t go to film school because I didn’t love filmmaking! I just didn’t know I needed to combine photography and films together! It seemed like a huge no-shit, but honestly I didn’t know unit stills photography was a thing.
I didn’t know this kind of photography existed until that post popped up. I didn’t know I would like this kind of photography until I physically went and made a mess of it.
Making The Best Of It
Fast forward to now: Am I making a living off of it? No, but I’m hoping that I’m on my way to. The path may not be clear, but at least the destination is. And that is something to work with. A lot of people ask, “Are you even being paid to do this?” The honest answer is sometimes yes, but definitely not enough if you’re counting just hours. The even more honest answer is I don’t give a flying fuck if it’s paid or not right now. I’m OK with where I am right now because I love it. I’m on my way somewhere.
With every film project I sign on to, the path gets a little bit clearer. With each new contact I link up with, I’m going further. Eventually, I would like to get paid for it full time. Eventually is not right now, and I have to be OK with that. The way may be uphills, full of rocks, with false trails and big obstacles, but I feel like I’m on my way somewhere instead of floundering in muddy water at last.
So I found my one thing. Now I can add to it. Make the goal even more specific. You got the one thing in your mind? Good, now add to it to make it yours.
Instead of “I want to work a unit stills photographer,” it has become, “I want to work as a unit stills photographer in the film union and get paid union rates, so I can work for 2/3 of the year, and travel the world for the rest of the 1/3 because I want to travel all over the world. eat churros from every-fucking-where, and blog about that… along with travel photography.”
Is it too specific? Will I get there? I don’t know, but having something clear to reach for is a hell of a lot better than having some sort of goal, kinda.
If you go to a restaurant, and when asked what you want to order, answer with “I dunno, some kind of food, I guess,” probably won’t get you anything satisfactory. Specificity is good.
Write it down, add to it until you can’t anymore.
If you feel that discomfort, then congratulations, you are somewhere along your way to doing so much more than you ever dreamed of. How will you find your thing if you don’t actively look for it?
Go out and find it.
If you feel it, you owe it to yourself to scratch that itch.
When you find it, you’ll know. Because you’ll be willing to work harder than anyone else for it.