My friend Bruce shared an image on Instagram recently that sent me deep in thought. On the campus of the University of Texas in Austin, a stairwell pillar was covered with the following message:
However, when you shift to look at the OTHER side of the column, the message changes:
This settled deep in my soul and sent my mind back a decade. In 2007, I was married to my first wife, working for AT&T, living in a new-construction house in the suburbs, and deeply unhappy. I couldn’t figure out what was really wrong…I just felt empty and unfulfilled. We both did. So a big change was made: we sold everything at an estate sale and made plans to travel the world.
I took the old blog that I’d created as an alternative to MySpace and started writing about travel preparations. I bought a little Panasonic point-and-shoot camera and got familiar with it. In April of 2009, we waved goodbye to friends/family and headed for California. Over the next ten months, I gained and lost. I gained an appreciation for new foods and lost 40 pounds. I gained insight into the human experience and lost my prejudices. I gained a creative outlet and lost the hopeless voice. After returning home in February 2009, an intense period of loss further propelled my creative journey but that’s an entire story unto itself. The biggest gain from my time abroad was the camera that had become an extension of my body.
A few months into the international trip, I upgraded my camera. I started taking photos I was really happy with; photos I could see up on not just my wall, but maybe even public walls. When I got home, though, my international experience didn’t translate to Oklahoma easily. I had to find my creative voice within the familiar…and that took time. I started wandering around Tulsa with purpose. In 2011, my friend Darci encouraged me to explore the ghost town of Picher with her. In 2012, I started getting comfortable taking photos at DragonCon & I didn’t deliberately set foot on Route 66 until the summer of 2013, which is also when I explored parts of the American West for the first time. When I met Samantha in October 2013, I was just beginning to understand how my international traveling experience would evolve into how I travel the Midwest today and capture the journey.
All of that to say this: it takes time to find yourself. It can be painful, disappointing, and frustrating at times. I still struggle with feeling inadequate and unsuccessful, but, that usually comes when I’ve compared my work to someone else’s when I don’t fully understand their journey. Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Look at yourself TODAY versus where you started from; THAT’S where the true measurement lies. When you turn around and look behind you, that is the only comparison you should make. It’s tough, but it’s the only fair lens. My journey is different than anyone else’s & it informs my work on a daily basis.
Find the outlet that allows you to express yourself. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s worthless. If you’re not able to support yourself on your art alone, that’s fine. I sure don’t…but that’s not why I do it. Don’t ignore the little voice begging for expression. Give it time, energy, and patience. One day you’ll look back at your path and be amazed.