“The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it.”-Chinese Proverb
I look down the lens and adjust the aperture to 2.4. Then, I open up the shutter to 1/40 so that the only thing in focus is the colorful tile floor. I can feel the textured tile against my stomach, its cool and calming.
As a drop of sweat slides off my cheek, I countdown, “3, 2, 1, action.”
I’m so focused on the film I’m creating for this hotel that I unintentionally hold my breath as Vivian gracefully walks by in her long red sequined gown. It’s actually the one she wore on her wedding day and it’s beautiful. When she reaches the other side of the room, I stand up and dust myself off.
“Okay that’s a wrap for this room, lets head to the next one.”
Normally I’ll spend about fifteen to twenty minutes taking photos or filming a hotel room, but today with Mike’s harsh words still spinning in my head, I’m leaving no stone unturned. I’ve found a way to use the pain to push me, like the famous story of the two mice that fell into a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out. In this moment, I am that second mouse. I feel bad for Vivian though because we’ve been in room 121 for well over two hours.
Every single day for four years now I’ve been that second mouse, working on my film, photography and writing like my life depends on it.
I am learning new things about my camera and my creativity every day. I’m always studying; watching YouTube videos online or trying new shots while I walk around whatever city my latest backbreaking bus ride has spit me out in. Just this morning I played chicken with the insane motorbike drivers that fill up Saigon’s hectic streets simply so I could snap a shot of the Notre-Dame Basilica at a slightly different angle than the sidewalk permitted.
I work really hard at everything I do, and I’ve never once hoped that it will one day just be revealed to me, complete and perfect. I’m never wishing that one morning I will wake up and open my eyes and magically become a master at all this. I know that’s not the case. I’m a firm believer of the quote that says, “There is no royal road to anything.” I’d be willing to bet it all that anyone who has ever been truly successful will tell you the same thing; they’ve been to hell and back for that success.
After 500 days of travel I’m well aware of the bumps in the road. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s research it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at anything. I’m more than willing to put the work in even if that means 100,000 hours for me because I refuse to go back to the life I was living before this journey started.
However, I’m still in the early stages of the creative process and transforming my life and so when Mike called my writing “flaky” three days ago, it destroyed me.
Since I read his email the word “flaky” won’t stop bouncing off the walls of my brain. I never got angry at him for saying what he said. It feels more like a feeling of loss, disappointment and the slight sting of betrayal all rolled up into one giant emotion. I truly believe that his words could crush or creatively debilitate even an experienced writer and so to hear them as a new writer I’m not surprised that it caused a nuclear meltdown of epic proportions within me (just ask the minibar at my last hotel).
I’ve found that you only get two choices during tough times like this though (besides going on a bender). You can either quit completely or you can pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Anyone who is chasing their dreams or living out their passion is automatically in the business of picking themselves up and dusting themselves off because it’s never easy.
With that being said, writing isn’t just writing to me, it’s very much a spiritual process. I’ve written 32 chapters so far. At one point or another while writing each and every one of those chapters my body goes through some sort of physical transformation where I can feel every moment I’ve ever lived and my eyes well up with genuine gratitude. So to give up that kind of experience and to quit because one person doesn’t like my writing would almost be sacrilegious.
I didn’t risk my life for my dream back in Africa only to get to Asia and quit because someone close to me said something mean that was intended to throw me off course.
Yesterday, as my train coursed through the waterlogged rice patties of southern Vietnam, I started to think more about what Mike said. The more I started to think about it, I realized that he got it all wrong.
He’s the one that should quit, not me.
While I was on the train I pulled up Mike’s website on my phone. As I was reading over his bio, it says that he quit his boring job to become a mentor and creative writing coach. He promises to help motivate people to do their dream projects (his exact words). The more I read about him and what he’s all about, it became clear that he considers being a writing coach his life’s work and his passion.
This is a head scratcher to me. That means if he quit on me, then he quit on his passion. Does this mean that being a writing coach isn’t really his passion?
If my writing is what he says it is (bad), wouldn’t helping me make it better be right up his alley? Wouldn’t he be chomping at the bit to help me work out the issues with my writing so I could go on pursing my dream and he in turn could go on pursuing his?
So after carefully thinking of a response, I wrote back to Mike.
Thanks for taking the time to give me your feedback on my writing. I think you’re right about a lot of things and I know that my writing needs a lot of work. I have tremendous gratitude for you coming into my life when you did. You saved my writing when we met and at times you gave me great confidence to keep going.
I do want to clarify some things though.
My aim has never been to be a travel writer, its much bigger than that. I don’t care about my reputation or what other people think of my work. If no one reads anything I write, that’s fine, I’m doing this for me and it’s about the energy and effort that I put into it. I would rather be a bad writer, bad filmmaker and bad photographer than be good at anything else.
I’ve traveled nearly 25,000 miles over land and by now I know a thing or two about not giving up.
So I would suggest you find your passion, because this clearly isn’t it. I know that sounds rude of me to say and how could I possibly know that? But, if this is your passion, you wouldn’t have quit so quickly and given up in the middle of my latest chapter. People that live their passion on a daily basis relish a challenge; they don’t fold like a house of cards the first time an obstacle appears.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over those 25,000 miles it’s that if you want something, you have to be relentless; this world doesn’t owe me or any of us anything.
Had I quit at the first setback I encountered, I wouldn’t have even made it to Africa. I missed my first and only flight of this journey. This whole thing would have stopped at the West Palm Beach airport before it even started. Actually, I would have quit months before that when I walked into the first day of photography class looking like an idiot for not owning an actual camera. Or at the rinky-dink community college when someone in the first writing class I ever took ripped apart a short story I had written in front of the entire class.
Imagine if I would have quit then.
Mike, I’ve risked my life for my dream. I crossed through Kenya the day after 175 people were brutally murdered in that country’s biggest terrorist attack in its history. I crossed the most unstable parts of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt when all travel warnings were telling me to avoid that area at all costs. So I certainly do know what my dream is. I’m willing to put my life on the line for it.
Here’s the thing, I’m not going to set out to prove you wrong. I don’t need any extra motivation. I’ve been doing this out of love, not hate since day one.
Lastly, I do want to thank you because I’ll share this experience with others. I’ll talk about how you really crushed my creative confidence at the time, but not my spirit. I’ll talk about how I kept going and found a way to improve my writing and make it all work just like I’ve done with the million other obstacles before this one.
Living your dream is work, hard work, and sometimes it actually might be a miserable struggle. Steve Jobs was right when he said, “You have to have a lot of passion for what you are doing, and the reason is because it’s so hard that any rational person would give up.”
I guess I have an unfair advantage then. I don’t think rationally. I never have, and hopefully I never will.
The reason that I can face defeat after defeat after defeat and bounce back from your comments about my writing so quickly is because when I walked into that photography class without a camera and that first writing class without a clue I had already made up my mind. No one or no thing would ever stop me.
I ask Vivian to draw the curtains as I ever so slightly adjust a vase on the bookshelf. I want to get the lighting and the props just right for this next shot as though my life depends on it, because it does.
I go back behind my lens to survey the scene and then I lift my head up and think…
…If greatness is in the details, then success is in never giving up.
“Okay Vivian, let’s do this. 3, 2, 1, action.”