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What do you want to do when you grow up?
Do you think we ever stop asking ourselves that question? It seems to be one of life's great mysteries.
When I was young I yearned to be a child prodigy. It seemed an easy way out. Let fate and genetics take the wheel, it was exhausting trying to sort life out on my own. It still is!
When my natural talent failed to reveal itself, I thought about other career options. I tried to imagine what sort of tasks I would do. And more importantly, what would I wear?
I carefully considered every job I saw portrayed on TV and in films. I thought I might like to be a detective, like Kelly Garrett, the sensitive one in Charlie's Angels. But I try as I might, I just couldn't run in high heels.
Dismayed, I looked to my parents and their friends for career inspiration, immediately turning away with a shudder.
What do you want to do when you grow up?
This seemingly innocent question carries a false implication -- that what we do determines who we are. The truth is, we're better served by letting who we are determine what we do.
When faced with any decision, particularly life decisions, I like to begin at the end. So picture yourself at the very end of your life and look backward.
What do you want your life to have stood for? What do you want to leave behind? What kinds of experiences would you like to have had?
Dream big! Why not?
The point is to have fun with it and see where your imagination takes you.
Thinking about your heroes also reveals a great deal about yourself. Who are the people you admire most? What qualities do they have that attract you? Are these qualities you hope to cultivate in your own life?
What about your favorite fictional characters? Are they clever, adventurous, funny, or artistic? What challenges have they overcome? Can they run in high heels?
My friend Guy had the luxury of knowing that he wanted to be an architect from the time of his first Lego set. But many, many years later, ready to retire after a full career as a high-school English teacher, Guy was a sad figure.
As I sat amongst the dozens of architecture coffee-table books in his library, and moved aside those piled upon his coffee-table so that I could find a place to actually put down my cup of coffee.
I asked why Guy he never became an architect? He obviously still loved the field.
He replied with a shrug, "My math skills are weak." I was shocked. Guy may never be a physicist but certainly, with some hard work, applied thinking, and maybe a patient tutor, he could have improved his math skills.
Guy chose not to attain his dream but to spend his working life in a career he admittedly wasn't suited for, because he did not give himself permission to learn.
As your own dreams whisper to you, remember that we never really "grow up." We never stop changing or dreaming or grasping toward new experiences -- until we die.
Or decide to stop.
So as you reach for your dreams, don't let ignorance or fear stop you from attaining them. Yes, sometimes learning is awkward and uncomfortable and even difficult. But it's always possible.
What matters most is that once you choose a path to walk, you begin to take the steps toward your goal. Even if they're baby steps.
And I promise you that in no time at all, you'll be running in high heels.
“Becoming a working artist has literally saved my life.”
So admits Haitian-born photographer Leslie Jean-Bart. Now an avowed New Yorker, Leslie has spent the past few years as the sole caretaker of his mother who suffers from dementia.
But Leslie has always been an artist. His background includes a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Columbia University, followed by an impressive photography career that took him all over the world. His commercial work has been lauded with accolades including award-winning books and photo-collage projects.
Yet despite the recognition, Leslie’s career was placed on hold when he had to shift his focus to his mother’s care. In looking for relief from his new, often challenging role, he began making regular treks to the beach near Coney Island. Never without his camera, Leslie began to discover inspiration and to document visual metaphor amidst the constantly evolving ebb and flow of the sands, tides, and reflections.
Leslie became possessed by the direction this exciting new work was taking him, but he lacked the confidence to take the next steps. In spite of his illustrious career as a photographer, Leslie admits, “I knew absolutely zero about navigating the fine art world before taking The Working Artist course.”
After completing The Working Artist Master Class, Leslie now has the tools to approach the art world with confidence. The course not only helped him create effective art career foundations – it also taught him the importance of cultivating strong relationships within the art world.
“The exposure I’m getting now is largely due to the relationships I’ve built. I would have continued to just focus on the work until Crista’s class made me realize how essential it is to be an active part of the artistic community.”
Along with newfound confidence and vibrant, active art connections, Leslie has observed that his entries and proposals for group shows and fairs are now being routinely accepted. What’s more, he’ll be featured in his first solo exhibition at Xavier University in New Orleans later this spring!
You can learn more about Leslie Jean-Bart’s beautiful work at http://www.realityimagination.com.
Artists often confide to me that they're afraid to put themselves "out there." Afraid of what other people will think. Afraid of what other people might say. Afraid of haters.
I get it. Both being an artist myself, as well as having an online business has opened me up to abuse. People can be mean.
But we can't let the darkness hide our light.
Take Sean O'Brien, for example. Sean is not a svelte man; in fact, he's rather large. Out with his friends at a club in his hometown of Liverpool one night, Sean was moved by the music and started to dance.
He knew people were laughing at him, and it hurt, yet he carried having fun with his mates. But the next day he realized that some idiot had filmed him and posted the video online. The comments it elicited were vicious and Sean wanted to hide under a rock and never, ever come out.
Sean had been shamed. And every artist knows, shame is most painful when aimed at that which comes from your heart.
Then a group of women in Los Angeles saw the video and its awful comments. They decided to give Sean's story a different ending.
First, they set up a campaign to find Sean. #FindDancingMan Then they invited him to a party in LA, held in his honor, and raised the money via crowd-funding to do so.
1700 people donated to the cause and the opportunity to dance with Sean. All together, they raised over $40,000.
Imagine Sean's surprise when he found himself on a business class seat to Los Angeles. Imagine how he felt when he found that Moby had offered to DJ the party for him. When he found himself being interviewed on TV, invited to dinner by Monica Lewinski, and even throwing the first ball at a Dodgers game in front of a roaring crowd.
The party itself was a massive success. Sean spent the whole night dancing with abandon, surrounded by love and acceptance. In the end, there was money left over to donate to anti-bullying charities in Sean's name.
Sean O'Brien wasn't afraid to dance that night in the Liverpool club. And the cyber-bullies who tried to shame him were never able to hide his light. For in a race between light and dark, the light wins every time.
So dance in your own light, let it shine for all to see, and never again be afraid of the dark.
He thought his career was over.
Bill Jay had been a professor of the History of Photography. He'd published dozens of books and hundreds of articles. He'd founded two majorly influential photography magazines. He'd travelled, given lectures, and taught around the world. As he supported other photographers, he'd become known as a fine photographer himself with solo exhibitions and books of his work.
And then he was bit by a rattlesnake.
One medical mishandling led to another, and Bill Jay was forced to retire and give up the career he'd built so passionately. He moved to a small seaside town outside San Diego and created a new life for himself, a smaller life.
No longer able to throw himself into his work, to travel, to carry heavy camera equipment, to meet with other photographers or students, Bill resigned himself to his fate.
But once a photographer, always a photographer.
He took to carrying a small digital camera in his pocket, always looking for new images to capture.
His daughter, noting the bearded and wizened faces of the homeless men who roamed the beaches of his new town, joked that this was the perfect place for him, "Look! All those old gits look just like you."
Bill looked at these homeless men, and realized that it was only fate that separated them. He began to meet these men, to talk with them and learn their stories. He took their pictures, shooting them in tight stark close-ups which he printed in hard blacks and whites.
He carried the prints with him and upon meeting one of his subjects again, would give him a copy of the picture. He imagined that, without a home, most of these images ended up in the trash.
But one day, one of the men came looking for Bill, "Come with me."
He took Bill down an alleyway and into an abandoned warehouse where the homeless men were known to gather and drink. Once inside, Bill found that they'd staged an exhibition. Their pictures were all taped to the wall. They'd titled their show The Wall of Shame. But, in fact, they were proud.
Not prouder than Bill. He said it was the biggest accolade of his career. This small exhibition meant more to him than a one-person show at the Museum of Modern Art. It was the perfect ending to his career.
A friend asked Bill if he could have a set of the prints? He took them to a homeless advocacy group in New York and they used the images to raise money for the cause. A book was published, titled Men Like Me, and suddenly Bill's career wasn't over. It was just different. But he was still using his work to help others, he was still making a difference.
And the success of Men Like Me led to two other book projects.
I've never known an artist to retire. That urge to question, to draw connections, to create, runs deeper than blood. And when we devote ourselves to it, when we share it and use it in service, the world can't help but notice.
The last time I spoke with Bill, he'd sold all of his belongings and moved to Costa Rica. "Crista," he said, "when you moved to France, you inspired me to change my life."
I inspired Bill Jay, the man who'd been my greatest teacher and mentor. Fancy that.
Bill Jay, who took this photo of me (above) the last time I saw him, died in his sleep in a hammock in his tiny Costa Rican hut. He was the Anne Sullivan to my Helen Keller, showing me how to see the world through new eyes and dance to its music. Because that's what teachers do.
I wish there were more Men Like Him.
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