My friend Forest put this photo on Facebook last December, with this caption:
It was a hot day in July. Navigating the lunchtime jumble of Fort Green, head clouded by city fumes and a muggy humidity of self-doubt, a good friend said the word I needed to hear.
So I went.
Later, I wrote myself this note. Not that I planned to forget again, but sometimes we all need a friend to remind us.
Forest is a photographer figuring out how to navigate the business, and deciding which gigs to take shapes his income, his portfolio, and his future. We were walking through Brooklyn trying to find a place to eat a late breakfast, and he mentioned he’d been invited on a trip to the Waddington Range, and he was mulling it over.
We talked about what might happen if he went, and I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was probably something like Lately, whenever I’m not sure about doing something, but it seems like a great opportunity, I say Yes. Especially if it seems insecure or kind of irresponsible.
Forest went on the Waddington trip, had a blast, came back and sold photos to a bunch of companies, and Alpinist magazine. He and I also talked that day about whether or not he should go to the Outdoor Retailer trade show, and he did, and when he was there he met quite a few people, one of whom asked if he’d make a trip to the Red River Gorge in October to shoot photos of some climbers. He wouldn’t for sure get paid anything, but he might get some good photos he could sell.
He said yes, and spent a week photographing big names like Daniel Woods and Ashima Shiarishi, and a couple months later, three full pages of Climbing’s Golden Piton Awards issue were Forest’s photos from that trip.
We have all sorts of reasons to play it safe. We tell ourselves we don’t have enough vacation time to do something, instead of talking to our boss about the idea of unpaid time off (which we can’t take anyway, because we have too many bills, right?). We stay home on a Saturday to clean the garage instead of going mountain biking with friends. Of course the garage needs to be cleaned and we have to pay bills, but have you ever caught yourself saying no to an incredible opportunity and instead being boring? Because it was the safe choice, the responsible thing to do?
I had one of those opportunities pop up recently, and I dragged my feet about it for a few weeks, thinking, Man, it might be good to stay here and get caught up on a bunch of work, not spend more money, take it easy for a while. I mean, what if I get a billion e-mails and I’m not there to answer them and I don’t get everything done before I leave and I get behind and … Hey, where’s the guy who talked Forest into saying yes to all that stuff last year? So I had a nice chat with myself and tipped things from 60% Play It Safe/40% Say Yes, over to 51% Say Yes/49% Play It Safe, and now I gotta buy a plane ticket in the next few days.
The funny thing about that is that psychologists have proven that either way we decide, our “psychological immune system” will convince us that we made the right choice, and we’ll be equally happy whether we stay home to clean the garage or go mountain biking, whether we take that trip across the world or stay home and work.
But nobody ever says “remember that time I didn’t go to South America?” My friend Lee and I sometimes joke in the middle of a day of climbing, “you know, we could have stayed home, slept in and watched TV.”
Forest e-mailed me last fall and said Hey, I’m going to do a raft trip in the Grand Canyon next November, and the group has a couple open spots. Would you like to go?
My first three thoughts were:
1. Is it smart to take that much time off work (no)
2. Is the secure, safe thing to do here to say no and keep working, keep making money, and not spend more money I don’t have on a raft trip? (yes)
I mean, I might as well say yes. My brain will eventually convince me it’s the right thing anyway, and I’ll probably get a nice iPhone photo or two out of it, right?