I want to write you this letter on the importance of living — not just photographing.
What isn’t the point of life?
First of all, we make the common mistake that thinking that photography is the point of life. We mistake in thinking that if we become great photographers, we will be happy.
Wrong. I think that if we want to be great photographers, we should first focus on living a happy life (thanks to my friend Aaron for the idea).
How to live a happy life
To start off, I think to live a happy life, we think of what we should subtract from our life. If you’re talking to someone who has a tumor, the first thing to do is to remove the tumor.
What are the tumors in your life? Is the tumor negative people? Negative thinking? Is the tumor your own self-doubt?
Living every day as if it were your last
Another thing that gets in the way of living— we (mistakingly) think we will live forever. In reality, we all have a limited time on earth. At best, most of us will live to be around 80-90 years old. Who knows, maybe if we perfect genetic engineering, we can live to be 120 years old (at best).
Unfortunately, there will never be a ‘cure’ for aging. We will all eventually die. Perhaps we can delay how long until we die (once again, maybe genetic engineering can prevent us from dying from heart disease, cancer, etc) and let us live to our genetic maximum — I think there are very few people documented who lived past 120.
Even if you lived to be 120 years old, you would have merely ‘existed’ for a long time — not really lived.
How to live a full, meaningful life
I think life is all about action. Living isn’t just staying alive on a respirator. Living is helping others. Benefitting others. Building value to others. About sharing, learning, growing, loving, and being loved.
I’ve learned from a young age, if you really want to show someone you love and care about them, show it to them through action. Words don’t mean much.
How can you live more today? Can you spend less time distracted on your smartphone, and more time focused on having a deep 1:1 conversation with your spouse, kid, friend, or colleague? Can you spend less time with ‘passive’ leisure, and more time with ‘active’ leisure (creating, photographing, drawing, painting, writing, etc)?
What brings you joy?
The happier you are as a photographer; the better your photos will be.
Of course, the opposite is also true — a lot of depressed photographers make personally-meaningful photos, because their photography is a way for them to deal with their depression.
However at the end of the day, I feel all of us as human beings are seeking happiness. Meaning in our life. Purpose. Something greater than ourselves.
So let happiness and living a fulfilling, meaningful life be the purpose of our lives. Photography is just an accessory.
I still think photography is a great tool for us to live deeper, and more fully.
Photography has helped me find more beauty in the mundane, to appreciate the small things in life, and it has helped me be more social. Photography has helped me overcome my social anxieties, build new friendships, and create art. Photography has taught me self-confidence in self-expression.
When are you not living?
Are you living life with a full-screen panorama in front of you? Or are you living hiding behind a viewfinder or LCD screen, or smartphone screen?
Let us tear away the screens away from our faces, and experience reality for it really is — simple, beautiful, sublime, and blissful.
How to live more
Some practical remedies I’ve applied to my life to live more:
- Less time on distractions: Checking my email less often, blocking distracting websites, less time on social media, and more time creating, writing, photographing, meditating, and sharing good laughs with friends over meals.
- Single-tasking: When I am talking to Cindy, I turn off my phone, or don’t do or think of anything else. I usually close my laptop screen, to signal to her that I am focused on her, and nobody (or nothing) else.
- Time is more valuable than money: In the past, I always valued money over time. Now I value time over money. Whenever possible, I want to maximize the amount of time and personal freedom I have in my life. So nowadays whenever I have a chance to trade money for time (for example, taking an Uber, or paying for convenience) I do it. Time is the ultimate non-renewable resource; once you lose a year, you can never gain it back. If you lose $100, you can earn another $100.
- Putting away the camera: I used to be overly-obsessed with documenting everything in my life. Now I try to purposefully put away the camera when it isn’t appropriate. I enjoy the fireworks now, without always trying to take photos of it. I enjoy the time with my friends, rather than always having to take a group selfie. I enjoy my food, rather than always taking a photo of it. And of course the most important thing — enjoying my coffee without putting it on social media.
- Helping others: We are all social beings, and created for one another. As Seneca said, we are all stones in an arch — we support one another, and we are stronger together. I try to make it my focus in everything I do, to eventually help others. I try to do that from teaching, writing, and giving advice to friends.
So friend, what are you waiting for? Don’t delay, live immediately.
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