I use to get lost in articles that taught me how to be a freelance traveling photojournalist. With titles like, “How to Become a National Geographic Photographer” and “14 Ways You Can Become a Photojournalist” or “11 Things Photographers Wish They Know Before Becoming Freelancers,” I would swoon over the words on the page, imagining myself as one of them. During my senior year in high school, I hid behind my computer screen during class, reading these articles and storing every bit of advice. Then, I’d spend my lunches flipping through Nat Geo magazines and my evenings emailing people who lived in that mysterious, magical, far-away world that I wanted so badly to be apart of, desperately asking for advice.
However, it seemed that with each wave of passion, excitement and certainty that I could do anything I wanted, I would inevitably become frustrated and disheartened as I realized that these articles and pieces of advice were only to tease people into believing they could be part of this VIP world of adventure and excitement. I convinced myself that far too many people desired to be a photojournalist, and that I was only another body in the crowd, looking naively up at those who had someway, some mysterious way, been accepted into this prestigious group of people. The cycle would continue: excitement, passion, certainty, eagerness and courage that would quickly morph into confusion, frustration, exhaustion, and ultimately leave me in low spirits.
A little over a year ago I read Lynsey Addario’s book, “It’s What I Do,” which chronicles her life as an aspiring and accomplished war-zone photographer. I read the last page feeling hungry for more. I had spent the previous pages getting lost in her story, feeling a real connection between her life and mine as I paralleled my future with her reality. When it was over, I only wanted to know more, read more, hopefully find some hidden key to the Life of a Photojournalist waiting at the end of it. So I emailed her, detailing my desire to be a photojournalist, to travel, to learn and to eventually tell others’ stories. “What advice can you offer?” I asked. She replied with, “Unfortunately, I receive many such requests, and don't have time to answer specific questions. Perhaps my book would help? It is a memoir I published last year.” I sighed. No matter how much I sought advice, I felt unfulfilled.
Now that I no longer have the same desire to be a photojournalist – or, rather, that I see life as a series of experiences rather than a journey toward one final goal – I see where the problem lies. Rarely is a detailed plan laid out before us with instructions on how to attain whatever it is we want to do or be. Even so, we crush our dreams by exerting more energy than we have on imagining ourselves doing a particular thing or becoming a particular person without actually pursuing anything. Other’s stories are meant to serve as inspiration, but never should they function as a map with a clear route. Our journeys are significant in that they tell our own personal experiences, not those of someone who has accomplished something we admire. We will not carve our own paths until we step from behind screens, books, or articles and into the outside world where vision meets concrete experience.