I have never been a person to do a hard thing simply for the sake of overcoming difficulty itself. Why run a marathon? Can’t you enjoy the scenery and people around you more at a walking pace? You climbed Mt. Everest “because it’s there?” Thanks, but no thanks, Mr. George Mallory. (Also, he died on Everest, BTW…so, nope.) However, I have found that there has been tremendous value in finding a difficult thing that is also a beautiful thing and pursuing it in spite of challenges.
There are a few pursuits in my life right now that fit the description of beautiful and difficult. Learning photography is one of those things. Learning new things is hard, people. I feel like I’m working in crayon stick figure land while everyone around me is painting chapel ceilings. The easy thing would be to say, “This is pointless and I’ll never get there. Let’s call it a day, shall we?” The better thing, the braver thing, to say is that I am blessed and fortunate beyond measure to be surrounded by masters who are willing to share what they know. Same circumstances, different choice in outlook.
While I’m still not into pursuing difficult tasks simply because they are difficult, that outlook easily slips towards seeking to abstain from all difficulty and challenge even in the pursuit of the beautiful, worthy, and necessary things. Why climb uphill towards the sun when it’s easier to just roll on down?
So maybe marathons and climbing Everest are your beautiful things. Climbing or running or watercolors or carpentry or artisanal goat cheese is the thing that makes your heart beat. You’re not necessarily great at it, but you love it. And you can see what greatness looks like so maybe you’ve got a little bit of a north star to get you there. Go for that thing. And make all the mistakes it takes to get you there.
Last Saturday I took another class with the awesome women behind Made to Create Pacific Northwest. Next to the class that taught me to shoot in manual mode, I think this is the class where I experienced the most “Aha!” moments. Things are beginning to gel.
The night before class I had crazy anxiety dreams. I don’t have anxiety dreams. Ever. I’m naturally not an anxious person (probably due to the tendency I have to avoid challenging situations). However, that Friday night my sleep brain worked through all the possible terrible scenarios. You were relieved to walk in and find a smaller group than normal? Too bad! They’ve expanded the class size to 30! You’re sure you packed all your gear? Sucks to be you because your only battery is still charging on the kitchen counter! You’ve been sick the last several days, but are finally feeling better? Nope! You barf. Excited to see only friendly faces? Bummer because that one lady that was really harsh and mean to you that one time is back! And she’s totally stocked up on snarky condescension. You love predictability and are excited that you’ve got a few of these classes under your belt and know how they run? Well, too dang bad because a Greek Orthodox priest stops by and wonders if the class wouldn’t mind joining vespers. He needs some folks to round out the attendance and Candice, who’s leading the class, is very optimistic that vespers will help our photography. Except on the way in we all get separated and then everyone leaves without me and I end up wandering a cobblestone plaza after dark all alone.
Ugh. My brain. In the reality of my waking hours, however, everything was dreamy in exactly the way you’d hope. Batteries were not forgotten, groups were smaller than normal, faces friendlier, stomachs completely settled, and classes uninterrupted by orthodox services. It was a great day. The sweetest little family modeled for us. Candice, Devon, and Chelle talked us through all kinds of light and terms and tricks and then guided us through several different lighting set-ups. I loved every minute, from Devon’s giant hug when I walked in the door to chatting with people I’d met at other classes about lenses and life and to capturing several images I’m excited about. Here are a few:
This is Alex, Nick, and little Avery.
It is scary to say, “Look! I did this thing!” when there are thousands of other people out there doing that exact same thing but a million times better. However, I feel like if we even spend 5 to 10% of our time doing the scary, brave thing and 90% just pushing through life we’d already be ahead of the game. Bravery would beget bravery and bleed into other areas, so 10% would become 11%, 11% would become 12% and 13% and 25% and 50% and then someday all your time would be spent authentically and without any fear-based decisions.
I look at those photos and I see all kinds of things I’d change. There are other decisions that should or could have been made regarding composition and camera settings and whatnot, but these are pictures I could not have taken a year ago. Heck, I couldn’t have taken them last Friday. They are beautiful and they were worth the pursuit. The skills and knowledge I have now that will impact whatever photos I take next are beautiful and worth the pursuit. My expanded capacity to handle difficulty and struggle is beautiful and worth the pursuit.
So…maybe I was wrong about that marathon and Everest thing. Maybe the challenge is worth it simply because it is a challenge. Practicing grace through struggle and diligence in a challenge when you have a choice prepares you to do the same in a challenge when you don’t. I’m still only traveling 26.2 miles on wheels, though. Preferably wheels with a motor. Or on foot over the course of many days…many, many days.