By Dave Brosha
So before I begin, let me just say that I’m totally guilty of something. But as much as this “thing” I’m guilty of seemingly contradicts the title of this article, give me – if you will – a few minutes to explain why it doesn’t.
So what am I guilty of? Well, basically, a lot of deep conversations with me go sort of along the following lines. Some would call it a “Daveism”. It’s just what I do, and will probably always do.
In fact, I just did it to someone last week. A really good friend. It probably wasn’t the first time I did it. I know I did it to Joel Robison once, too.
Only we weren’t really good friends at that time— We had just met ten minutes earlier. I thought I was making nice conversation… He probably thought this was the most intense “Hello, how are you?” ever.
I digress. The convo that I refer to goes along the lines of:
Me: “….So, hey, can I ask you a question?”
Unsuspecting Person: “Sure!” (at this point they think I’m going to ask them about what they like at Starbucks.)
Me: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Unsuspecting Person: “Um….er…..um….”
(Insert awkward silence.)
I ask this question a lot. I’ll admit it. I ask if of many of my students, my mentees, good friends, and basically anyone who gets into a conversation with me that’s deeper than the forecasted rain for next Tuesday.
Why? Well, I’m a curious person, for one. I also like learning about people and think a good conversation isn’t one where you proceed to talk for 30 minutes and then come up for a gulp of air only to dive into 30 more minutes talking about yourself. I learned, once, that asking and listening is a far more powerful tool in this world than most people give it credit for.
Really, though, the reason I ask this question is that quite simply most people have never been asked it. And as a result, they’ve never really thought about the answer. And when they do think about the answer, all kinds of wonderful usually happens.
As a listener, it often gives me great insight into who the person is.
Are they practical? Focused? A dreamer? A drifter? Dedicated? Lost? Troubled? Unhappy? Deeply satisfied? There’s so much you can learn from people when you ask questions, and I like knowing about people.
Not because I’m trying to gain something from them— usually it’s just that I’m genuinely curious about what makes people tick. But I also have made a career as an educator and people often come to me seeking some form of advice; in that capacity, I think it’s really important that I know as much as possible about where a person has been and where they think they’re going.
This is one of the most honest questions I ever ask anyone, and it’s a question I ask myself fairly frequently: most creatives, myself included—rightly or wrongly— have “progression” as a mantra, and are always looking to push themselves forward. Forward in terms of creating better art. Or forward in terms of a better bottom line on the bank statement.
Looking ahead to the future in many ways fires me up. It gives me a long list of goals and objectives and whenever I think five years to the future of my ideal “dream place” in my career, or in life, I usually “come down” from that train of thought with a nice dose of inspiration. For those that believe in “putting things out into the universe and they will find their way back to you”, the idea of looking ahead and envisioning a certain version of the future for yourself can certainly be a powerful tool.
Asking this question of someone else, or of yourself, can lead to a great deal of introspection and can often provide a dose of reality check on what we’re putting our efforts into, the actual progress made out of the drudgery of tasks compared with the “dream life” we wish we had, and if we’ve ever truly given any thought to the answer to the question “what do I truly want out of life?”
Personally, asking this question of myself semi-frequently has lead to some of the biggest changes and “great leaps forward” in my own career.
It’s lead to transforming the nature of my business, our big moves to various places around the country (which always seem to happen at the right time, even when they’re surrounded by a great deal of uncertainty), and for me to take some of the biggest leaps in my career, even when it feels like I may be giving up security and stability for an unknown. In short, giving thought to where I want to be is often the only motivator to “go out and do”.
But is there a downside to being forward-thinking?
Is there anything wrong with NOT having a plan?
Despite all that I just finished saying, I’m going to contradict myself and say, well…
Yes. Not just a meek, mild yes, but a solid shout-it-from-the-rooftop YES!
But how? How can these two seemingly opposite “views” on life both be okay? If you don’t have a plan… Isn’t that terrible? Won’t that bog you into the mud of uncertainty and you’ll never be able to move your feet forward?
Simply put, I think there’s a danger to over-thinking, over-planning, and (excuse my grasp of the English language here), over-“goaling” your way through life.
I think there are real drawbacks in having every step of your life and your career planned out, colour-coded and labelled— task reminders meticulously drawn up for the next five years.
Why? Because sometimes when we focus too strongly on the future, we forget to live—simply put—in the Now.
We forget that each day we wake up and breath and go out and live is really infinitely more important than the day you’ll live in five years. That day in five years may never come, for starters, but you may also run into the trap of never truly appreciating your “here and now” if you’re always focused on some future state.
I’ve written in the past about the dangers of never looking around you and saying, “Wow…my life is alright”. About being so focused on the “next thing” that you never just breath deep and say “Hey, you know what…I’m doing okay!”
I’ll never stop writing about this, to be honest, because it’s a subject near and dear to my heart: I used to regularly fall victim to the never-ending cycle of “Okay, I’ve done this… But I won’t be happy until I do that!”; writing about it forces me to think about it, and when I think about what I have, in fact, accomplished I can allow myself a smile and a rare pat on the back and tell myself with some conviction, “Hey, I AM doing okay… I don’t have to base my happiness on some future accomplishment or task”.
Try it. Take a step back and really take a few minutes to look at where you’re at and I bet you anything you can find a lot of good in where you are, right here and now. Screw that, I bet you you can find a lot of GREAT.
So bottom line, I think the healthiest approach to goals and career progression and the evolution of your art isn’t one singular approach.
It, like so much in your life, is a mix. It’s a balance. It’s a dash of this spice and a pinch of that. There’s no set “recipe”.
Don’t ever shy away from goals, but don’t ever be afraid to just be okay with not knowing where you want to be, either. Because you know what… That’s okay too. It’s YOUR life. And as long as you smile and are happy with where you’re at when night falls at the end of the day: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
POSTSCRIPT: I don’t think I scared Joel off, fortunately. He’s now a pretty damn good friend.
Dave Brosha originally wrote this article for our private online photography community here at OFFBEAT. There are dozens more where that came from. If that sounds like something you like the sound of, sign up for our community!