Embrace the Chaos

When I was a child my parents took me to a local book fair held inside a school gymnasium. I was so excited because even at a young age, and despite the fact that I wasn’t a very good reader, I loved books. They told stories. Stories that would fill my imagination with wonderful heroes, dark lands, and far-off adventures.

So as I wanted into the book fair and saw the gym filled with book vendors of every kind, standing behind folding tables decorated, and piled high with books, I could barely contain my excitement. I had every intention of finding a story to read.

At the time I was really into “choose your own adventure” books and had my heart set on finding a few new ones to add to my meager collection, but as I walked along the rows and rows of book vendors a book caught my attention. I was a white journal with Yoda on the cover in a cartoon image. I had not intended to get a journal, and truth be told I had never written in a journal before, but there was something about this book that drew me to it. So with the small allowance I had saved, I purchased my very first journal.

I had grown up watching my father write in a journal regularly, and I was excited to be doing something that emulated him, so when I got home I took my journal to my room, sat down at my little desk, a desk that used to belong to my father as a child, and began to write my first page…

I don’t remember what I wrote, to be honest, but I remember hating it. It wasn’t right, it didn’t look like my dad’s journal pages, my handwriting was messy, and my thoughts were dumb. The bottom line…it wasn’t perfect.

In a frustrated fit, I remember ripping the 1st page out of the journal, because if it wasn’t perfect it didn’t deserve to exist. So I crumpled up the paper, tossed it over my shoulder, and turned back to the journal to try again. Again and again, I tried to write, and again and again, I kept ripping pages out, all because I was under the misguided idea that if what I created wasn’t perfect it didn’t deserve to exist.

After doing this over and over again for some time I now had a new problem. I had ripped so many pages out of the journal that the inside spine was now scared, damaged, and clearly missing pages. The journal no longer looked nice. The journal was no longer perfect.

I tried to fix it, but the damage was done. In my quest for perfection, I had destroyed the very object that just a few hours before had brought me so much happiness and excitement. This idea of perfectionism and the notion that if it wasn’t perfect it didn’t deserve to exist would follow me for many years to come, and many more journals fell to this misguided idea.

But it wasn’t just journals, I threw away photos I had taken, stories I had written, song recordings I had done, and so much more. If I couldn’t be “perfect” in a certain class, I would just stop trying. If I couldn’t be perfect at a new skill I just wouldn’t learn.

Over and over again I would lose out on so many things because in my mind anything that wasn’t perfect didn’t deserve to exist.

Thankfully, I eventually learned that I was wrong and that perfectionism is nothing worth striving for. Perfectionism is a myth. A myth that doesn’t really exist. No one can achieve perfectionism, in any aspect of their life or talent. And while it may look like people can, from the outside looking in, there is always room for people to grow.

The trick is to abandon the idea that you need to be perfect in anything and instead embrace the chaos that is this life. Life is messy, disorganized, chaotic, and so much more, but it is within that very chaos that real beauty, real art, and real impact actually live.

So to whoever is reading this… in regards to whatever you are trying to be perfect at, regardless of if it is just living life like being a good parent, child, teacher, or student or a form of art like photography, painting, writing, makeup, acting, and more, or a discipline like academia, science, mathematics, etc. Remember this…

Perfectionism has destroyed more good things than it has ever created. Embrace the chaos. You deserve to exist.

Embracing the Journey

As an artist, I believe that it’s essential to revisit your old creations and compare them with your current ones. In this world, we have a lot of talented people who may not always see the value in their work. They might even think that their creations are terrible, worthless, or not good enough. Despite this, they keep trying, keep practicing, and keep sharing their work. This kind of perseverance is bravery in action.

I recall a few years ago when I received an invitation to visit a local video game bar in Orlando, FL. They were hosting a Star Wars Day celebration and had encouraged everyone to attend dressed up in their best Star Wars costumes. As a photographer, I arrived there eager to capture some amazing photos of the attendees carrying light sabers.

Once I got back home, I edited the photos using the skills I had acquired up until that point. The outcome of my effort was not terrible, but it was clear that there were a lot of mistakes and things that I could have done better. However, I choose to look at those photos as a stepping stone to where I am today, and not as a source of self-criticism.

Admittedly, many people scrutinize their past work every day and berate themselves for not doing better. But, for me, it’s important to acknowledge that my past work was a vital part of my learning journey that brought me to where I am today. I am proud of the fact that I took those photos and used all the skills that I had at the time. And, more importantly, I was willing to keep learning and acquiring new skills as time went on to continue improving.

If I hadn’t continued to learn, I would not have been able to take and edit the stunning photos that I took of my wife this year on Star Wars Day. These pictures are a testament to the progress that I have made as a photographer and artist. And, for that, I choose to celebrate my past work instead of belittling it.

Breaking Free: Why Asking ‘Why?’ is Essential for Personal Growth and Change

As a photographer, I often reflect on how we are conditioned to suppress our curiosity and accept the status quo. This conditioning starts from a young age, where we are discouraged from asking “why” and labeled as a burden or nag if we persist. Truth be told, most adults don’t have the patience for children, and they make it clear to them, most of the time their own children, that they are in the way, and talking too much. This lesson is learned young and is never easy to shake off.

As we grow older, we are told that certain things are just the way they are, and questioning them can lead to unpleasant consequences. As a teenager, we might question why things are the way they are. For example, why do teenagers have to wake up so early to go to school? Why is our life filled with activities but not rest? Why don’t adults have as many activities as teenagers? Why are we being forced to figure out our career, school, marriage, relationships, and religion, all at a young age, with little experience and without even knowing who we are yet? When we ask, we’re told that’s just how it’s always been done.

It’s disheartening to see people give up on asking “why” as they become adults. We might learn not to ask “why” because the other person could become dangerous or erratic. When we ask our partner why they expect us to remind them to do the dishes, they might accuse us of being things we never were. When we question our boss why we have to work from an office for a job we can do better from home, we might be accused of playing lazy. And when we question why priests and religious leaders are still allowed to be alone around children, we’re told to just have faith.

But deep down, we want to ask “why.” We wonder why we can’t do more for a better environment or cut interest from student debt. We question why we have to settle down, have kids, and own a house. And we wonder why we have to balance-beam walk across our lives, careful and patient.

As a photographer, I believe in using my art to challenge these societal norms and inspire people to ask “why” more often. Through my lens, I hope to capture moments that challenge the status quo and inspire others to take action. Whether it’s through capturing the beauty of a person who has never received positive support or affirmation in their life or challenging the norm of women being told to cover up by insecure men, I believe that photography can be a powerful tool for sparking change.

I hope that by capturing these moments and sharing them with others, I can inspire more people to ask “why” and challenge the status quo. Because only through questioning and challenging the status quo can we create a better world for ourselves and future generations. It’s time to break free from the conditioning that tells us to accept things as they are and start asking “why” more often.

Embracing Brokenness: Finding Strength in Kintsugi and the Wisdom of Rocky

Life can be tough. It can knock you down and keep you there if you let it. But it’s not about how hard you get hit, it’s about how you get back up and keep moving forward. This is a lesson I learned firsthand during my divorce.

It was a dark time in my life, and I struggled to find hope and meaning in the midst of the pain and chaos. But then I discovered Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer and gold, emphasizing the beauty of the broken and imperfect.

The idea of embracing my brokenness and seeing it as a source of beauty and strength gave me hope and a sense of purpose. I began to see my scars as something to be proud of, as they were a testament to my resilience and ability to keep going even when things were tough.

I never really talked about this small glimmer of hope I found during that dark time, so you can imagine my surprise and delight when I received an invitation to do a photoshoot that emphasized Kintsugi. It was as if the universe was reminding me to keep going and to not be ashamed of my damaged and broken parts.

During the photoshoot, I thought about the quote from Rocky that says, “Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”

Those words resonated with me deeply. Life may be tough, but I am tougher. I am not defined by my scars or my brokenness, but by my ability to keep going and to keep moving forward. And so are you.

Remember that the next time life knocks you down. Embrace your brokenness and see it as a source of strength and beauty. Keep moving forward and don’t be afraid to take the hits, because that’s how winning is done.

Living Life on Your Own Terms: The Challenges and Rewards of Pursuing Your Passion

The world we live in is constantly changing, and not necessarily in ways that benefit the human race. Survival has become a challenge, and the odds seem to be stacked against the vast majority of us. We work hard to make a living and support ourselves, but the compensation we receive often doesn’t reflect the effort we put in. Companies demand year-over-year growth to their profits, yet the employees who help them achieve those increases are often not compensated accordingly. We’re stuck in a cycle where the cost of living continues to rise, but our salaries remain stagnant.

A photo taken by me in downtown Orlando while touring Orlando on a Ghost Tour

It’s a harsh reality, but one that many of us face. And yet, there are still those who choose to take control of their lives and pursue their passions. They’re the ones who switch careers multiple times throughout their lives, who take risks and try to live life on their own terms. I’m one of those people.

I started my career as an EMT, then moved into Occupational Health and Safety. After that, I transitioned into Sales and Account Management before finally settling on freelance photography as my full-time profession. It’s a decision I don’t regret, but it hasn’t been an easy path.

There are many benefits to being a full-time freelance photographer. I make my own schedule, choose who I want to work with, and don’t have to ask anyone permission to take time off or go on vacation. But there are also downsides. Finding clients can be difficult, cash flow isn’t always guaranteed, and there’s a constant feeling that I should always be working.

One of the biggest challenges of being self-employed is the pressure to constantly make ends meet. Bills don’t stop just because you have a slow month, and the companies you owe money to have to make those year-over-year profits, right? It’s a reality that many entrepreneurs face, but it’s not often talked about.

Starting a business is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of hard work, sleepless nights, and anxiety-filled hours. But for those who choose this path, the reward is the ability to live life on their own terms. They’re able to pursue their passions and make a living doing something they love.

Is it worth it? That’s a question only each individual can answer for themselves. For me, I want to say yes, but I am still new at all this and my final answer isn’t in yet. I’m willing to take the risks and face the challenges that come with being self-employed because the alternative is to live a life that feels unfulfilling. I want to make a difference in the world, to leave a positive impact, and pursuing my passion as a freelance photographer allows me to do that.

The world may not be made for the human race to live, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of it. We may face challenges, but with hard work and perseverance, we can create the life we want to live. We can pursue our passions and make a difference in the world. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

3 Book Series EVERY Man Should Read

Growing up, we are often bombarded with societal expectations of what it means to be a “real” man. We are told to be strong, stoic, and always have it together. I myself grew up being told over and over again “When I was a child I thought as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things.” The first time I can remember my Father telling me that was shortly after I turned 8 years old. But let’s face it, life is messy, and sometimes we need to let loose and have some fun.

When I was younger, I had this idea that being a man meant I had to be serious all the time. I thought I had to let go of my childhood hobbies and interests and focus on “mature” activities. But the truth is, being a man is not about conforming to outdated stereotypes or what society thinks we should be. It’s about being true to ourselves and embracing the things that make us happy.

For me, that meant embracing my inner geek and diving back into my love for Dungeons and Dragons. It also meant allowing myself to indulge in my favorite movies and books, no matter how silly or childish they may seem to others. And you know what? It felt good. It reminded me that being an adult doesn’t mean we have to give up the things we love.

So, to all the men out there who feel like they have to conform to society’s expectations, I urge you to let go of those notions and embrace the things that make you happy. Whether it’s playing video games, reading comic books, or watching cheesy rom-coms, do what makes you happy. Life is too short to live it according to someone else’s standards.

And on that note, here are a few book recommendations that I believe every man (or anyone, really) should read:

  1. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi – This science fiction novel explores a future where humanity has colonized the stars and follows protagonist John Perry as he joins the military at the age of 75 to fight for the future of the human race.
  2. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher – As you mentioned, this urban fantasy series follows Harry Dresden, a professional wizard and private investigator in Chicago. The series is action-packed, full of humor, and will keep you on the edge of your seat.
  3. The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne – This fantasy series follows the adventures of Atticus O’Sullivan, the last of the Druids, as he navigates through supernatural dangers and encounters gods, goddesses, and other mythical beings.

Remember, reading is a personal and subjective experience. Don’t let anyone tell you what books you should or should not read. Instead, focus on finding books that you enjoy and that make you happy.

Ultimately, I learned that being a man is not about adhering to rigid stereotypes or societal expectations. It’s about being true to yourself and embracing the things that make you happy, even if they involve wizards, dragons, or spaceships. And let’s be real, who wouldn’t want to ride a dragon into battle or blast off into the galaxy with a motley crew of misfits? So go ahead, embrace your inner geek, and revel in the wonder of fiction and fantasy. After all, life is too short to take ourselves too seriously!

Why I Keep Seeking Approval from People Who Don’t Give Me the Time of Day: A Personal Journey

Why do I do this to myself? Why do I put myself through the emotional wringer of seeking the approval of someone who clearly couldn’t care less about me? I mean, seriously, why do we as human beings feel the need to seek validation from people who don’t give us even the smallest bit of effort? It’s a mystery that has plagued me for far too long.

So, I was recently hired to take photos of a product that I’ve been using since I was 15. I was thrilled about the opportunity, thinking that this would be the moment that this person would finally take notice of me and be proud of me. Yeah, I know, I should have known better. But did I listen to that little voice in my head? Of course not. I went ahead and sent this person a sample of my photos, hoping for a response, a reaction, anything. And what did I get? Absolutely nothing. Zilch. Nada. It was like I was sending my photos into the void.

But, you know what they say, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So, here I am, once again, feeling like a complete moron for seeking the approval of someone who has shown me time and time again that they don’t care. It’s like I can’t help myself.

Why do we as human beings put so much importance on the opinions of people who don’t make an effort in our lives? It’s time to take a step back and ask ourselves what’s really going on here. Our worth and value as individuals come from within, not from the validation of others. So, let’s stop setting ourselves up for disappointment and start focusing on our own self-esteem.

Seeking approval from others is a natural part of being human, but it’s important to understand that our worth doesn’t depend on the validation of others. We must focus on our own self-esteem and recognize that we are valuable and deserving of love and respect, regardless of the opinions of others. And if all else fails, we can always fall back on sarcasm to help us get through the tough times. Because, let’s be real, sometimes sarcasm is the only thing that gets us through life.

A self-portrait – This painting was hanging in The Orlando Museum of Art and I was drawn to it.

2023: A New Year Full of Hope and Possibility

It’s been a while since I felt this hopeful about a new year. Over the years, life has thrown its fair share of challenges my way, from financial stress to divorce and moving. But this year, something felt different. As I entered 2023, I felt a renewed sense of optimism and hope for what was to come.

I don’t want to jinx it, but January was a pretty good month for me. Although there were certainly some tough moments, overall, it was a positive start to the new year. One of the biggest highlights was having two big clients pay their invoices in full and on time. This was a big win for me, as it provided a financial boost and a sense of stability that I haven’t felt in a while.

In addition to the financial stability, my work queue is also filled with exciting new opportunities. I’ve been asked to do product photography for some fantastic companies, and before the day had even finished, I had already booked another client for double my standard rate. It’s clear that 2023 is off to a good start, and I’m feeling confident about the year ahead.

For many years, my word for the year has been “peace.” This is the first year in a long time that I feel like I’m finally closing in on that goal. The financial stability and new work opportunities have provided a sense of peace and calm that I haven’t felt in a while. I’m no longer worrying about how I’m going to pay the bills or where my next job is coming from. Instead, I’m focusing on the present moment and all the exciting things that the future holds.

Of course, I’m realistic enough to know that 2023 won’t be all sunshine and rainbows. There will certainly be tough moments, and there will be times when I feel overwhelmed and stressed. But I’m approaching the year with a sense of hope and positivity that I haven’t felt in a while. I’m ready to tackle the challenges that come my way and embrace the opportunities that the year presents.

So, here’s to a new year filled with hope, adventure, and peace. Let’s see what 2023 has in store! I’m excited to see what the future holds, and I’m confident that this will be a year to remember.

Mental Health Exercises For Photographers

Yesterday I talked about how photography helped me with my own personal mental health. Today I would like to talk about specific ideas and exercises one might do, as a photographer, to improve their own mental health. Now, before we get started let me be clear, these are just suggestions, not law. The difference between an idea and law is that ideas are moldable. They can be changed, evolved, improved upon, and made better. So I encourage all of you reading to take my ideas and make them your own. I would even love to hear about how you have improved on these ideas on my Patreon, Twitter, Instagram, or Vero. So without further ado here are some mental health exercises for photographers.

Go On A Photo Walk-About

The first time I ever heard the term walk-about was watching the movie, Crocodile Dundee. The main character explained that it was a time to just walk around and think. No real direction or destination. You just kind of go where your feet take you. Going on a photography walk-about is not much different. You just pick a place and walk, camera in hand, and take pictures as you go. Some of my favorite walkabouts were in Cleaveland OH while there on a work trip, a local nature trail here in Orlando, and weirdly enough Disneyland. Some of my best photos ever taken have come from walkabouts, and I always feel a little better afterward both mentally and physically.

Work Through You Emotions With Self Portraits

In 2019 I decided to start taking self-portraits. I did this because I did not have a lot of good photos of myself, and I wanted some, and there were things I wanted to express that I thought I could through self-portrait photography. After I had created my first 5 or 6 self-portraits a friend told me something that I will never forget. She said that while the photos were good they lacked depth, emotion, and vulnerability, and that is what she wanted to see. So I sat down and wrote out some emotions that I have always struggled with. Emotions that I often tried to hide, but occasionally bubbled up to the surface in unhealthy ways, and decide to take a photo of those emotions. The one that really stuck with me was the photos I took of anger. Taking the photo and talking on Instagram about how anger had affected my life in the past brought a great deal of peace and closure to me. It helped me to see things about myself I had not seen before and helped me gain even greater control, in a healthy way, over my emotions.

Learn To See Art In The Ordinary and Mundane

There is this idea that we only see a small percentage of the world around us. We are bombarded by so many things that our brains can only process so much, otherwise, we would get overwhelmed and die. Because of that filter, we have on the world we often overlook or miss small things that carry great beauty. A few months ago I started taking the time to find those small items that we often overlook and turn them into beautiful works of art with nothing more than my camera and a bit of light editing. My favorite image that I have created in this endeavor so far is the one below. My wife had been doing some arts and crafts earlier and had left some colored pencils on our coffee table. I gathered up the pencils and put them inside a shot glass so they would all be held together. Using a chair I took a photo of them from overhead and this image turned into one of my most liked photos on any social media platform I am currently on. Art…made from the most simple object…a pencil.

I hope you enjoyed these mental health exercises for photographers. These are a few ideas I employ to help my mental health and I have found them helpful. What are some ways that you have used photography for your mental health? I’d love to hear! In the meantime make sure you are signed up for my newsletter where I share things that are newsletter exclusive. For example this week I will be sharing 3 great tips to take great photos with your phone!

Till next time – Keep taking great photos.

Can Photography Help Mental Health

I always thought it a weird joke the universe was playing on me when I think back on the worst day of my life. It was April 1, 2009 (April Fools Day), and I was planning to kill myself.

I have struggled with mental health most of my life. Growing up I never really felt safe. School was honestly a form of cruel and unusual torture as I was plagued by both students and teachers for most of my grade school and middle school career. And while some people had the blessing of being able to go home and find peace I was not graced with that option. Home was a place of violent emotional outbursts, unrealistic expectations, dishonesty, and religious brainwashing. So when I tell you I grew up in survival mode you can at least have a vague understanding.

When someone grows up in survival mode it’s extremely difficult for them to be present in the moment. Their brains are operating at 110% all the time analyzing every interaction, motion, word, and phrase. Looking for dangers, and planning out how they will react when the inevitable danger appears. It is an exhausting way to live, and one of the most difficult trauma responses to unlearn.

I carried much of this flight or fight hyper-vigilance into adulthood and I will be honest it ruined a lot of relationships, friendships, and opportunities. So when my world came crashing down around me on April 1, 2009 I thought I was done. I was tired, exhausted, and just didn’t see a way out. More importantly, I just didn’t want to live like that anymore. So I pulled out my gun, loaded it, and decided to have one last night before the end. I ordered my favorite Chinese food (sesame chicken with fried rice & a coke), cleaned up my apartment (no idea why), and decided to listen to some music. Now at the time, I had a 500-disc CD player, and it was fully loaded with CDs from 500 different artists. I picked up the remote and hit shuffle…what happened next will forever be one of the biggest surprises of my life!

This is the bullet that was supposed to take me out in 2009. I have carried it as a reminder of that night ever since.

Suicide rates are something no one really talks about. Out of 100,000 people, 13 will commit suicide. That comes out to 130 suicides per day and men have 69.98% of that statistic. Now that is just how many succeed in committing suicide. In 2020 there were 1.2 million REPORTED attempts, and we can assume that that number is higher because not everyone reports their attempt.

I never reported mine, in fact, I didn’t talk about it or tell anyone about it for years. It took me a while to come to grips with what happened. How it happened, and why it happened. Why me?

So there I was, sitting on the couch, eating sesame chicken and sipping on a coke. I had just hit shuffle on my CD player and the VERY FIRST song to come on was a song called Birthday by The Cruxshadows. Now I won’t quote the entire song to you, but I will quote the lyrics that hit me like a ton of bricks…

“So look at your life
Who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life
And what do you want to do?
Look at your life
Who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life
You haven’t got forever”

The Cruxshadows

I heard those lyrics and realized I did not want this to be my last night on earth. I wanted more, and to live a better life. So I unloaded my gun and put it away.

Now I wish I could tell you that the next day I woke up a changed man…I didn’t. I wish I could tell you the next day was better…It wasn’t…in fact, it was worse. But I knew I wanted to get better, and I had a long journey in front of me. I started going to therapy, reading good books, and making changes in my life. It did not happen all at once. It did not even happen quickly. But eventually, those small changes had a compound effect and my life started to improve.

One of the changes that came into my life a few years later was photography. Social media had introduced me to so many beautiful and stunning images online, and I desperately wanted to create beautiful images myself. I had no idea how, or what I was doing, but photography had sparked something inside me. A fire that was never going to go out. I started taking pictures of anything and everything. Some were good, most were ok, and a few were really bad. But I didn’t care. Picking up a camera was a near meditative experience for me.

See when you grow up in survival mode, and eventually, learn to live in survival mode your brain never stops running. It moves at the speed of a supercomputer always looking for danger and popping out ideas of how to deal with that imagined danger. But when I put a camera in my hand my brain stopped looking for dangers. It took a break and for the first time in my entire life, I could be present 100% in the moment. No what ifs. Just me, my camera, and whatever I was shooting.

After living a lifetime in survival mode this reprieve from my brain was/is an experience I have difficulty describing. I remember trying to explain this to my best friend once and saying “Is this how normal people live?! Because if so they have no idea how wonderful their lives are!!”

So can photography help people suffering from mental health? Yes! It has not only given me a haven to help ease my troubled mind but has allowed me the opportunity to express difficult emotions that I could never express before.

I will never understand what happened that night on April 1, 2009. Why out of all those CDs did the machine pick that one CD and that one song? Was it a higher power? If so why me?

I will probably never know the answers to those questions, but what I do know is I am grateful I did not pull the trigger that night. I am grateful I eventually discovered photography, and I am grateful I now get to create beautiful images and share them…Just like I wanted to so many years ago.