Today, I want to tell you how a seemingly simple thing – a photo – came into being. But zooming out (see what I did there?), it’s really about how opportunity happens.
I’m the kind of person who never had trouble with those old creative writing exercises where you were supposed to find comparisons between two seemingly dissimilar objects. A boot and a wedding ring. A lamp and a compass. That sort of thing. In fact, this kind of associative thinking comes rather naturally to me.
My brain is always on the go, making connections that few others, if any, see. And sometimes this happens so fast that, in energized conversation exchanges, my brain is tripping along so fast that I often make apparent non sequiturs. You might have just commented that it blows your mind how a certain song on the radio could ever have become a hit, and I’ll say, “Speaking of which, did you know that Elvis Costello’s first band, before the Attractions, was called Clover and later became Huey Lewis and the News?”
Now, this doesn’t seem to have a logical connection, I realize, other than the tangential connection that your comment had to do with music. But in my head, “blow my mind” made me think of Toni Basil’s 1982 one-hit-wonder “Mickey” (“Hey, Mickey, you’re so fine. / You’re so fine you blow my mind, / Hey, Mickey!”), which made me think of Mickey Mouse, which made me think of Donald Duck, which made me think of Donald’s nephews – Huey, Dewey and Louie – which made me think of Huey Lewis, which made me think of having read earlier that day that his band used to be called Clover and played on Elvis Costello’s first album.
And so you see, it all makes perfect sense.
Now, please know, as I talk about in The Best Advice So Far, I do make every effort to tune in to what others are saying in the moment; but, again, if I’m with a friend and the conversation is rapid-fire, I can experience these “chain thoughts” and not even realize it until my friend is giving me that look, as if to say, “Um … you’re doing it again.”
Well, today, my friend, I am going to share with you a sequence of events that occurred in a domino effect leading to a photo shoot that occurred on Wednesday of this week. (And for the grammarians among us, let me say right now that I plan to use run-ons gratuitously, because I think they’ll best convey the feeling of how fast-paced and “swimmy” it all went down. Don’t hate.)
There is always more to do when you’re an author and speaker. That is to say, there will never be a time when there is nothing left to do. For me, there’s keeping up with this blog, of course, which I post to weekly (and try to do each Friday, though of late, that’s gotten a little slippery). There are relationships to be built and conversations to be had, guest posts to write, interviews to set up. There are leads to pursue for speaking engagements. I’ve started recording the audio-book, which is still a ways from done, though I’d really wanted to have it out in the early fall. I’ve even started into the writing of a second book (shhh, don’t tell).
And this is all at a point in time when relatively little is happening by way of travel, heavy booking, etc. Still, some things always seem to slide off the plate. One of those things has been getting professional photos taken.
Inside the book, I used a personal picture of me, which a friend took as I stood on the balcony in our Paris flat, looking out at the Eiffel Tower for the first time. She had said, “Stunning, isn’t it?” and when I turned around, answering with a smile and slightly glassy eyes, she took the picture. It was a real moment, unposed and unrehearsed, and so I used it because it felt “right” somehow, in conjunction with the mood of the book. But I’ve known from the start of things that I’d eventually need to get “real” photos taken. Still, it’s just one of those things that seems to always get moved to the back burner.
As I say, book-related stuff keeps me busy. But in addition to writing and speaking, I live a very full life. There’s the ongoing mentoring, graphic design, a web start-up venture I’ve got my hands into, and various other irons in fires at all times. Presently, one of those things has been putting together a web site for a friend who is a visual artist.
Well, one day not too far back, I got a Facebook message from someone named Peter, whom I didn’t know. Peter told me he had been referred by the aforementioned friend as someone who might be able to help him with a website for his own photography work. Honestly, I had already taken on too many side projects and was honest with Peter that I just didn’t have the time to take on another site build; but I invited him to check back with me and see where things stood in January perhaps.
Somehow, talk of the website led to my asking questions, which led to talk about choices in life (I know, you’re shocked), which got us talking about topics in the book, which our mutual friend had already recommended to Peter after having read it himself.
Well, the questions and the conversation continued here and there online until one day, just a couple of weeks back, Peter mentioned that he was soon to be 45 and that this had prompted him to write some overdue thoughts of appreciation to people in his life. I asked how he would celebrate, and he said some friends were throwing a party for him, but that he wasn’t much for being out and about as of late, especially since it would mean being the center of attention. Kind of in passing (and, I figured, just to be polite), he invited me to come to his party, though, of course, he realized it was a long drive and I wouldn’t know anyone and it might be weird. I made no commitment, but told him “maybe I’ll surprise you,” and that I would at least wish him a Happy Birthday on the day.
To be honest, after that, I really hadn’t given much thought to going to the party, which was over an hour’s drive away, in a neighboring state (though I did mark my calendar to keep my promise of wishing Peter a Happy Birthday). But when the day arrived, a few realizations struck me.
The first realization was that I had been choosing to allow busyness to rob me of spending quality time with real people recently, and that’s the opposite of what I believe and who I want to be.
Second, while I encourage others to intentionally do something new and outside their comfort zones on a regular basis, it had been a while since I’d done so myself (again, due to allowing myself to get into a perpetually-busy cycle).
And finally, Peter seemed at a place in his life where it would genuinely be encouraging if I were to show up.
So I decided I was going to this party – to wish Happy Birthday to someone I’d never met, and to be surrounded by strangers who would all know everyone else there but me. I signed a copy of the book as a gift, hopped in my car and headed off to Newport, following my phone’s GPS.
Oh, and I did decide it was going to be a surprise.
I arrived about an hour past the start time of 8:00 PM, thinking I’d stay for twenty minutes or so and then head back home again. On my way up the relatively dark walkway to the small courtyard, which was lit only by the light emanating from the windows of the house, it just so happened that Peter was the first person I saw. He saw me, blinked a couple of times in silence, and then simply said, “You came!”
It seemed pretty natural to give this guy a hug, so I did. And then it became immediately clear that I was going to have my memory for faces and names (which is legendary in some parts) put to the test. Within one minute, I had met not only Peter, but Jess and Reggie and Chris and Nick. And within 30 minutes, I’d met another couple dozen really cool people (which got interesting, as a second Nick and second Lauren and second Dan arrived).
Conversation moved quickly from general introductions to deep, personal and important stuff. I swear, I don’t push for this type of thing; it just … happens somehow (though, to be fair, I suppose it might have tipped the curiosity scale a bit when people asked, “So how do you know Peter?” and my honest answer was “I don’t; I just met him tonight”).
Dan #1 has the craziest job: fixing one type of radio gizmo on submarines (yes, that’s his entire specialty, what he does all day at work)!
And I learned from Katie what gyrokinesis is and why it’s her passion, and why she speaks with an unidentifiable world accent even though she was born and raised in Pennsylvania.
I found out about an unusual production of The Nutcracker that happens each year in a room-by-room tour of a Newport mansion, from the dance troupe who stopped in after the evening’s performance, still in make-up.
Ian asked what my book was about, and I told him it was about the fact that you always have a choice, and that living as though you have no choice leaves you in the perpetual yet unnecessary role of victim; and Cara stepped in and said, “You’re exactly right!” and we got to talking later about past hurts and about the personal freedom that comes with forgiveness.
And when I finally left the party more than four hours later, I’d learned a lot and had my world expanded; and I exchanged information with people, and we’ve kept in touch.
And I felt very alive.
Well, let us not forget about the party’s guest of honor, Peter. Since he was the main attraction, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to talk one-on-one that night. But things shifted in a positive new direction, just for my having showed up to his party. Peter expressed wishing we’d had more time to talk, and I said it just takes making a plan. And somehow, in the plan-making, I told Peter how much I enjoyed his photography style and asked how much a shoot might be. But Peter said he’d love to do a photo shoot with me, and that he’d be happy to do it for free, even though I argued that I wanted to value his art and expertise, but he insisted it be a gift for a new friend.
Yeah, so the short version is this: I finally got publicity pictures done this week.
But the long version is so much cooler, because it illustrates so many of the points I write and speak about: choice, taking positive social risks, treating people as people and not just background props on the “stage of me.” In fact, Nick (a young man who has been one of Peter’s go-to models for shoots) and I got to talking pretty deeply that night about life and choice and what being present really means. And I suggested that being present means being ready – making sure you are in a frame of mind to receive and to give at the same time, much like he and I were doing in that moment.
People say that “opportunity knocks.” But I don’t think it does. Opportunity in this sense is a personification, not a living entity. Opportunity has no mind. It makes no choices. People make choices. Therefore, it is people who create opportunities – or miss them – based on the choices we make.
The choice to remain perpetually busy or to make time for the people around us.
The choice to walk the same route over and over again, or to try something new.
The choice to stay on the surface or to dive a little deeper.
The choice to be me-focused or others-focused.
The choice to hide or to be known.
This is the story of how I got my shot.
So how will you get your next shot in life?
Thanks, Peter, for your friendship, generosity and willingness to take chances; and thanks to all of the “party people” who made the new guy feel welcome, and many of whom have since taken chances of your own.