A couple years ago, the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho kept showing up on my radar. After hearing about it several times in just a few months, I thought it must be time to read it.
The Alchemist is an allegory about a Spanish shepherd named Santiago who dreams of treasure at the Pyramids and leaves his comfortable life to pursue his destiny. Sometimes referred to as a calling, vocation, or life’s purpose, Coelho’s character, the king of Salem, calls it a Personal Legend. “It’s what you’ve always wanted to accomplish,” he says. “Whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth.”
My Personal Legend is tied to my photography. I seek to document life in order to build empathy and understanding among people because, despite surface differences, I believe we all share basic desires for love and a sense of purpose.
In working towards my Personal Legend, I have become interested in documenting people who are living theirs. After first having this idea, I pushed it to the background as the pursuit of personal work felt frivolous when faced with the obligations of every day life. However, as the king says, “To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation.” When living your Personal Legend, all the other pieces will fall into place.
I’ve decided it’s time to move my Personal Legend along with a new project: photographing a new person every day for 30 days who is following their Personal Legend. April 2016 is a great time to start. It marks the beginning of my 35th year. It leads into the arrival of my fourth child in May. In thinking about fatherhood, I feel the best thing I can offer is to teach my children to be fully themselves and live their own Personal Legends by doing so myself.
The following set of six questions will be answered by each of the subjects. I figured that since I’m asking this of others, it only made sense for me to do it myself.
1) Some people call it a “true calling” or their “life’s work.” In the book The Alchemist, author Paulo Coelho calls it your Personal Legend. What do you consider to be your true calling, or Personal Legend?
To put it broadly, I want to be a unifier. The purpose of my work is to bring people together. I want viewers to see my photos and gain an understanding, both of the subjects and of themselves. I feel that building empathy in this way can help to connect people who might never cross paths physically.
2) When did you first realize that this was your calling?
I first realized I could use a camera to communicate on an 8th grade trip to Washington D.C. I remember feeling a sense of connection to my surroundings when framing images through the viewfinder.
As I paid more attention to photography in high school, I felt a greater understanding of current and historical events through photojournalism and documentary photography. Being able to experience a moment at the same time as a photograph’s subject was much more powerful to me than any second or third-hand account I had ever heard or read. I knew I wanted to create powerful imagery as well.
3) People often become completely engrossed, losing track of time or outside concerns while performing tasks related to their calling. This might be referred to as being “in the zone” or “flow.” When do you experience this most often?
When I’m shooting. I quiet my thoughts and react to what’s happening around me. I like to experience the flow of my surroundings. When things are loud and busy I find myself moving around a lot, becoming part of the activity. When I’m in a quiet and peaceful space, I react by moving calmly and taking photos sparingly so as not to disturb the mood.
4) What is the greatest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced in pursuit of your life’s work?
In order to pursue my photography as a career, instead of as a hobby, I’ve had to learn a business mindset. This is something that wasn’t initially in my nature, but I’ve learned to look at it as another creative endeavor and that makes it much more interesting and engaging.
I used to think of “business” as a negative term. In the naivety of my college years, I thought people who studied business were simply interested in money for the sake of money. Fortunately, I got a little wiser. Or maybe it was because I married a business major. Either way, I’ve learned that knowing how to run a business is about supporting yourself and your family and giving you the means to pursue your life’s work.
5) What has pursuing your Personal Legend taught you?
What I’m learning through my Personal Legend is how to be more present in all aspects of my life. When I can take the way that I feel “in the zone” while creating images, and bring it to my personal life, it makes me a better husband, father and friend. When I’m completely present with the people around me, it brings each of us more fulfillment.
6) What piece of advice can you offer to others seeking their true calling?
The longer you wait, the harder it is to start, but it’s never impossible. As the excuses pile up, the reasons to not pursue your calling seemingly outnumber the reasons to try. But really there is only one reason to try: It’s your life’s purpose. And that one reason outweighs all others.
Pick one goal to start. Something that feels scary and a stretch, but just do it. That’s what I decided to do with this project. 30 people in 30 days. It’s a ton of work and there was a fear of failure present as I started asking people to participate, but I know that this is the right thing. In 10 days this idea has gone from conception to the first shoot day, today. There are currently 21 people on board with another 20 potential subjects.
When I finish these 30 days of this project it will lead to the next step, but until then, I can’t know what that next step is. If nothing else, I will have met a lot of new interesting and exciting people and strengthened ties with a number of amazing people I already knew.
Are you following your Personal Legend? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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