I do not remember when I first heard that saying but I know it struck a chord when I did. As you may or may not know (depending on where you are reading this), I use the saying a lot in my personal photography business.
I have learned that we all interpret saying in different ways, to me that saying means follow that stirring you feel. See where it takes you. Follow those “things”, whatever they are, that excite you for some reason.
I strongly encourage you to (and sincerely wish I had) follow the first feeling, no matter how small, just follow it. It may take you nowhere, it may take you everywhere. It may take you someplace you never expected.
At first you may not even fully understand what it is you are following, just follow it. You may not even be right about what is exciting you but follow it. You may not know exactly where you are going to end but you will be headed in the right direction. All of this goes against most of our traditional upbringing, our domestication, if you will.
Years ago, I was in Sugar Loaf, NY with a good friend exploring a place called Artist Row. I had just retired from the Army after 20 years. I knew I like places like Sugar Loaf and Artist Row. I never took the time to explore those feeling deeper than, “I liked them”. My friend and I wandered from shop to shop. We eventually came to a small gallery that sold photography. I loved what I saw. In particular, there was a print that I really like. I am not one to slow down or linger. Truth is I move to fast for my own good most times. But I lingered at this print, talked about it, even mentioned buying it. Something I had never done before. I was not the type of person to purchase prints, that just “wasn’t me”. Luckily, my good friend, being indeed a good friend, noticed all this and after the obligatory “no you shouldn’t protest” from me, bought the print for me.
Fast forward nearly a decade and a couple of nights ago I hung that print in my new photography studio. It was the second print I hung, the other being one of mine. I understand that print now. I understand what I love about it, why it appealed to me. Why I wanted it.
Ten years ago, I thought things like, I wish I could do that, that is very cool. But those thoughts went back to where they hid when I left that shop. I still loved the print but it became picture on the wall when I got home. Occasionally, but with less frequency, over the years the print and poked at the passions that were safely tucked away in the dreamer drawer.
I have had many moment like that over the last 10 years. Moment where my desire to create and photography have bubbled up, temporarily, to the surface. Always to fade back into the background as they are replaced by my more practical thoughts, as my head filled back up with my “real life”. Always lost again to the fog imposed on me years ago by a sensible upbringing, or perhaps a restrictive and sheltered upbringing (sorry Mom). I did not come from people that did things like that, that thought that way. “Those people” that did things like that were different and weird. So, I always put those thoughts back away in the weekend, vacation, impractical drawer.
As you may know, about four months ago I quit my “real job” for moral reasons and during this break I have explored my passion for photography and creating. It started slowly at first but once I started to follow the path my passion, desire, and knowledge took off. I guess to complete the analogy (is it analogy or metaphor?, I can never remember) what started off as a tentative tip toe down the path has turn into a frantic sprint, a strong want. In the last four months, I have leapt ahead into the guy I wanted to be in that gallery almost ten years ago. I started to explore the things that excite my soul. I followed those mental leads, those emotional stirrings.
As I mentioned this exploration has not always gone where I thought. For instance, I thought I liked videography. Well I guess I should say I though videography excited my soul. Truth is, although I find it interesting it is not what excites me. So I followed it for a time, found out what it was that I liked about it, turn out it is capturing the beauty in something and for now, I would rather do that with photography.
I think a lot of us do not follow the path because it is not an easy path to follow. It is much easier to stay on the well-worn path. But either way I am following what excites me. For the first time in my whole life I am truly excited about what I am doing. I enjoy the me that is developing as I do.
Maybe you do not get lost down the path, maybe do, but at least wander down it. Even if you slowly, tentatively wander down it but go. And do not go back, like I did.
I would follow my path for a way only to go back to the way things were. The way things were was all I knew, it is what I thought was supposed to be. Who I thought I was supposed to be. What a silly concept really, who you are being define only by what you know.
I do not know exactly where I will end up, what path I will follow to completion but I know I am wandering in the right direction because I am excited about it. My excited, my passion grow, the further I go.
I get tempted still, scared still. I often want to go back to the to that well-worn road. I am often confused on what to do next, where to go next and it occurs to me that is because I have never been here before. There is no “right way”. There are no familiar people to follow. No clear path to safely follow. As in real life, it is scary to wander off. But it reminds me of the saying if you want to go someplace you have never been you must do something you have never done. Or something like that.
There are times I am paralyzed by doubt and sometimes I am completely free with assuredness and sometimes those two moment are back to back to back.
It is funny the longer I am on this path my worry has changed. I now just as worried that I might go back as I am at the thought of wandering further. Kind of like a smoker that worries that they will be tempted to pick up a cigarette after quitting (BTW former smoker). I worry that this journey may be too long or too hard or too whatever and I will not finish. I will go back to the familiar way. I now fell as equally anxious about going back as I do about being on this new path.
As I see the light of the familiar way fade, as the path is less obvious I get nervous and I have to remind myself that I have, we all have a built-in compass. Our compass the that stirring, those things that excite our soul.