I Found What Made Me Happy

There was a time when I drank the kool-aid. Bought into the notion that going to school, having a career and working for great companies; that was how life was supposed to be. Get married, buy a house, make car payments. You know the way we were taught in school from an early age to believe that is how we became happy. The American dream. We were told happiness was found in material things and social and economic status. It wasn’t until I found what made me happy that I realized happiness can’t be quantified in the number of cars owned or by what designer clothing we all had to have.

Growing up I had one dream, to be an explorer of the world like the journalists and photographers I would read about in National Geographic. I still can remember being captivated by their photos and enchanted by their stories. Hidden cities, exotic locations and wild animals; all the amazing adventures they must of had. I wanted it. It was my escape.

Photography was always in my blood. I could never remember a time my father didn’t have a camera or 4 in the house. We even had a dark room where he would develop his film. I would go through his photo albums from his tours in Vietnam and be fascinated. The photos would call to me the same way National Geographic would.

I’ve always had an issue expressing myself verbally. I would stumble over words like a parent trying to do ballroom dancing in the middle of the night with Legos on the floor. I was awkward in that aspect. It wasn’t until my pen touched paper that I realized I was a symphony conductor and my words were the orchestra performing the greatest of all the concertos. And I had notebooks of my masterpieces; poems, stories. Even movie scripts. I loved to write.

In high school I wrote for the yearbook. God did I enjoy it. I think what really made me enjoy it was that other were reading my words and visualizing in their minds what I was writing about. Well, that was what I was telling myself anyways. It may of been a story about a can food drive, but they way I envisioned it we were ending hunger.

Around my senior year in 1996 I had another discovery; the internet. I became seduced by how web pages were built. We had a copy of Microsoft Front Page ’97 and I was determined to learn how HTML worked. I would use the WYSIWYG view to build pages then I would switch to the raw HTML view to see how the code worked. I built so many pages with cheesy animated gifs of sirens and flashing lights and couple that with a different MIDI song on each page I was a young Picasso with HTML.

I entered college in 1997 with a dream of majoring in English with a minor in computer science. A short lived dream at best. After 2 years of school I left. Frustrated with the notion that I was spending thousands of dollars a semester to learn things I already knew bothered me. Where were the challenges? The tools to build a rich and fulfilling life? The college experience I heard so much about? It felt like a factory of just pushing the same, tired lessons at me day after day.

I buried my National Geographic dreams and did what any rational and responsible 20 year old would do, I got a job. Not at some pizza shop or some mall kiosk. I got a job at Motorola as a web engineer. Here I am, making 35k a year and I thought it was great. The best part was all the education I received. Unix, Korn Shell, Perl, Javascript, ColdFusion. I learned it all there. I thought this was my calling. I had found what I was meant to do.

Then came the .com bubble burst. Laid off like so many. Disheartened and depressed with the lack of job opportunities I took solace in writing my fears and frustrations. What my eyes could not weep, my words cried rivers that eventually flooded the pages and the overflow wouldn’t stop.

Desperate and broke I moved to Boston in 2005 in search for work. I landed at an educational publishing company called Cengage Learning. I was back to web development and back on the path to what we were taught the American Dream was. I sat for an hour each way on a train commuting to work where I would then walk another 45 minutes to my job in South Boston. Day after day with the same routine. It was around this time when I walked into Circuit City and no lie, I felt the Force. Yes the Force. I was Jedi Mind tricked into walking into the camera section. And then it happened. I wrapped my hands around a Nikon D70s and it felt like seas parting, choirs of angels singing. It was heaven in my hand.

Holding that camera in my hands, the way my fingers wrapped perfectly around the rubber grips. I had found my long lost soul mate. A feeling words can’t adequately describe, but the feeling I had of pure joy is something I will never forget.

I worked with this senior architect, a guru of many facets, George White. George was a photographer himself. No longer was I going to him to talk about pivot tables and stored procedures. Our conversations changed to apertures and shutter speeds. I can remember him drawing on his whiteboard how ISO, shutter speed and apertures worked and it all made sense. Something just clicked in my head and eventually the clicks were now coming from my camera faster than the twitterpated foot of Thumper.

No longer was I buying books about CSS or jQuery. My library of photography books was growing. Mpix basically became my pusher man, selling me prints of my photos in various sizes. I took my web developer skills and built my first portfolio website. I was hot stuff let me tell you. I had business cards made and I felt legit. I knew what I had to do. I had to chase my childhood dream of being the adventurer from National Geographic. I would spend weekends traveling to New York taking pictures and writing about my journey. I would wake up at 3 in the morning so I could take the 2 hour drive to the White Mountains just to photograph the sunrise slowly climbing over the tree strewn mountain tops. Sitting there isolated with my camera watching the night lose it’s daily battle to light of day, I found peace. I found myself. I found what made me happy.

I moved back to South Florida with the determination to make it as a photographer. I had shoots here and there. I kept a journal where I would write every detail, every flash angle, every camera setting so I could recreate the shoot in my head and figure out how to be better. While I was doing mainly free photo shoots for “exposure” I discovered two things; the eventual love of my life and my love for drinking in bars. The sad, poetic irony is that I nearly lost my love of photography and the love of my eventual wife to my love of drinking.

And there I was. Hungover, unemployed and living at home. I fell into a deep depression unbeknownst to many. I even contemplated selling my camera gear for money. I was going to sell my happiness to pay the growing mountain of debt I was obtaining. Sexy right?

I settled for another web development job, because why not? Bills had to be paid and it was either this or stripping for money. I only went with the web development gig because I couldn’t come up with a clever stripper name.

Years passed and I’m here, still chasing the dream. Still taking photos. Still writing. Happily married with a family, but not happy using my million dollar talents to make others money while I’m only getting paid 65k for my million dollar talents. Tired of the corporate politics. Tired of the lack of creativity. Tired of ego driven control freaks who have the desire to micromanage every aspect of your job. Tired of unimaginative leaders who feel the need to tell people the fact that people think that they’re a bitch because they’re a female in the corporate climate when it fact they truly are a bitch.

Thought this would have a happier ending right? It will. My happy ending is coming. I’ll never stop chasing what makes me happy. I found what made me happy once and I will do it again. I find that happiness every time I raise that camera to my eye. Every photo I take tells a story that words fail to describe. From the edge of the Everglades to the end of the wedding aisle and onto the sidelines of sports my story is written with each press of the shutter.

My portfolio is now my evolving memoir while Instagram gives my audience the cliff notes. One day soon my words will be seen through photos and read in words of my adventures and travels.

Happiness is found in many places and in things. Everyone has their own version of what happiness means to them. I have found my version. Have you found yours? If not don’t stop looking for it just as I won’t stop chasing mine. Live your life through your dreams not through the expectations of others.

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