“Happiness is a choice. Be happy.” It’s a lovely sentiment, especially when written by a child at summer camp, on a rainbow-painted rock covered in smiley faces. I saw a rock like this last week, and, yep, it made me smile. I was on a walk in the woods, and it was leaning against a tree. Positioned against the mossy bark, the rock’s cheer was hard to miss. Still, I thought to myself, “Huh. Do I actually believe this?” (Now I wonder: Do you?)
I didn’t have a clear answer, even though my happiness quotient was higher than usual. I was at a summer camp of my own, you see, one for creatives and entrepreneurs. This was my second year at Camp GLP, named for the podcast Good Life Project, and it was my chance to surround myself with people who inspire me.
As a longtime educator learning to build a business, attending this experience last summer had been critical to my progress so far. Without it, I’d still be too shy to consider starting my own venture. (TIP: No matter what you want to acheive in life, surround yourself with people who’re already doing it.)
On this particular afternoon, I was wandering the woods with a goal. I was on a mission: Find a single object and take photos of it for 10 minutes straight. I’d received this assignment during a workshop called, “Shift Your Focus: Photography as a Tool for Self Discovery.” Our leader, photographer Robyn Ivy, had sent us outside, armed with our camera phones.
The objective was to capture as many perspectives as we could. “Even if you get stuck five minutes in,” Ivy had instructed us, “keep shooting. Don’t walk away. Instead, find another angle. For those who tend to shoot close up, take the long view today. Challenge yourself to see things differently.”
I was elated to hear this assignment. Photo walking is one of my favorite activities, and I’ve recently embraced the habit as a legitimate way to calm my monkey brain. (But don’t just take my word for it. Even science agrees there are benefits to putting your brain in a state of creative flow.) Besides, I knew exactly where I was headed. Studded around camp were rocks hand-painted with inspirational sayings, and I’d been dying to capture them in a photo series.
Though taking multiple shots of a single object may sound putzy, the truth was I was all over this kind of thing. Oh, yes. Getting lost in photography is my jam. And so, I began. First, I took the expected shot. Standing at my normal height, I snapped the rock straight on. I tried a few versions, all looking pretty similar, much as the rock might be seen by anyone passing by. Next I followed Ivy’s advice and captured one really close up, followed by one from a distance.
Huh. That simple exercise proved even more fun than I thought. I glanced at the shots, one after another, and got a tiny blip of joy: How cool was it that they looked so incredibly different? I found the thought empowering. The scene was the same, and all that had changed was my act of choosing how to see. I’m a storyteller at heart, so I can’t help but be moved by leveraging such a powerful tool.
I continued shooting. A minute passed, maybe two. Then: Uh, oh. All at once, just as Ivy had warned us, I’d reached an impasse. I simply couldn’t envision another way to capture the scene. Flummoxed, I considered moving on. Instead I took a breath and chose to stay. Before long I found myself wondering what would happen if I picked up the rock. (Shock, faint!) How might the rock’s colors interact with that patch of grass nearby?
The next thing I knew, I’d hit a groove. New perspectives weren’t hard to find. Quite the contrary: They began to leap out at me. Surrounded by a playground of nature and stories, I saw a variety of options. Individual scenes invited me to nab them. The details–grass, trees, light, color–no longer seemed mundane. Lost in the process now, I stood on a stump and my shadow appeared. I crouched down low, captivated by the delicacy of a thistle. I cocked my head sideways and wondered why I hadn’t seen that fence in the distance before.
The particulars changed with each new motion. Gripped by the craft of photography, delighted by the moment, I’d managed to connect with the energy that sometimes accompanies art. I’d invited an intelligence that had joined me, revealing itself slowly. Quietly now, a powerful truth had just made itself known: Possibility was all around me.
Accompanied by Shadow
Behind the Wisps
Amongst the Overgrowth
Even, As It Turned Out, Next to My Face
As stated in the Camp GLP Guidebook, Shift Your Focus would deepen our connection to the world and help us get unstuck. “Photography, even with our iPhones,” the description had read, “has the power to help us change the way we see, think, and feel, but we have to know how to use it.”
What a powerful tool. For me, knowing how to use photography means two things: cultivating the habit and owning its importance. Both are things I’ve pursued actively all year long, taking photo walks regularly, then letting myself recognize the process matters. So when I encountered a soulful pro like Robyn Ivy, my learning came faster than it might’ve last year.
Her content hit me just right because I was ready for it. The more we practice bringing out the best of who we are, the easier it is to access creativity’s abundance. And so I ask you: What habits are you cultivating? How will you put yourself in the path of someone who can help multiply their effects? I invite your comments, as always!