The “Huh…” still hung in the air between us as it filled every inch of space in the car and tempted me to put my window down. So that it could roll on out into the world and reverberate the very passing hillsides with its benign rebuke.
But instead it just sat there. Between us. The pink elephant in the room of monosyllabic sentences that said whole weeks of conversations worth. It had said everything, and yet nothing. And I needed to know more. So…I pushed.
I was in the car with my good friend Tiffany, when she asked the inevitable questions that now comes up after the tour…”So….What’s Next for Mary?”
I blinked. Squinted my eyes the way you do when you’re really thinking hard about something….or buying time. Started and stopped a few times. And then ultimately rattled off a list of seemingly rather worthy goals & accolades compiled from my notes on watching this industry for the past few years.
And that’s when the “Huh…” came.
“What?” I asked, already afraid to know the answer.
“Oh it’s nothing,” she said, ” I just, I dunno, those just don’t seem like Mary goals to me. When I think of you guys, I think of you going out and doing the big things in this world that will actually help people. Those just seem like prizes. Like wedding photography industry prizes, and they just seem like somebody else’s goals. I guess I just see you guys doing something bigger with your work. Something with more impact in other people’s live and not just yours. It feels like you might be playing small.”
And then it was my turn to say “Huh…”
I sat and let her words sink in, the way that a concrete building settles into the ground beneath it. With a lot of weight and the force of gravity. And the funny thing is, I wasn’t mad at all. I was grateful. If there is one thing that has made all the difference for us, it has been surrounding ourselves with friends who aren’t afraid to give it to us straight. To tell it like it is. And…I knew she was right.
A few years ago, when Justin & I went to our first conference and saw all the speakers walking around and sitting at the same table together, I made a promise to myself that one day I would sit where they were sitting. And that we would have what they had. So I made a mental list of what I thought it was to be successful in this industry. It went something like this:
Speak at WPPI, host a sold out workshop, get featured in Rangefinder, teach internationally, book a $10k package, have 10,000 likes on Facebook.
And being the good, Rachel Berry-on-crack, type A, over-achiever that I am, I set my sights on each goal, went after it with a gazelle like intensity, and saw myself check-mark each one off along the way. Accompanied as always, of course, with a gold star.
Over time, as things got marked off and new definitions of success emerged in this industry, I added to that list. And what I realized, staring into the “objects may be closer than they might appear” mirror of the passenger side, was that what I had just rattled off at 65mph on the southbound lane of Interstate 91 were the remnants and broken remains of the six-year journey… of chasing someone else’s dreams.
Had we been successful? Sure. But by whose definition of success?
Were these accomplishments impressive? Maybe. But would I rather leave an impression….or an impact?
And wasn’t the real problem with more….that it’s never enough?
What I realized that day sitting in Tiffany’s car, was that I was holding on to that list of old goals that I’d written for myself like a lifeline. Stitched together from the patch-work pattern of what an industry had said it is to be successful, rather than the voice in my own head. And the truth is, I was terrified that if I walked away from that list before every last one of them was completed, then it all would have been for nothing. And I would have ultimately failed.
And what I’m continuing to realize even now, is that when I hold on so tightly to those small, “supposed to” dreams penned by somebody else’s hands….it’s only blocking the way to those really BIG things that I’ve been called to. And that each one of us has been called to. Because how could we possibly see the bigger picture, when we’re so blinded by the checklist that we keep right in front of our eyes. We have to learn to let go. Let go of what is important to somebody else. Let go of selfish pursuits. Let go of what is so fleetingly rewarded in a broken world. Let go of following so carefully, step by step, in the footprints of somebody else.
And for once, ONCE, in our one wild & precious lives…be willing to be brave enough to step out ahead, alone, and on our own two feet. And to feel what it’s like to be the one blazing the trail.
Whatever you do today, I hope you set fire to it.