Before I set off to become a photographer I was working a 9-5 job as an engineer, mainly inside an office, trying to climb up the corporate ladder. You know the drill, getting somewhat depressed on Sunday night, just because tomorrow is Monday, getting excited again on Friday afternoon and then on and on and on.
That was how my teenage 'dreams' came to be. Actually my goals had been realised, but you know what? I came to realise that my goals were too small, the day I negotiated my pay raise. I actually got the raise, but something also changed in me.
I was doing what is considered by most people as 'normal'. Well I think it's not. I now actually think that this kind of life is as abnormal as it fucking gets.
I will start the story from school. I think that it starts earlier for most people, but although I come from a low-class family, most of my relatives were small business owners, so at least I inherited a, as Nike says, 'just do it' mentality which is a good legacy to inherit.
You see what we learn in school is that we have to work hard, get good grades, go to a good school or university, so that you land yourself a good job, where you work hard, earn money, do that until you are 65 and then you get a good pension, lower than your last salary and be able to feed yourself until you die.
I can hardly keep myself from vomiting even while writing these lines, yet at the time, it sounded like a good plan.
I liked art since I was three. But art? Are you fucking serious? That's not a profession.
In fact, when in high school, I had this conversation with one of my teachers:
- Well George, you don't get good grades in Ancient Greek, is it something else you like to do?
- Well... I like to play the piano and I like painting.
- Piano? Painting? so what? will you become a pianist? These guys are poor, this is not a profession. Or do you think that by drawing pictures will put food in your table?
I was so disappointed, I thought I should find something else to like and that I was doing something wrong.
After a few years, since I somewhat liked playing with computers, take them apart and fix them, one of my uncles who was visiting, suggested I should become an Electrical Engineer. There you go, this is an actual profession. Engineers after all make a lot of money.
I thought that this made sense. Yes, that might be the answer to my career.
I found this new purpose and I studied to go to an engineering school. I managed to get accepted at a good university in Edinburgh, Scotland. I didn't really like it at first. I was more excited to be in a foreign country and getting to know a different culture. However, a few years in, I started to appreciate the creative side of engineering in problem solving. I was becoming an engineer and starting to think as one. I came to like the fact that I could now understand how everything works. By that, I mean that I had the capacity to understand almost anything that is explained to me. Or as we call it, I can reverse engineer it.
I started forming my life's dream. I had fallen in the trap. I could start picturing myself in a suit, working at a nice office building, meeting with important people and having enough money to live a 'good' life.
Fast forward, after finishing my Master's degree, working in a few jobs and serving the Greek army, I landed in a job that matched my dream's criteria.
It was at a nice office building, I was wearing suits at important meetings, I was actually travelling the world, staying at 5-star hotels, having great dinners and meeting with important people, such as CEOs of very large corporations.
I was making actually more money than the average engineer in Greece so that was good too. In fact I was happy the first couple of years. I came to not really like weekends cause there was no work to do!
But after these first years, that wasn't good enough. No fucking way. You see, I hadn't figured out what is the price to pay for not doing what I really love. But then again, what is it that I really love? So far, I was trained to like what other people had told me to like.
Understanding that I am not completely happy, the first solution I found was to keep making more money. It is a good thing that my 'just do it' mentality had allowed me to at least have the balls to renegotiate my salary every year.
Let's now come to the last of these negotiations. In the meantime, I came to really love photography. I was studying photography all day. I was even listening to podcasts on my way to work. I now had two full time occupations. I was studying almost another 8 hours on photography every single day. I even made up a darkroom in my bedroom from scratch.
I went in the meeting room with the decision to either make enough more money so I keep the job as an engineer, or quit and become a photographer. I had no idea where to start as a photographer. I had no clients, no nothing. Nevertheless, just do it. Remember?
As I told you, I was already making more money than the average engineer. In fact, I was making almost twice as much than most of the engineers in the same company. Yet, I asked for a whopping 65% raise.
My bosses as you might expect were stunned. What they told me that clicked in me subconsciously was this:
" But what you ask for is what we pay the engineers that are with us for 10 years and actually designed the system we are selling "
Although I replied with something like why on earth I would care what anyone else in the world makes and that I just mind my own business and actually got a 40% raise, something had changed in me.
I though to myself, what the fuck? I have to keep on doing what I do and work even harder to hit that pathetic ceiling after another 5 years? If I even manage to keep the job in the first place?
I may not have known what was the price to pay to not do exactly what I love, but I knew it was at least 5 times that!
It was only a few months later that I went to my boss and quit, saying that "I've decided to become a photographer".
You see, it might struck you as odd, but being a photographer is not the actual thing I love. What I really love is being free.
Yes, after 37 years I realised that my FREEDOM is what I cherish the most. I love to be free to travel, to meet new people, hear their stories, mentoring other people and pass on my knowledge, free to do what I want, when I want it and with the people I want.
Photography is one vehicle towards this freedom, but don't get me wrong, I am not there yet.
You may think that this is a selfish behaviour. I think that this is loving yourself. I feel that loving yourself is the most altruistic value in life.
If you get on a plane, what the safety regulations instruct you to do is that if oxygen masks are released, you first have to wear your own, before helping others.
If you believe that all the power inside you has to offer to humanity is to just work hard to make someone else rich, being your boss, the bank or you name it, and feed yourself until you die, then, who is actually being selfish?
What I learned along the trip so far, is that I can set goals, picture them in my head and achieve them, by reverse engineering. The only problem was that my goals were not NEARLY as big as they should have been.
Think of your current goals. If you don't have any, please make. You cannot achieve something that is not there to achieve. Multiply these goals by 10.
The result is probably still only a fraction of what you can achieve, but nevertheless, picture it in your head. Picture it so vividly that you can actually touch it, feel it, smell it.
Congratulations, you are now at point 0.