Me and my brother Nghia was driving down to Houston over the weekend and he asked me the following question: “If you could change one thing about your past, what would it be?”
Now that’s a really tough question to answer on the spot.
First of all, it’s based on the assumption that we made plenty of stupid decisions. Decisions we wish we could take back. Decisions that steered us away from what we wanted at that time.
For example, for my nephew’s birthday, I thought it would be a wise decision to cut watermelon while I was drunk and trying to carry a conversation with my cousin Audrey. Half-way through our discussion, I missed the watermelon and instantly cut into something else that colored the knife red. (Now I know why you shouldn’t operate heavy machinery while you’re intoxicated.)
Of course, I am guilty of mistakes during all parts of my life. Who isn’t?
The second assumption is that once we change something significant about our past, something significant about our present should also change.
This kind of thinking puts you in passenger seat of your life, instead of being in the driver’s seat. You are pretty much admitting that you have no power or influence in your life. If your life is so horrible right now, why don’t you change something about it?
Another fallacy in this way of thinking is you may judge that one mistake to be monumental, but in the grand scheme of things it was really insignificant. Therefore by changing something insignificant about your past, you end up with the same present that you’re discontent with.
Here’s a hypothetical scenario. You regret losing one of your past loves. You were jealous and accused them of cheating on you. It destroyed your relationship. And ever day since, you wondered what could have been, if you had done otherwise. So you make that wish. Wishing that jealously would no longer be an issue. And once you open your eyes expecting to be next to your lover again, you aren’t. For some reason, that wasn’t enough. Perhaps jealousy was just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the relationship was destined to end regardless of how you acted.
Another way a wish could go wrong is if we wished something away that was actually an important aspect of your life.
I was always afraid of public speaking. I would get panic attacks anytime I was chosen to speak in front of my peers. One time in church I was selected to do the readings. I was so nervous and scared, I mumbled and whispered the whole reading in front of the religious mass. On the way home, my dad said “Grandpa is going to be very unhappy with your reading today.” I didn’t know what to do, so when I got home, I approached my grandpa with tears in my eyes. I knelt down and apologized for dishonoring our family. My grandpa was puzzled. He didn’t know what happened, so when I told him, he shrugged it off. He knew I was sorry. So he let me be.
If anyone were to grant me a wish at that time, I would’ve asked to take that part of my life away. Afterwards, I would vow never to do public speaking again.
Looking back, that incident started a chain of events that completely steered my life in a way I didn’t think could be possible. I was chosen again to read the bible passage. I wanted to say no, but a part of me wanted to make my grandpa proud again. I agreed to it. The second time around, my heart was still ready to burst through my chest as I delivered the bible reading during mass, but this time I was loud and clear.
From that moment on, I had plenty of public speaking opportunities. I held meetings for faculty meetings. I was chosen to play the lead role of Jesus Christ in our church’s “Passion of the Christ” skit doing all my lines live.
My screw-up turned into something positive.
That’s something I would’ve never known at that time.
It only becomes clear after you have moved on.
Going back to my brother’s question, this is what I said to him, “I wouldn’t change anything. I’m content with the way my life is.”
This threw a wrench in my brother’s plans. He was hoping to get at something that I deemed a great failure in my life.
Grasping at straws, my brother asked, “What about your career? If you had discovered photography earlier on, would you have skipped all your other jobs?”
I remember a quote that goes like this, “the journey is more important than the destination”.
If photography had just fallen onto my life, I’m sure I would have fun with it. But I’m not sure I would’ve stuck with it as long as I am now.
Because I’ve tried working for the government as a teacher. Because I’ve done programming for a huge technical company. Because I’ve helped out with a family business. I know first hand what it feels like to be in those fields. I remember the feeling of dissatisfaction that drove me to leave those jobs.
That’s why I’m grateful to have a photography job, because without it I would have to go back to those other jobs.
My previous jobs also became stepping stones for me to secure a photography job.
Anyone can pick up a camera and call himself a photographer.
But do you have the dedication, the drive, and the discipline to stick with a hobby and turn it into something that you can make a living off of?
I think it helped that I stuck with teaching for 4 years. I think it helped that I served as the department head for 2 of those 4 years.
Even though being a teacher is probably the last thing I see myself doing in the near future, being a teacher gave me the tools to succeed in making my hobby of photography into a job.
The same can be said of my time with the technical company and the family business.
Therefore in my case, the journey IS more important than the destination.