Voices And Choices
As a young girl, I often escaped to the attic of my childhood home to get lost in the stacks upon stacks of National Geographics my parents stored there. Those pages transported me to lands so foreign they may as well have been in distant galaxies, far, far away. When I voiced interest in someday becoming a National Geographic photographer, I recall being scoffed at and receiving replies such as, “You’re reaching too high, Aimee, and you’ll never get married or have a family if you’re traveling all over the globe for work. It would be a terribly lonely life.”
Around the same time, my third-grade teacher kept me after class, where he repeatedly asked me who did my math homework for me. Crossing my heart, hoping to die, I kept telling him over and over, “I did. I did. I did!” He never bought it. This was because he didn’t believe I was capable of crafting the fun and fancy numbers with the fat purple marker I used to fill in the times table blanks. He was also clearly ticked "whoever did my homework” failed to use a pencil — the greatest math homework crime of all.
Five years later, my eighth-grade English teacher accused me of plagiarism because she thought the compare-and-contrast poem I turned in, comparing a Christmas nutcracker to a psychiatrist (both of whom aid in cracking nuts), was too sophisticated for my 12-year-old brain to conceptualize. I can still repeat that poem word for word today.
And then the biggest A-hole of all, my high school freshman year art teacher, Mr. Felt, who after evaluating my first still life of a bowl of fruit, looked at me dead in the face and said, “You have no artistic ability, whatsoever.” This third-teacher-strike against my abilities crushed my artistic ambitions out the window, down Winnetka Avenue, and into Lake Michigan.
Fifteen years later, a spark surfaced while working as a project coordinator at a branding solutions agency. There we had a freelance guy assisting us with mockups and designs. The graphic work he was producing sparked such great curiosity and excitement within me, I began teaching myself graphic design during the evenings and over the weekends. Soon thereafter, a dear friend informed me of a designer opening in the marketing department of the company where he worked. I got that job, and there began my return to creative work. My adoration for photography didn’t fully reemerge until I got my first DSLR camera in 2011. And, well, that story is still being written.
Looking back, I view the 15-year gap between Mr. “A-hole” Felt deflating my artistic spirit until returning to creative work as an essential time in the development of who I am today. Unbeknownst to me then, I was allowing the opinions and judgments of others affect how I felt about myself, and what I thought I was capable of. Since then, I’ve granted similar power to others. It wasn’t until about five years ago while journeying within the rabbit hole of my own mind, where I began to see these individuals and events as significant teachers along my path.
Within, I began learning how to differentiate between the voice of my authentic self and the voices of judgment, which at first roared like tidal waves in comparison to the almost silent whisper of my one little ripple.
Slowly though, with perseverance, significant time alone, and buckets of tears, my one little ripple began drowning out the others. Not in elimination, only volume. “Only you can possibly know what makes your heart sing. Follow your curiosity, your wonder, and your joy. Let them lead your way,” I began to hear, louder and louder, clearer and clearer.
Eventually I came to the liberating conclusion that the judgment of others, especially when it comes to what brings one joy, elation, excitement, etc., means absolutely nothing, except the person judging is, most likely, an unhappy human. For if one is truly happy and living in alignment with their authentic self, or at least working toward figuring out what that means, judgment of this kind is naturally and beautifully eliminated from the equation.
I must confess though, there are still times I get lost in fear and worry over what others may (or may not) think of me, my creative work, or how I choose to live my life, which has been less than conventional to say the least. However, I now choose to view these negative emotions as indicators I’m falling back into old patterns of thought and that it’s time for a visit within again.
There, a familiar, soft and gentle voice reminds me I’m in the process of re-learning how to consistently connect with the essence of my authentic voice, and that other (not-so-nice) voices exist to help me get there. How would you be able to recognize your voice if there weren’t others to compare it to? This is the journey you’re on, the gradual rediscovery of your voice. Be patient, and in the meantime continue doing your very best to inspire, uplift, and support whoever may cross your path in the pursuit of their own happiness, whatever that may be, and/or how often that may change. And so I share my story here.
And now today, beyond and above my creative aspirations, it's my greatest hope and desire that no person (child especially) loses touch with their authentic self, or gives up on their hopes and dreams because someone else told them it was unrealistic, disingenuous, or flat out stupid. What might the world look and feel like, can you even imagine, if everyone desired happiness for everyone, first?
There are as many definitions of happiness as humans on the planet, and we’re all equally deserving of it. If someone suggests otherwise, insults your brand of happiness, or mocks your hopes and dreams, flash them a smile (a wink if you’re feeling frisky), and in your mind wish them well on their own pursuit.
Only you can possibly know what makes your heart sing. Listen to, and follow that song with reckless abandon.
See more of Aimee's photography here
Words: Aimee Norkett