January 2022 has been one of the most positively memorable months of my life. If you count the number of places I’ve been or how far from home I’ve strayed and on how many occasions, it is probably in the bottom 5%. We have gotten out a couple of times within the past 10 days or so, but just for a little day trips around the region – so what makes it so memorable?
Achievement, Gratitude, Balance, Self-care, and Relationships.
Those who read the December Moment of the Month may recall that Sophie and I do not make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, we choose a word that is going to be the thing we are most mindful of improving in the year to come. It is usually a word that reflects an important value that we have become aware is an area for improvement in our lives. The goal is not to measure our improvement, it is to make every decision for the year using that as the first point of consideration.
In 2018, Sophie and I were in our first year of dating having gone from dirty broke solo vagabonds to a dirty broke couple of vagabonds. Usually when the bank was dry, I would come home to work for a few months and save everything I could, then hit the road again with whatever I had. Sophie’s life was similar. If we wanted to keep traveling together, however, it meant finding a way to make things work while traveling as neither of us could work in the others’ home country. The word of 2018 was Achievement, and it was the first time either of us truly put in a measured effort to take our love for photography and travel and to try and find a way to make it sustainable. To turn a lifestyle into a livelihood.
2019 was all about Gratitude. After a year of chasing Achievement, a year of non-stop pitching, hustling, marketing, and grinding, it became all too clear that I was too focused on what I felt we deserved and were not being given. I was feeling entitled to a level of success that we had not yet earned. I was preoccupied with followers and recognition, seeing these metrics as measures of achievement and not as human beings. That year was all about Gratitude. It was about responding to every comment and message and email as if that person was standing in our art gallery saying something nice about our work, and not just a formless “follower.” It was about being grateful for every opportunity we worked for as equally as the ones we lucked into, and everything in between. Ironically, we found far more success and “achievement” in 2019 than we did grinding constantly in 2018.
2020 turned to Balance. What we found is that once you have focused on a word for a year, it doesn’t go away. We had never stopped pouring ourselves into trying to make a livelihood from our passion and chasing achievement while traveling non-stop. 2020 was supposed to be about finding balance, but I failed miserably. Sophie continue a long battle with immigration and the separation and uncertainty of when it would be over weighed on us. The blog and photography business were just not where they needed to be to support us, forcing me to return to the hotel industry I had left behind and pick up a crappy graveyard job. I was back living with my parents in my mid-30s. And then a pandemic hit. The bill for 8 years of traveling without anything stable or any thought to the future was ready to be paid. It was the most off-balance either of us have ever felt in our life.
2021 was going to be about Self-Care; about forgiving myself for not finding the balance or success I had sought, and not allowing that to become a mental and physical burden. Then I got the Michelob Ultra job. Overnight I thought everything had changed. This was supposed to be the breakthrough, the 10 years of work to become an overnight success. It was impossible to manage expectations; my name had been called out of more than 150,000 people. This was it! And then, it wasn’t. Things started to unravel before the journey began, but continued to only get worse day by day. The impact of thinking I had won the lottery to realizing I had become shackled to a sinking ship was devastating. The toxin of this disappointment seeped into everything in my life. Self-care was out the window; sleep was impossible in that crappy gold van, I was living off of hot pockets and fast food, I was constantly tired and depressed, and they had taken all joy out of the one thing I found fulfilling in photography. Even after it ended, the bad habits and bad energy were there like a ball of yarn needing to be untangled.
January 2022: Sophie has just spent her first non-Zoom Christmas with her nieces and nephews in 3 years after being granted her biggest wish in experiencing her first White Christmas. We drive back to our first home together, our first time having our own space since meeting 4 years ago. We attend a New Year’s Eve party with friends and feel the joy in being part of a community again. We begin eating healthy together and exercising daily, while also being able to compartmentalize our work hours from the rest of our life.
We are working every day toward our goals together and it is paying off (Achievement). We are keeping gratitude journals and vocally appreciate the home and company we share and that we are finally about to be together in the same place (Gratitude). We are clocking off every day at 5pm and spending quality time together 5 nights/week, while also scheduling time with old friends and making attempts to create new friendships (Balance.) We are eating right, exercising, meditating, and even focusing on proper sleep routines (Self-Care.)
And with the word of the year “Relationships” in every decision we make, we are finding such joy in meeting new people such as neighbors to other photographers or bloggers. We are also loving having a group of old friends to do game nights and go out, as well as reaching out to old friends with who we had lost touch. January 2022 has been one of the best months of my life because we are finding adventure not just on trails, but in the relationships we build; including our own.
The following short stories show some of these adventures that culminated in photos.