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Thoughts on a train

When I'm riding the train, the clack clack rhythm of the rail beneath the wheels always sends me off thinking. Last night, I ran into a friend of mine who is a photographer (pictured on the left). We talked for a good 20 or 30 minutes about the business of photography. Listening to her speak blew my mind because I had never quite thought of it as a business. Up until now, I had simply taken photos of things that I found interesting. After talking to Tia, I realized that I needed to have a complete paradigm shift in my thinking. At the heart of her message was the idea that we should have an unwavering confidence in our own worth. She also said that we should not accept anything less from anyone. For example, if someone were to go to her and say , “Yo! Hook me up with some photos at that friends and family discount” she would politely remind them that what she does is a craft that has been built over time and polished through hard work and investment in herself. People always forget that. They ask for pictures, live performances, or even proofreading and expect to pay nothing. I have never understood what this phenomenon is. It's like going to a restaurant and asking the chef to give you a free meal because he knows you.

Oh, the dreaded phrase that pisses me off every time I hear it, “This will be good for your promotion.” is something that I have been told over and over again. When I worked as a music promoter there was a guy in the office who spent a lot of time thinking about ways to get out of paying people the amount he had promised. He always told young artists he would pay them in promotion. Whenever I confronted him about it, he would become angry. I didn't care. I believe in showing the respect due to the creator. The most tangible symbol of that respect is money. I do understand that some people have budgetary limitations. We've all been there. In those moments the thing that I appreciate most is honesty.

Telling someone you can't pay them but they're going to get promotion is not being honest. You are trying to sell them on an idea that there's some value worth the money that you're not paying. It's horseshit, unless the promotion is on some nationally televised event or high-profile concert. I performed on Live 8 with Dreams Come True, who did the gig for free. We went on right after Bjork. The performance was globally televised to billions of people. That is promotion that has value.

The other thing that my most beautiful friend reminded me of was the power of confidence . She repeated the phrase several times during our conversation. It's something that I've also noticed throughout my life. It was in the times of my greatest confidence that I found the greatest success. Success does not mean lack of failure. This is very important. We cannot know success without failure. I have fallen flat on my face more times than I would like to remember. Success means achieving one's goals or dreams despite failure. We pick ourselves up. We dust ourselves off. We keep moving forward. That was my mantra through all the hardships that I had ever faced, “Keep moving forward.”

Although I present myself as humble, I am actually bursting with confidence. I know I am something close to a genius. I also know that my mind is as sharp as they come. At the same time, I am battling self-doubt. It is a strange phenomenon because up until now I had always believed you either have one or the other. How can you survive with both? The truth is, we all live with both. On the one hand, we see ourselves as brilliant and capable. On the other hand, there's a nagging voice of the impostor complex. On any given day, one of the two will stand dominant over the other. On the days when confidence wins, I have to be careful because I know that I can be an arrogant prick if I get too full of myself. I do not like it, so I have to control it.

Why am I explaining this? Society tells us that we have to project confidence all the time. Especially as Americans and as men, we are trained to believe that showing weakness opens us to attack. That's where the phrase, “never let them see you sweat”, comes from. I chose to share my vulnerabilities because I believe that is actually the side of me that connects me to every other human on the planet. The doubt, the fear, anxiety, struggle, conflict, and pain are something that we all have in common. We also share the joy of success, the beauty of love, the happiness of a moment well realized, the thrill of adventure, and the simple pleasure of things like a good meal and family. Should I talk only about the great things and hide the not so great? Absolutely not. If anyone reading this is fighting a battle of their own I want you to know that you are not alone. You got this.

The other reason why I share it all is because it's not healthy pretending to be someone that you're not. Putting on the airs of being a 24/7 confident guy is exhausting as hell. I believe that if someone is to love me as a friend or as a lover then they have to know me as I am. Whether I am confident and strong or feeling vulnerable and weak, in my slimmest and most handsome days or in my not so slim and not so handsome days, I want to be accepted for who I am. In this way, I find myself living by my friend Tia’s excellent advice of knowing my own self-worth.

I'm reminded of a poem by one of my favorite poets, Maya Angelou. No matter what has happened to batter me down, poverty, homelessness on the steps of a church in Seoul in the middle of winter, power harassment at work, stage fright, social anxiety, and all of the other things which I haven't told you about yet … I have repeated the mantra of keep moving forward so that I can say, as Maya once said, and still I rise.

Those are my thoughts on the train today. Before I leave you I'd like to say that I have been blessed. I feel loved, though sometimes in my hardheadedness I forget that. It is through that love that I have been able to rise. One day, I'll tell you the story of how love save my life.


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