It’s July 2020. The U.S. lockdown from the COVID-19 pandemic is approaching its fifth month. Social distancing is in place, and masks are being worn. The world is facing a reckoning with human rights and social issues within some of the most challenging circumstances. I'm entering my final year of undergraduate study. My physical and mental health is... let's just say... less than optimal. Not to mention: murder hornets just arrived in the U.S.
I need to (safely) get out of the house for a bit.
My alarm goes off at 3:40AM. Yes, you read that right. 3:40AM. I am so groggy, but I push myself out of bed. Young and naive, I realize I didn’t put out clothes the night before, so I stumble in the dark to grab a hoodie, jeans, and sneakers. The lights of the bathroom nearly blind my half-awake self, but “an apple away keeps the dentist away” only works if you brush your teeth regularly. After finishing up, I slip downstairs and head out through the front door.
It’s a cooler morning for July. The air is crisp and crickets chirp their melodies as the stars roll over the night sky. I cross the road to my car, and the door creaks a bit as I open it up, trying not to wake my family or the neighbors. My car needs to warm up, and there’s darkness all around, but I know where I’m going. I pull away from my quiet neighborhood and onto the freeway with the good ol’ GoogleMaps app (not sponsored) to guide my drive.
Taking I-78 Eastbound onto the Garden State Parkway in the wee hours of the morning is something in and of itself; however, in just 2 hours of being a road warrior amongst countless headlights and brake lights, I arrive just in time to hop out of my car, take off my sneakers, curl my toes through the coarse sand on a nearly deserted shoreline, and capture this moment, which continues to live rent-free in my mind to this day.
Sunrise in Bradley Beach, NJ | © 2021 Chris Fiegel | All rights reserved worldwide.
Following this moment, I had some time to reflect as I walked along the beach, dipping my feet in the chilly water. My brain said, “Great! What a perfect moment to check-in!” My heart said, “Uh-oh. You sure you want to do this?”
I responded with a yes-no response, as I often did at the time. At this time in my life, my view of the world was inspired by stoic belief - a “we’ll see” attitude for both the good and the bad events of life, inspired by the Chinese proverb (see the short video below) - which, inevitably, would be tested along this journey. Arguably, there are benefits to appreciating this perspective throughout many life events, yet, in this moment, saying yes and no to a moment of reflection would only add to the weight - both mentally and physically - of not dealing with my problems.
We'll See - The Chinese Proverb - Credit: BestSelf
There is something about the shore in the early morning, though. The sounds made by the waves crash along the sand can ease the mind a little bit, reminding me to breathe. The breeze causing the hairs on my arm to raise gently, grounding me in my body for better or for worse. The horizon defined by an ocean that holds a history as deep and complex as its ecosystem can inspire the soul to dream of how far I’ll go (cue the Moana hit song 🌊).
I didn’t know exactly what I was trying to process emotionally that day, but I knew that it wasn’t resolved that day.
Cut to the present day, and I'm facing a new chapter both personally and professionally. Looking back and reflecting upon this moment at Bradley Beach in New Jersey gave me a sense of clarity in my current affairs. Photography, like many pursuits, is full of competing perspectives and philosophies about storytelling, framing, quality, medium, and beyond. We don’t always get the chance to explain the narrative from behind the lens to the viewer - what we were thinking when we took that photo. Sometimes, we only get to share what’s in front of it, capturing it in our own form and style, letting the viewer have their own experience and create their own story through the photograph.
Currently, I’m at a pivot point in the early part of my career, and, admittedly, it’s been chock-full of highs and lows. That being said, I carry this consolidated lesson with me confidently: trust yourself, dream big, and pause when you need it.
If you’re in transition at some point in your life, I hope this reflection helps you consider what you want, how you want to accomplish it, and why you want it in the first place. Whether it’s photography, art, business, science, health & fitness, friendship, laughter, love, or any other domain in our lives, I hope you, too, can start to see how far you can go.
If you're willing to, please feel free to post in the comments and share a moment of your life where you questioned how far you could go in your career, relationships, or another endeavor and what you learned along the way.
The world can be a scary place full of unknowns and unpredictable conditions, but it’s important to strive to, as Walt Disney famously said, “keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
Hey… and if you can, take a trip to the shore every once in a while, even if it’s just by yourself… it might help you out later in life.
Until next time, thanks for your time today, and have a great one!
P.S. Each time I post, I am including a list of some of my creative role models, providing their links, so you, too, can see their amazing content and be inspired!
Destin Sandlin - Smarter Every Day (youtube.com/c/smartereveryday)
Tom Scott (youtube.com/c/TomScottGo)
Annie Leibovitz (artnet.com/artists/annie-leibovitz/)
Chris Fluck (youtube.com/channel/UCxuIjf-PDyCu8TooRHuIlzw)
Frank Donley (instagram.com/anti_frail_pro_trail/)
Yes Theory (youtube.com/c/YesTheory/)
Check them out, and more to come! See you next time!