Sports photographer Vincent Pugliese tells us how “You can still have your dream without giving up your life.”
Have you ever wanted something so badly that you were blinded to all of the red flags surrounding it? Have you ever dated that person that you were so attracted to that you couldn’t see that they were actually a certifiable lunatic? Have you ever forged head first, full speed into a career without noticing the pitfalls?
From that moment on May 27th, 1994 when I decided that I was to be a photographer, I saw all of the roses but none of the thorns.
Everything else in my life was expendable so I was willing to deal with the crazy hours, the uncertain money and the unpredictable career prospects. I can’t count how often I cancelled dates, get togethers with friends or worked the holidays all in the name of “making it.”
And this was all before I had even landed a full time job. I’ve always known that there was something admirable in sacrifice.
My parents taught me well. Nobody admires the lottery winner because there was no sacrifice. Envy, maybe. But not admiration. Almost all of them wind up broke three years later anyway. As my fire for this profession grew, so did my dreams and goals. And as I studied the big names in the industry and what they were accomplishing, my dreams got bigger.
Before I knew it, I wanted to travel around the country photographing for Sports Illustrated. Maybe travel around the world photographing for National Geographic. A whole world of opportunities was at least remotely possible. I became so intense that I slowly stopped getting together with my friends on the weekends. There was always another story to work on or another game to shoot.
And then, like he did in my story last week, Newsday staffer Dick Yarwood handed me a different perspective.
I had just broken up with a girl, and a big reason was that I loved to work and she loved to spend time together. I mentioned this to him nonchalantly as we talked all things photography. He stopped me short. “Be careful of this business,” he warned me. I was unsure of what he meant. He then pointed through the glass of our photo scanning room towards the bustling photo department.
Like an experienced sniper, he rapidly pointed out all of the individuals working. “Divorced. Divorced twice. married,” he identified the marital statuses of three co-workers. He continued. “Divorced twice, divorced three times, divorced, married, single, divorced twice, married, divorced multiple times. Be careful,” he reiterated. Yarwood was never one to discourage my dreams.
Even with all of the industry turmoil, he always encouraged me to stick it out. He assured me that it was a fascinating career which will open my eyes to the world. But I have no doubt that the fire he saw in my eyes was similar to the fire in many of their eyes as well. And he saw how that fire can rage out of control, turning a dream into a nightmare.
I didn’t know it then, but that conversation dampened my goal of being a world traveling National Geographic photographer. Not that the fine people at the wonderful magazine would have ever thought to hire me anyway. But as I began to look towards the future, I did so with a more critical eye.
I began to notice that my life was already out of balance. My career was all that mattered to me and I was fine letting everything else slip. I was on pace to be an eventual, multi-divorced photojournalist. I had taken a passion and turned it into an obsession. And I was too focused to see that. Isn’t that an ironic thought?
I had always believed that to travel around the country to be a sports photographer would require a staff job at Sports Illustrated or to be the big man at a big wire service or a major metro newspaper. As professionally fulfilling as that can be, I had talked with too many colleagues who had given up too many nights with their families and missed too many special occasions with their kids. The older they were, the more regret I saw in their eyes.
There was no immediate, life altering action that came from that conversation with Yarwood. I don’t remember the day or even the year as it occurred somewhere between 1996 and 1998. But Yarwood’s words were in my mind when I met a beautiful young woman in January of 1999 while attending Ohio University. I’d like to believe that I was smart enough to recognize how special she was without Yarwood’s guidance, but his words and experience confirmed what I knew in my heart.
If you’ve met me recently and feel that I’m selfish, you should have met me fifteen years ago. If there were a t-shirt that read “It’s All About Me”, I would have been the ideal person to wear it. I mistook being driven with being selfish. Being successful was more important that being helpful. I didn’t believe that I was selfish. Nobody believes they are selfish. I had to learn through time that friendships would grow my career, not diminish it.
The relationships made daily, both directly and indirectly related to my job, developed a web of resources throughout the country. It’s provided me the opportunity to help friends find jobs which they wouldn’t have knowledge of. And it’s provided me with opportunities to photograph some pretty incredible moments throughout the nation which simply would not have been possible without those friendships.
When I finally stepped back from it all years later, I saw that the relationships in my life encompassed everything that mattered. My wife. Our kids. My family. Our friends. And with that understanding I gained clarity and focus on my career as well. What mattered to me wasn’t just about what I got. It’s also about what you give. That was a tough lesson for me because I am not a natural giver.
I’m hard wired to think of me first.
I have to convince myself at times to be generous. I have to think to give that compliment. I have to tell myself that I should smile more often. It’s taken me too long to learn that lesson. So, I’m finishing this story from the wet, cramped photo workroom at Gillette Stadium minutes after Tom Brady lifted the AFC Championship trophy. I didn’t get here via Sports Illustrated. I got here through friendships.
This experience was only made available to me because of two close friendships that were established and maintained over the past fifteen years. So if you find yourself where I was at any point during this journey, please understand this. You can still have your dream without giving up your life. It just requires the ability to listen to wise people, build a wide net of close friendships and free your life to be ready when the opportunities arrive. Get in touch with friends when you aren’t looking for something in return.
Send an encouraging note just to make someone else’s day. Try to never let anything come between you and the people that matter the most to you. And don’t forget to smile. As the great Zig Ziglar said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
The point is to get your dreams, not to have your dreams get you.
This post originally appeared on the Into The Uncommon Blog.
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