My dad was brought up in 1950s Australia. It was an era where children were seen and not heard. If you ever were to say to your parents “hey look what I did!” you were scolded, “don’t be a showoff!” Achievement was not to be celebrated. You were nothing special. The moment you acquired a skill, it lost all of its value. Hell, if you could do it, then anyone could.
Fortunately, despite following his father’s advice and ‘taking a trade’ for a few years, Dad soon discovered what he really wanted to do was take beautiful photographs. And so he did. Without any idea how he could earn a crust, he followed a blind desire to create.
I often think about what gave him the strength to take such a risk and follow his passion in a society so obsessed with security. After all, his own parents had grown up in the Depression and his father (my grandfather) was sent away at 14 years old to work in the saw mills. Doing “the right thing” meant only dealing with known quantities and familiar outcomes.
The odds of failure were high. Yet walking out into the unknown Dad has gone on to lead a remarkable cinematography career, starting his own production company and now standing as President of the ACS.
How do you begin to depart from the world you have known for so many years?
Here is his explanation to me this afternoon:
‘We are all born in the womb, not knowing how to Yammer or take a good photograph. At some point, we all have to learn. There should be no shame in not knowing something, in trying and failing.’
(Yes, he really said Yammer!)
Nobody starts something with the hope of failing. Dad didn’t hope to take terrible photos, but he did know that if he failed, he’d be alright. The way I see it, if you’ve got the confidence to fail, you’ve got enough confidence to make stuff happen.
Cat Lee, Partner Engineer at Facebook summed it up in this awesome video released today:
“It’s very easy to look around you and feel intimidated because you don’t know anything about the subject and there aren’t a lot of people that look like you.….but the most important thing is to believe in yourself and to just not be afraid to do something that you have no idea how to do.“
Although I didn’t know it at the time, growing up around parents who were risk-takers and open to fail, I saw an abundance of reward in the pursuit of the unknown. For that, I am thankful.