On Being Just One Thing in Life

October 26, 2022

Who or what are you?

Photo by Juan Rumimpunu on Unsplash

Going back to my question from the other day, I asked: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Did you achieve that dream?

If not, who or what are you now?

Since I wrote that piece, in 72 hours, I decided to create a brand new podcast (in addition to What Would Charlie Shoot?) titled Share Dreams Co. (https://sharedreams.co).

It made me think about how many people have a story to tell.

What kinds of challenges have been faced, or what triumphs have been won?

Do we face the same challenges in a slightly different time-space continuum?

Yeah, I am a science fiction fan.

Yet, it got me thinking of my own story and how I have never had the luxury of being just one thing in life.

The trigger

Photo by Max Kleinen on Unsplash

This morning, I was flipping through Flipboard reading titles as I tried to pull myself off the couch from spending the night ill.

I saw a story where Canopy CEO Davis Bell canned two employees at his company because they worked second jobs.

Mind you, the two employees were engineers who made over 130k/year at the company.

What if someone wants to dig themself out of debt?

What if they have a family that they are trying to help support?

What if they simply wanted to be more than just one thing?

I read the comments, and many people gave Davis much flack for his actions. I wholeheartedly agree that it is ridiculous to trap someone in just one job.

And it made me think I have never been just one thing.

Who the fuck are you?

Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash

To play fair, I have to answer the question for myself.

I am a husband, photographer, teacher, writer, podcaster, artist, guitarist, drummer, singer, filmmaker, art collector, gardener, camper, woodworker, knife maker, chef, reader of books and blogs, uncle, son, grandson, entrepreneur, promoter, techie, linguist, blogger, and mental health advocate.

There are most likely things that I still need to write here, but you get the point.

Most people see me as a photographer or photography teacher. That’s cool; it is what I have done a lot in my life.

Yet, I have also been a book factory worker, burger flipper, technical support person, manager, college student, spaghetti maker, coffee server, record label owner, and other things.

This is a fraction of who/what I am and what I will become in this lifetime.

And when most people ask who or what I do, I simply tell them about photography because no one believes that you can somehow be good at more than one thing. Yet, you can.

Trying to fit in a square when you are a polygon

Photo by vackground.com on Unsplash

In high school, I was forced to take SATs, and other tests that I felt were irrelevant to my life.

I was never a straight-A student because everyone tried to force me into a square when I had always felt that I was different.

I was the kid that came from a small Lutheran school with 4 people in my grade and went on to a high school with over 187 people in my grade.

When I started high school, I thought I would get my ass kicked every day.

I would rush to my locker in-between classes and quickly find a seat in my class before anyone had time to touch me.

On lunch, I was the kid that stood with his back against the wall next to the school food store waiting silently to go to my next class.

I did not eat and did not dare to speak to anyone unless spoken to. And even then, it was a concise conversation.

By my Sophomore year of high school, I made a few friends with the outcasts.

They were the geeks, the rockers, the country people, and the outsiders like me.

I tried stupid shit to see where I belonged. I remember specifically that a rap group named Kris Kross wore their clothing backward. I tried that, and I tried dressing like a cowboy, among other fads. Nothing really felt totally like me.

Towards Junior year, I finally had a small collective of friends, yet, I realized that somehow I could easily talk to anyone.

Classes felt like a waste of my time, so I would forge hall passes to get my friends and me out of class to hang out and have a beer.

The more I talked to different people, the more I realized that I was still scared as shit of getting my ass kicked, but I had a defense mechanism: my wit and charm. I was a chameleon.

And my Senior year of high school, I blew off most of the classes I didn’t care about, like math, history, and boring subjects to skip and hang out with my friends.

Everyone loved me, and they had no clue that I still felt like I was an outsider.

It came time to graduate, and I was short on credits to walk. I had a guidance counselor named Mrs. Smith who thankfully saw me for who I am before I knew myself.

She encouraged me to enroll in a local community college in an accelerated program to finish high school and start college.

Once I got to college, I realized I could choose the classes I wanted. I could fit into a different box.

I finished my requirements for high school and graduated a few months after my classmates. Yet, I was starting to discover more about myself.

I enrolled in many music classes, including songwriting, recording engineering, and sight reading. I dropped sight reading because it was too much like a stiff math class. And I got all straight A’s in the rest of my classes.

I originally wanted to continue and go on to art school as I have always drawn and photographed. My Dad told me I would never make it as an artist and shot that dream down in flames.

Twelve years later

Photo by Kunj Parekh on Unsplash

Twelve years after that moment, when my Dad told me I would never amount to anything as an artist, I was laid off from a technical support job.

I had obtained the highest-paid job I had ever held, and the company decided to downsize. Mid-level managers were among the first to go, so I was left to figure out what to do next.

My ex-wife suggested that I have two options.

One, find another technical support job. Or, two, enroll in college for any degree program because having a bachelor’s degree is better than not.

Going back to school was a better option to accomplish precisely what I wanted to do twelve years prior. I was going to art school!

Art school

Photo by russn_fckr on Unsplash

Before I went to art school, I went back to the same community college I had attended many years before finishing high school.

Getting all of the basic requirements out of the way on the cheap would be a good idea, and then transfer these credits to a proper institution.

Once I completed all my prerequisites, I applied to the University of Michigan.

After all, it was there in my hometown, and I had dreamed of attending that school since I was a kid.

The art school made everyone apply with a portfolio. Mine was all over the map (as I mentioned, I have never been just one thing).

I remember the nerve-wracking interview like it was yesterday. They told me that my album covers on iTunes were more interesting than my artwork.

I left that day feeling rejected, and I awaited the letter with the final blow when I thought they would reject me.

To my surprise, I received an acceptance letter into the University of Michigan A&D program weeks later.

I could not believe I had made it as different as I was.

In my first weeks of class, I was the old dude. I was in my early 30s, already had work experience as an artist, and was married. I tried to keep it all on the DL to fit in without hassle. Yet, I did not realize that it was ok to be me.

By Sophomore year of college, they made everyone go through an intensive review process that would determine if you were going to stay in the program or if they were going to send you packing.

I again showed all work I thought they wanted to see instead of sharing the work I was most proud of — a mistake.

They asked me to re-review months later and to present serious work.

I went back into my second review as nervous as I could be. My wit and charm had saved me to this point, but this was all about the work. I was about to bare my soul in a way I was not accustomed to.

After a couple hours in the review, I left the room and thought, “if they kick me out, fuck it! At least I tried and gave it my all.”

Weeks later, I was notified that I had passed the review, and they invited me to continue the program.

If you are granted two life decisions: to be someone else, or to be yourself, always be yourself.

The present

Photo by Cristian Palmer on Unsplash

Many years after graduating college, working in New York, Milan, Los Angeles, and more, here I am.

Just a little old me sitting on a mountain in the Andes of Colombia.

How did I get here? You’ll have to read more of my posts to learn that. But the point is, I am me.

I am everything that I listed above and more. And I am present.

I work my ass off every day on eleven projects I have on my plate, but I am happy.

I have a family that loves me, a roof over my head, and food on the table.

And I realize that all of the people that tried to fit me in the box with the SATs or other times in life were WRONG. I have never fit into a box, and I never will.

I can run how far and how fast I want to when I want to, and you do too!

And that is why I have started the new Share Dreams Co podcast and site.

I want to inspire others.

I want to show YOU that it is possible that you don’t fit in the box also.

And I want to hear your story in your words.

If you are up for the challenge, visit https://sharedreams.co and follow the prompts on the submission form to share your story.

And don’t forget in the meantime to stay true and continue to be a polygon (or other shapes of your invention) in a world of squares.

I look forward to hearing your story!

Hi, I am Charlie Naebeck
I am a husband, photographer, teacher, writer, entrepreneur, and adventurer.
Book a photography coaching session or try one of my classes on Udemy.
Listen to my new podcast, "What Would Charlie Shoot?." 
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Thank you!

On Being Just One Thing in Life was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.