Living In The Hyphen


(No, this is NOT an English Grammar Test!)

I am writing my third book, about lessons I have learned in my life, particularly from a very bad car accident I was involved in when I was 19 years old. In gathering information for my book, I came across many stories that were similar to mine – I am talking about getting a second chance at life to really live. The universality of what I found struck me – humans of all lifestyles, ages, ethnicity, and regions of the world all had similar thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams.

That’s nice Tom, But “what up” with living in some punctuation mark – you know, “the Hyphen?”

Oh yeah, sorry about that! Ah, “living in the hyphen” – not sure where I got this, oh so many years ago, but the person I heard it from was speaking of  cemetery headstones and obituaries. (Bear with me, this does get cheerier).  You know, “Joe Jones, b. 1926, – d. 1996″ RIP. See the hyphen, that little horizontal dash in between the birth and death dates?  THAT’s the part where we are alive, those years, whatever we have been granted. How are we going to spend that time?

“After all dear, it’s your life, do whatever you want…”

My dear Mother used to tell me that, whenever I was about to make a decision or move that she thought was unwise. She didn’t want to be negative, but she also wanted to show that she wasn’t totally “on board”.  So when I’d say “I am going to live life as a beach bum and collect and sell sea shells”, she would smile sweetly, and give me some variation of that saying. But it’s biological – eventually we all need to spread our wings and go against sometimes what is really good advice from people who have “been there and done that”. (Eventually we also find that to be successful at whatever it is we are pursuing, we need mentors – but the RIGHT mentors.)

“I Want To Turn MY Hyphen Into An Exclamation Point!”

So just how can we make sure the “hyphen” part of our life isn’t unsatisfying, non-productive or wasted? I found some similar thoughts popping up everywhere I looked, and also from my own experience. Here’s a few regrets I found many people had, and what YOU can do about them. Here’s a brief list -

1) Being Scared To Do Things: So often we look back and think “what WAS I afraid of?”  Now I am not talking about taking unwise or foolish risks (“I am afraid, but Tom said I should swim with sharks – without a shark cage!”) Nope. But addressing our fears – weighing the risk versus benefit – what’s the “up side” of doing something I am afraid of? In photography, for example, it might be learning to present your images in a way that benefits your client as well as your business – and not being afraid when a prospect says “what do you mean I cannot get these online or on a USB memory stick?”

2) Caring Too Much About What Others Think: We often call them well-meaning but “dangerous people” – close relatives or loved ones who tell you what you want to do is crazy and will never work. If you have great mentors and the correct information, you can ignore well meaning “nay-sayers” and build your own success fearlessly. In my photography business, for example, I would go to raise my prices, even just a little and people close to me would say “wow, I’d never pay THAT for a picture!” and I’d back off and NOT raise my prices.

3) Not Volunteering Enough: If you’re self-absorbed, fearful, lonely, or just asking yourself what life is all about, you will find volunteering for a cause you believe in to be life changing. You’ll meet like minded people, help those in need, help further a cause you support and find yourself grateful for your own situation, even if it is not currently ideal to you. Get out of yourself for a few hours and feel refreshed! I cannot tell you the hundreds of friends and acquaintances I made in my community, that also ended helping my business tremendously, by volunteering my time and portrait and auction gift certificates.

4) Missing the Chance to ask your Grandparents or Parents Questions Before They Die: I am now in my 50′s – and how dearly I wish I could now go back and ask my Grandparents more about their lives. They grew up in and survived World War I, the Depression, World War II, and all of the technological advances from the Wright brothers airplane to lunar landings. Among my two sets of Grandparents they raised 14 children! What a treasure trove of wisdom they would be! Get a video camera and interview them!  Being able to talk to, relate to, and have empathy for older people really helped me in my portrait business, as I could talk respectfully and intelligently with them during our meetings and photography sessions.

5) Working Too Much: Guilty as charged, your honor. I LOVE what I do – I have been a fulltime professional portrait and wedding photographer for 37 years this year! I also have played guitar professionally in bands for the same time! I also have been a radio show host, author, and online photography teacher. Who sleeps. right? But I am also, more importantly, a husband, and a father of a boy and girl. I HAD to find a way to make sure they didn’t grow up without me being around! For me, it has been working Monday through Friday 9 am to 5 pm, closed nights and weekends (other than Saturday weddings). Time flies by so quickly and your children will be gone before you know it, raising their own family and building their own career. You will sorely wish you had spent more time with your loved ones. NO business is worth losing your family over, especially when you CAN have a great profitable business AND a life with your loved ones! Put down the camera, computer, tablet and phone and go outside with your family!

6) Worrying Too Much: We have a saying around here - “what’s the worst that can happen and can I handle that?” when evaluating whether to proceed on a project. Often, 80% of what we worry about NEVER happens, and we can handle most of the other 20%. Worrying doesn’t stop the things we have no control over anyway. So I do the best I can to prepare myself and my photography business properly, and use the tools I have learned from my mentors to handle the rest when things go wrong. How many nights did I lie awake worrying about my photography business, and almost nothing that I worried about came to pass! Things I never dreamed of cropped up, but I was ready!

7) Be Grateful: With Facebook and other social media, we often can look at the “happy face” people paint and think “my life stinks, they have it so much better.” Yet, we all know, NO ONE has a perfect life. Many times those whom we perceive as having a charmed life actually have a boatload of problems but never share them. They may have trouble with their health, marriage, money, children, work issues and more. So rather than be envious, we must be grateful for where we are currently – and then take steps to set goals and take action to get us where we want to be. With today’s social media (and exaggerating), it’s easy to look at other photographers and get discouraged. Be grateful for the opportunity to be a success and then get to work on it with the right mentors!

“That’s Easier Said Than Done Tom, I Am A Busy Person!”

Trust me – I know! I am like you. I have struggled with all of the above and more. But I say “progress not perfection”. Make goals, a little each day and work on those seven points (I’ll have another 7 in a future posting.) Because remember – if you’re fortunate – someday YOU will be that Grandparent that your children and grandchildren and maybe even GREAT grandchildren will want to ask for advice. You’ll want to give them what YOU have learned to help them avoid the same mistakes. Oh which leads me to bonus tip #8 -

8) Take Good Care of your Teeth and Floss - I asked my dentist once which teeth I should floss and he said “only the ones you want to keep”. Because I want my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to listen to my advice  -and see my bright shining smile at the same time!

- Thomas Morelli


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