Fake Personal Development

Be suspicious of anyone who suggests these things.

Be yourself.

Coda for: give up on your life now. You’ve done enough. There’s no need to improve yourself anymore. You can just be yourself. Time to start stagnating.

They could be talking about the unchanging portion of you that makes you who you are. Your “inner child,” perhaps. But they’re not. When someone tells you to “be yourself,” he’s telling you to give up on personal development now. Don’t be yourself, change yourself. If you need to be told to be yourself, you obviously don’t want to be yourself to start with. That’s alright, because you’re outward appearance does not define you.

It’s no crime to change yourself. What the “be yourself” people really mean to say is “don’t let other people or society change you against your will,” not “refuse to change at all costs.” But if you’re at either of these extremes, work on coming back to the middle, not being yourself.

Fate is against you.

While it’s comforting to believe my lack of success is the world working against me, it isn’t true. For 99% of people it isn’t true. It’s also a limiting belief, because by subscribing to it, I’ve immediately put my fate in the hands of others. It may allow me to make more progress for a time, but ultimately I will have to give it up to reach the highest level.

The whole point of personal development is to take control, not surrender it.

Budget your time / money / life.

All budgeting is a kludge. Real people don’t need to live by lists and check boxes. If you need these crutches, you only need them until you develop your budgeting intuition.

Budgets are training wheels. After a few months of budgeting, you give up your training wheels. Every decision you make is so good, the consummate of your decisions transcends all lists and check boxes. If every purchase you make is needed and justifiable, why do you need a budget? To prove to your mommy that you’re not wasting money? If you’re so close to bankruptcy that good expenditures will push you over the edge, budgeting is the least of your problems.

Don’t spend your life in training wheels. Outgrow the training wheels.

This applies particularly to “getting things done” fanatics. These people spend 10% of their time working and 90% developing systems to budget their time. They’ve become so obsessed with budgeting, they’ve forgotten the real thrill that lies in doing.

If you budget $120 for entertainment, and you’re at the end of the month only having spent $80, what do you do? Most teens / twenty-somethings spend (waste) the rest of the money. Our government does this too, which is why they develop huge deficits but never a surplus. If you have a surplus, you have no budget anyway. You’ve transcended budgeting. Congratulations on your new budget-free lifestyle.

Count your blessings.

Coda for: accept other peoples garbage because you’ve had too much good fortune of your own. Give all your worldly possessions to bums on the street because they deserve them more than you.

Whatever stuff you have, you deserve to have. Most of you aren’t thieves. Don’t treat yourselves like thieves.

The truth is, you need your blessings to provide larger blessings to others. I can’t make much progress in photography by giving my cameras and lenses to a needy child who wants to explore photography. It’s more important for me to keep my camera, so I can produce art that impacts and inspires friends and strangers.

If it makes you feel good to count your blessings, go ahead, but don’t let other people take from you just because you’ve been blessed. If you do, you’re saying they can use your property and energy better than you.

Live every day as your last.

This is another kludge. Kludges aren’t shameful. When you’re building willpower, they’re all you’ve got. But you have to shed your training wheels eventually.

Pretending you’re going to die at the end of every day is ridiculous. It’s not something a personally developed person needs to do. It’s something a personally undeveloped person may have to do to develop his sense of purpose. It drives you to replace comfortable busywork with important action. But once you’re on the true path, such games become juvenile.

No, you’re not going to die today. You can if you’d really like to, but I’m sure you do not.

Other people can teach you.

Nobody can teach you anything. You can only be taught if you’re willing to learn, and if you’re willing to learn, you can learn without being taught. If you want to learn, then your teacher is no more than a director and you’re really home-schooled. If you think you need to go to college to learn photography, then you’ll never be a good photographer. You’ve surrendered your life to the will of others. You’ve already given up. If you want to become a creative, interesting photographer, you have to do it yourself. If this scares you, you can’t do it.

Sure, you can change your mindset to one that allows you to learn. But don’t think others can teach you what you refuse to learn.

I’ve found this applies especially to my college courses. If I won’t learn the material yourself, I’ve already lost the battle, because I’m leaving it up to my teacher to teach me, when all he can do is reinforce what I already know. If I can’t learn it myself, I’ve got nothing.

“I will solve your problems.”

No you won’t. Only I can solve my problems. You can give me suggestions and new ideas, but only I can absorb and implement them. I can know the solutions to my problems without ever implementing them, and I’ll continue to have problems despite your solutions.

The real answer is that any form of growth or improvement requires hard work, both mental and physical. If you need to clean off your desk and organize your possessions to move to the next level, then you’re going to be doing a lot of thrashing about for a few hours (or days, depending on how much stuff you have). This is a part of growing. Personal development is not all in the mind, and other people cannot do it for you.

Blame others.

You can easily fall into the trap of blaming your mother for all your life’s short-comings, or “society,” or your boss, or your hometown, or your skin’s color. These are all traps. They feel like a warm bath because they relieve you of responsibility, but they’re about to turn into a boiling soup that cooks you alive in your own cowardice.

No, you can’t blame others. There are no ifs or buts, and you are not a special case. It may be painful, but in the long run, personal responsibility is always the better choice.

Change yourself, not your life.

You do have to change your life sometimes. If you’re tired of your parents bossing you around, don’t meditate upon it for six hours a day. Come up with a plan to get away from your parents. If you can’t do that, then you’ll have to be bossed around a bit longer.

All the wishful thinking in the world won’t touch the lives of others. Personal development is useless unless translated into action. It doesn’t have worldly power in the theoretical realm, despite our wishes.

One of the main goals of personal development is to give you clear directions, thoughts, and purpose. These are all “mind games,” but they make you invincible when taking decisive action. It took a lot of decisive action for me to get up at 6 A.M. and write this article. I could’ve easily slept longer or played video games or wasted time trying to find articles like this instead of writing. I did look for a few minutes, but it yielded nothing of value, so I immediately started writing (typing).

I wouldn’t have written this a year ago, not because I was incapable of it, but because my mind wasn’t sharp enough. I could have the idea, but the idea would be useless because I would go nowhere with it.

The purpose of personal development is to get your mind working with you so you can become an unstoppable force in implementing your worthy objectives. It’s not about blaming your parents or blaming your past or blaming society. It’s not about handing your keys over to others. It’s ten times better than psychology, because psychology is mostly crap (sorry to my psychologist readers :grin: ).

When you’re not living to your full potential, it’s very comforting to not hold authority over your life. This is why so many people enjoy fascism and want more of it in the United States. It tells them what to do. Unfortunately, when you are living to your full potential, it feels silly not to control your life.

Personal responsibility may make you sick to your stomach now, especially if you’ve squandered a couple decades to the whims of others. But this doesn’t mean you should give up power over the rest of your life. When you crash into a car or drive into a lake, you don’t give up driving for the rest of your life. Even if (God forbid) you kill another person, you still need to keep driving to go places, because driving gives you freedom like no other.

Buses can’t match the freedom driving provides, just as blaming others can’t match the freedom personal responsibility provides. When you’re aligned with your truest intentions, personal responsibility gives you unmatched strength.

The Perks of Having a Job

2009-12-20 Update: Having a job is not so bad after all. I apologize to those I’ve misled and encourage you to keep your job if you enjoy it or to support your family.

I know a lot of people like to tear down gainful employment in general, but there really are some good benefits to be had.

1. Guaranteed payment for your work.

If you own a restaurant, and it’s losing money, can you get out of paying your employees? No—you still must pay them for the work they’ve done. While you can let them go, you can’t refuse to pay for the work they’ve already done, even if you’re going into debt yourself. In this relationship, employees are in a much safer position.

2. Trading time for money.

In a job, it doesn’t matter if you spend eight hours cleaning a mop bucket or finding the cure for cancer. You get the same wages either way. Your pay has nothing to do with the value of your contributions.

You can use this to your advantage by wasting time and reducing the value of your contribution. This way, you can become a leech rather than an asset. It feels fun, because you know assets aren’t valued anyway. This brings us to…

3. Innovation is discouraged.

As a cashier, you don’t have to invent a new method of barcode entry or re-organize the checkout lanes to flow more smoothly. You just have to do a repetitive job reasonably well, and then you can reasonably expect to continue being employed. Though you can be let go at any time, you can reasonably expect to find a similar job elsewhere. Sounds pretty reasonable, right?

If you do find a way to make the checkout process twice as fast, you can bet your fellow employees are going to be quite unhappy that you’re out-doing them. Even if they can easily pick up on the same skills you’ve developed, an across-the-board increase in efficiency will put some people out of jobs. Then, they’ll have the onerous task of securing jobs elsewhere, losing their beloved friends, and perhaps even starting over with lower wages.

Innovation cuts jobs. For example, in my Grandma’s time, people would go to the local cobbler to have their shoes repaired, often with nails and glue. Now, most people throw out shoes and replace them, because it’s cheaper and more efficient than having them repaired. The shoe-making process has been refined. Only rich people have their shoes repaired, and that’s only because they have shoes that are very expensive to replace.

If you’re interested in maintaining the current jobs, you have to be against innovation, because innovation will invalidate many current jobs. For the typical employee, innovation, renewal, and obsolescence are scary words. Don’t expect your revolutionary ideas to be accepted in an office setting.

The benefit here is that once you know innovation is unwelcome, the burden to innovate is removed from your shoulders. If you feel the inclination to do something new, you can easily remind yourself that you’d just be causing trouble.

4. No need to think.

While the unemployed enjoy the process of uncertainty, refinement, and discovery, with a job, you don’t have to think much about anything. You can easily lose yourself in your work, because your work is all predictable and planned. Instead of deciding the best course of action for the company, you’re told what to do by your boss. There’s no need to question it, because if you do exactly what he says yet something goes wrong, you can blame him for it and your boss’ boss will agree.

When you become the boss, you might be worried that you’ll start having to think. Fortunately, the chain of command is there to rescue you. You still don’t have to think, because you have plenty of bosses to tell you what to do. But you can look at yourself in the mirror and smile, because you know there are a few people who call you “boss.”

The bigger the corporation, the bigger the chain of command. You can work for decades through dozens of promotions without really becoming the boss of anything. Even though your title may read “Creative Director,” your position can actually be fulfilled by an android, or a computer program with enough “if” branches.

5. A policy for every occasion.

You’ll never be forced to make a truly original decision, because there’s a policy in the manual to cover everything you do. If not, perhaps two policies can be combined, or, in super-rare instances, a new policy can be created.

Of course, you must never dare go to the policy manual yourself. It must be filtered through at least five other people, and you must go to them first and then wait three days for a response. If you fix the hole in the roof without waiting three days for the policy on roof repair, you must be “disciplined.” Perhaps your master will go easy on you and opt for “verbal admonishment.”

If you read the policy manual, and you find that the computing security policy requires that all employees use unguessable passwords, but you know everyone is using their last name, don’t dare report it. When you report it, you’ll find that the true purpose of all these policies is to make everything a policy violation. Then, sanctions can be invoked against trouble-makers, while everyone else is ignored.

The policies are whatever they say they are. You’re just here to follow orders. It’s a cozy place to be.

6. Don’t fix a problem—get someone else to do it.

When I was working in a Volusia County library, I recall encountering a cryptic error message on the cash register. It was bad news, because there were patrons lined up to pay fines, and we didn’t have a working register to ring them up. While the librarian was asking her boss for advice over the phone, I downloaded the manual for the cash register and found that “EEEEEEEE” means to replace the receipt paper.

Delighted, the librarian told her boss how I found the solution. After listening for a moment, she looked at me and said: “We’re not allowed to look at the manual.”

When you work at a “normal” job, you can expect complete idiocy from the bureaucrats in that company. It’s even more idiotic if the company is part of the government (like the library system), because there’s no reason for the government to generate a profit. Public libraries get millions in tax dollars every year, and they repeatedly squander it through idiotic policies and pointless red tape.

If you have a job in one of these companies, it’s nice because the people above you love helpless people. They’ll pat you on the back when you go to them to fix a problem you could’ve easily fixed yourself.

7. A regimented life.

If you work 9-to-5, you can’t stay up till 4 A.M. every night. Instead, you settle into an unchanging rhythm, enforced by the rigors of your job. Feel more productive at 8 P.M.? Too bad; you can’t work then. You have to work when you’re scheduled to work.

Soon, your whole life becomes anchored to your job. Want to eat dinner at 4:30? Too bad; you work till 5. The weekend is a treasured time, but somehow you end up spending it talking about your job. Perhaps you even go out with friends from work. Either way, you keep spending time on your job, the same job where you’re stifled and bossed around.

Your lunch break is often mandated by company policy. It might even be scheduled from 12 to 1 or 1 to 2. When I work, sometimes I skip lunch entirely, but if I had a job, I’d have to eat lunch (or eat nothing) when they told me to.

The benefit here, once again, is that you don’t have to make decisions, because the decisions have already been made for you. Employment is the perfect refuge for people who don’t enjoy holding authority over their lives.

8. Detachment and mediocrity.

Since you’re not doing anything truly valuable or integral to the company, you don’t have to care too much for its success. You’ve seen people care too much about the company’s success before. They started to innovate, which eventually got them fired. You know the dangers of caring too much. You’re expected to be a mediocre person, who does a mediocre job in a mediocre way. Mediocrity is okay, because the company doesn’t need you. Sure, there are a few important, bright minds behind the scenes in every corporation, but they contribute enough that everyone else can be dead weight.

Instead of walking quickly, walk slowly. Instead of eating lunch in 32 minutes, use up the whole hour. Your job isn’t something exciting enough that you should be running back to it. It’s just a way to earn money: the only way you have.

Because your job doesn’t matter, you become detached from it. You spend the best hours of your day on busywork.

9. Friendship, dating, and social proof.

The people at your job are easy to make friends with, because they’re mediocre, soulless non-innovators just like yourself. You can easily get along with them by talking about the weather or current events. Don’t dare get into anything deep like religion, abortion, or financial politics. You know that friendships are based on superficiality. If you get into anything deep, you’re poised to destroy the friendship.

If you’re looking for a “compatible” partner, look no further than the office. The same mediocre, soulless non-innovators that are your friends can become your dates!

Plus, whenever you’re around strangers, you can connect with them by telling them you have a job. They have jobs too. They’re just like you! You can all be one big happy family of mediocre, soulless non-innovators.

10. Save for retirement.

When you have a job, our benevolent government deducts money from your paychecks. That money goes to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (coming soon: Iran and Russia). Once you’ve become old and decrepit from decades of unfulfilling busywork, the state will return the money it owes you, so you can live in comfort tending to small plants in your garden, waiting for death.

Need your money now? No you don’t. Obviously, the government knows how to save your money better than you. You know nothing. You’re a dummy. A mediocre, soulless non-innovator. Remember?

The employee mentality

With a “normal” job, you never really have to think, because you can leave the thinking to other people your whole life. You’re already doing that at your job; why not apply the same principles to other areas of your life?

Need spiritual fulfillment? Join a religion. As long as you pray (and pay) regularly, you’ll be fine. Nevermind that you could create your own religion for yourself that would be ten times more empowering.

Need entertainment? You should, after having a job for a while. Go to the movies, or pay for cable television. Then, you can watch the same garbage everyone else is watching and pretend to feel smart.

Need more money? Go to college and pretend to learn something. Then you can become the boss at your job. Don’t be scared—the chain of command will protect you from any real decision-making.

Have a problem? Pretend it isn’t there. Perhaps it will go away, or you’ll die before you have to confront it.

Why are you an employee? Can’t you become a freelance photographer, or start your own business selling widgets, or record a great music CD and collect royalties on it? If you can’t think of anything better, start a website condemning jobs, and make money off that. Plenty of people are supporting themselves without sacrificing their morals or their hearts. Employment is neither a rite of passage nor a badge of honor.

Why do you have a job? So you can die before you have to confront life?

Over-Emphasis

When you work in an area you love, you’re far more efficient than doing what you are indifferent to. Rather than all being general practitioners, by focusing on one aspect of life we can make much more progress than focusing on many. Instead of gaining a cursory knowledge of ten skills, we gain real expertise in one. While this can be known as specializing, or niches, I like the term “over-emphasis.” You over-emphasis your strong areas, while giving moderate attention or even no attention to your weak spots. You simply don’t develop in areas you have no talent for.

An example: it took me just as long to write Creon vs. Gilgamesh as My Life of Crime. The latter is a subject I’m passionate about (gaming the rebate and coupon systems of retailers), while the former is a mandatory school assignment. The latter is eight times longer, and each sentence is more interesting. The subject that is not my speciality is boring to read. On time vs. word count alone, I’m eight times more efficient in my area of over-emphasis than elsewhere. If you combine the appeal of the writing and presentation, I may be 100x stronger in my niche than outside it.

If you love to do something, dare to over-emphasis it in your life. Don’t create a blog for general photography tips when you really want to focus on computational photography. Don’t write an article on the totality of all the injustices in the world when you really want to focus on abortion. If you love taking photos of flowers and sunsets, don’t dismiss the field because it’s too common. While there may be 60 million other people taking photos of the same subjects, only one percent of them are fanatical about it. If you’re competing at all, you’re not competing with the whole world, and you have the advantage of offering a unique, creative vision, not mere boilerplate. I could choose not to write about personal development because the subject has been beaten to death, but then I’d miss out on all the personal growth I gain from writing, and more importantly, what my readers may gain from a fresh perspective.

The beautiful thing about over-emphasis is that it cuts through the noise. If you’re familiar with computer science, the signal to noise ratio is how much of your signal is garbage. If you have a high amount of noise, it’s like playing a record that’s beaten and scratched, or watching a t.v. show on rabbit ear antennas, snow and all. People often complain that because there are so many more people in the world, particularly online and blogging, that the field is too crowded. People start new blogs on subjects they think will be immediately profitable, even if they don’t care about the subject whatsoever. Don’t do this. If you pick what you’re passionate about, you can make things happen rather than waiting for others to make things happen for you. Instead of following the buffalo, the buffalo follow you.

In fact, the only way to live is to make things happen rather than waiting for luck to kick in. Even if you fail miserably, it’s much more fun and interesting than leading a regimented life.

If you’re going to wake up every morning and tend to the twenty-by-twenty garden in your yard, meticulously pulling every weed, planting new flowers, and growing small crops of tomatoes, then perhaps you should start a farm. A lot of people work nine-to-five jobs for forty years, and then they retire to do the same thing via yard work, crocheting, or other busywork. Doubtlessly, there are people with great ambition in these fields, but most of the retirees just work to pass the time. That’s why it’s “busywork.” Busywork is pointless work. It’s just to waste time, without getting anything real done. If you’re not doing something real, then what are you living for?

I don’t want to work nine-to-five for pay. Don’t even mention volunteering to do it. Why don’t more of the retirees travel the world taking beautiful photographs, or start charitable foundations with the wealth they’ve built up over decades of toiling? Because they refuse to over-emphasis anything important in their lives. They value procedures, tradition, submission, fear.

Public schooling puts our children through years of busywork. Memorizing lists of facts or writing mindless essays on classical literature doesn’t teach you anything of value. The whole point of public school is to condition you to be a drone. Then, you work nine-to-five forty years, tend to your garden for twenty years, and die a bleak death, while leaving a small sum to your grandchildren (who won’t appreciate it anyway).

Fortunately, I’m home-schooled. You can be too. If you can’t learn on your own, you can’t learn in college. If you succeed in school, that just proves that you didn’t need it to begin with. If the fate of your life rests with family, or friends, or your boss, or your professors, or the freemasons, then you’re failing your mission in life. But if you’re still living, you haven’t failed yet. “Failing” isn’t “failed.” Create the strength within yourself to become self-reliant and to learn where others only dawdle. Solve big problems while your peers submit to uncertainty. Work hard on what you love. You may be labeled with attention deficit disorder (or whatever the latest name is), but what you really have is an abundance of attention for the subject you over-emphasize. And that is courageous living.

17 Lessons from 17 Years

This is my first post as a 17 year old. The pivotal birthday was 2008 August 17, a Sunday. My youth is just slipping away. :grin: I’ve written this list of seventeen things I’ve learned over the years.

1. Passion is fleeting.

I used to be fascinated with the color blue. Then when I was 6 I switched to red. Around 14 I switched back to blue again. Now I’m starting to like green (notice my website’s colors?).

Don’t count on being dedicated to writing, piano, blogging, or photography all your life. Don’t root yourself in material mediums, because it doesn’t matter what you do. What matters is how you do it, or more clearly, what purpose it is for. My purpose is to courageously inspire and facilitate the worthy endeavors of others. I’m going to have to polish that up into a mission statement someday, but it’s a good place to start. I can look at anything I do and ask “is this doing that?” If it’s not, I drop it.

2. Be humble, not because it’s safe, but because it’s courageous.

It takes courage to admit ignorance, and you will never know everything, so you should always have humility. Even if you could know everything, you should stay humble because arrogance is bad form. Let your brilliance be self-evident in your projects and by the voices of others. Oh yes, I completely contradicted this when I named my blog “Brilliant Photography.” But I remain humble in my writings (smack me upside the head if I don’t).

Don’t be humble out of fear. You know someone is humble out of fear because he abandons his humility as soon as he becomes rich or famous or college-educated. A man who is humble for safety transforms into an evil monster once he believes he is in a position of unassailable authority.

3. Do good always.

Dedicate your life to the service of others rather than the acquisition of widgets. When you’re friends obsess over the collection of widgets, turn them to the side of light which involves abandoning the love of widgets. You need widgets, but only to help you to do good. Just like a need a camera for my photography, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to dedicate my life to the collection of expensive lenses.

Doing good always has lots of perks. When you do evil you have to slyly connive good people into helping you. You have to convince them that you’re doing good. It’s hard to manage. You may have to keep two sets of books, two websites, two mission statements, and a disguise, and if anyone finds out you’re behind the evil deeds, they’ll leave you if they’re good. But if you’re doing good to start with, you don’t have to hide in the shadows.

4. Be selfish sometimes.

But only when it facilitates you to do more good for others. I could go out and give my computer to a bum who would really make good use of it. But then I wouldn’t be able to do good for others with the computer, like what I’m writing here. If you give up every resource you have for the benefit of others, you’re on the wrong path entirely. From a pragmatic stance you’re being selfish, because you’re crippling your capability to help others by giving up all your tools now. You may as well donate both of your kidneys to charity. :grin:

5. Live beneath your means.

It isn’t reasonable to buy a million dollar house if you earn $50,000 per year, even if you can pay the mortgage each month. Even if you have been saving money for decades, it still isn’t reasonable because of the tremendous property taxes and maintenance costs. If you’re working at a normal job, and losing that job means you lose your house, you’ve sold a piece of yourself. You have to put up with flak and you’re living for others. Even a dumb 17 year old can see this is a bad idea. So if you are going to be an employee, make twice what you need and have a year’s salary in the bank. Then you don’t have to fear walking away.

6. Eliminate negativity from your life.

I did this passively when I was fired from my job. I was planning on hanging on there forever if not for the sudden firing, despite it being pointless except for the occasional paychecks. It’s better to take the initiative and eliminate negativity from your life, rather than waiting for negativity to eliminate you from its life. But when you recognize negativity that left on its own accord, you gain the power to courageously pick the higher path in the future, which is to take the initiative yourself. This means if you have a friend who is constantly asking you which hair curlers to buy, and she refuses to stop despite your prodding, tell her it’s over because of the hair curlers. Or, even better, write an article about it on your blog and then share it with her, so you’re contributing to a wider audience who wants to benefit from your expertise on hair curlers.

7. Put inspiration first.

It’s okay to focus on little details to make part of your life perfect. I’ve been doing a ton of that in the last week at Thripp.com, which is why you haven’t heard much for me. But only focus on the details when you don’t have the motivation to work on the big picture. Inspiration strikes randomly, so be sure not to reject it for trivia. I used to do this with my photography, where I’d see a beautiful sunset or fascinating patterns of light outside my window, but I’d continue working on editing old photos. By the time I’d get up to go outside, the magic would disappear. Now, I drop what I’m doing and run outside instead. It’s more fun that way.

8. Your time is valuable, computer time is not.

Leverage automated systems to do work for you, or build them yourself if you have to. For example I use WordPress with plugins (the network variant) to manage everything on this blog. A particular thumbnailing plugin makes posting my photography and creating galleries a breeze, because it generates all the thumbnails and displays them automatically. I just have to add a photo in one post and it appears all over the site. When I changed the site’s design last week, I went for big thumbnails. I just changed the plugin’s settings and deleted the old thumbnails, and it made new ones automatically. This uses more computer time (processing power) than doing everything by hand, but my time is more important than my server’s.

9. Presentation is important, to a fault.

I just spent a lot of time redesigning this blog, as you already know. But remember that there is a happy medium between good design and good content. If you spend all your time on presentation, you have a cake that’s all icing. A cake that’s all icing is an ugly, sickening pile of crap. You need something to complement the sweet icing, and that is a starch-packed vision. Good presentation and good ideas go together; having one without the other does not work.

10. Make a choice and stick with it.

If you’re going to buy blue shoes, don’t spend three weeks considering black shoes. It’s better to take action and be wrong than wait and never go anywhere because you have no shoes to wear. If you can’t choose, just ask, “is this going to kill me?” If the answer is no, pick the option on the left. It’s not important enough to dilly-dally on. I dilly-dallied over using Drupal for a while before choosing WordPress. I could have no website and nothing written and still be analyzing charts. That would be completely stupid. Just pick already.

11. Have one system.

I used to write phone numbers with the area code in parenthesis. But I stopped because you shouldn’t do that in file names for computers (parentheses and spaces are a no-no, especially in URLs). Hyphens are unambiguous. When there’s an equally good way to do something that yields less complexity, especially mental complexity, pick it instead, and apply it consistently across the board. I do that for my photos’ file names and my computer’s clock. You can see it on my blog. I use Universal Coordinated Time all over the place, which is 4 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time (my time zone now) and 5 hours ahead during standard time. But it’s better because it’s standardized, and it’s become natural to me. (I look at 07:39:39 on my clock now and I instantly know it’s nearing 4 A.M. :cool: ).

12. Do it now.

It’s taking me a while to learn this one. It’s better to do things that are going to have to be done now than later. Especially stuff with rigid deadlines, like work and school assignments. When I go back to college on Monday (5 days away), I’m going to apply this lesson. Instead of putting off assignments till the last minute, I’m going to do them as soon as possible even if they aren’t due for months. I know already that even if it takes the same amount of time to do the projects, it will feel like I have more free time because my free time won’t be filled with the burden of worry. But it won’t take as long, because there is a significant loss of focus in shifting tasks and coming back to a project multiple times. This is multitasking’s downfall. Just do it already!

13. Don’t work pre-emptively.

This sounds contradictory to the above, but it means you should not take actions that you think you’re going to need later but you aren’t sure of yet. I could buy a new computer now, but then if I realize I’m perfectly happy with the computer I have now and keep the new machine in the box for three years, it’s a waste because in three years computers will be faster and cheaper. Or I could start writing my will now, but I’m probably going to be around for a long time. By the time I’m old and decrepit, my life’s mission will be so far evolved that the old will would be of no relevance. It would have to be rewritten from scratch. So by working pre-emptively, I’d end up doing double the work.

14. Stand for something.

Don’t live by the dogma of others, be it religious or organizational. Create your own dogma, because only you can know what’s right for you. I am not a feel-good writer. That’s what I said “can know.” Most people don’t know what’s right for them. That’s why they go with a dogma. They’re weaker and less clear-minded than the makers of the dogma, so it possesses them. If you’re living by the dogma of others, you’re standing for nothing. Man is not designed to live by a book. The ultimate purpose of a dogma is to crush your spirit, brainwash your mind, and transform you into a money-producing dogma-promoting drone. But no matter who you are, you can break free and expand your mind if you work hard enough at it.

15. Don’t write for the critics.

If you have a concept, and it has holes, but it’s so sharp and provoking that it has great merits despite the holes, and you can’t think of a way to patch the holes while keeping the edge, and you know it will inspire thought and analysis in the minds of others, then by all means, make the statement anyway, unabashedly and without shame. Don’t even mention the holes. Pretend it’s perfect. To 99% of your readers it will be. Don’t write for the poisonous 1%.

The mere fact that people are willing to read your writing means you have a captive audience. Your audience wants to hear your clear thoughts, and they’re predisposed to find the good in your writing. They are not hecklers nor critics. Hecklers cannot derive any value from your thoughts, because they refuse to open their mind to them before tearing them down. They will find fault, even if they have to create it.

People who write or speak for the critics use statements like “in my opinion,” “as far as I know,” “I think,” “almost,” and “some people” a lot. Instead, use “in fact,” “I know,” “everyone thinks,” “exactly,” and “all people.” Dare to make generalizations. Write and speak concisely. Even if you’re completely wrong, it’s a lot more interesting and you’re going to impact a lot more people.

16. Talk to everyone.

To borrow from The Simpsons, a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met. You actually know everyone you don’t know, because there is an underlying connectedness between human spirits that transcends words. Most strangers won’t kill you. When I’m at the college campus, I generally have no fear of murder or bodily injury. In fact, I carry an $800 camera with me all the time, and nobody’s mugged me yet.

Dare to use your real and whole name, in person, on your blog, and on MySpace. Everything hides behind names like MrCool1234. When you get a comment from Richard X. Thripp, it cuts to the bone. You can’t make up names like that. Put your real identity behind your words. You’ll become so authentic, people will fear you.

While others live in their cozy shells, ignore the shells entirely and go right to the core. Ask a stranger about his life’s purpose, his story, and his accomplishments, and you’ll add to your own experience while raising his awareness.

17. Protect the sanctity of human life.

Human life is sacred and universally valuable. Animals are not people too. If my mother’s life was at stake, and I could kill a thousand cats to save her, I’d do it, because cats are worth nothing compared to humans. The value of the life of a cat pales next to a person. It’s not even a blip on the map.

Abortion is evil and any woman that kills her unborn child is a murderess. The highest purpose of a representative democracy is to protect the rights of man. [Note: direct democracies kill babies for the greater good. Jefferson hated them.] Our governments are openly destroying our rights, in an attempt to tear down 2000 years of Christian ethics. No, this is not dogma. If we don’t protect human life, then what do we have? We’re ants. Even ants take care of their young. Soon, we’ll be killing old people because they’re sick and bums because of their low quality of life.

If you campaign for animal rights, wake up. The rights of man are more important. Make a great impact, not a frivolous one. Start campaigning for human rights today. We shouldn’t have to campaign for them. They’re God-given; they should be recognized de facto. But “should of’s” get nothing done, so campaign anyway.

The final lesson: offend everyone.

Some of my readers will find point 17 quite offensive. Good. You can’t offend someone who knows the truth. The truth is that human life (and only human life) is sacred, and the only reason you’re offended is because you’re afraid of the truth, having lived under a dogma of death and lies.

If you offend someone, count it as a blessing. You’re making progress, huge progress. Obviously, don’t put your life in danger. But if your statement didn’t have an echo of truth, it would offend no one. No one can get an angry response from me by saying “you’re not on the right path with photography.” I love it and I know it’s a great talent to share. I can inspire others, I can change lives. I’m so secure in this knowledge, I can even write articles that totally contradict it without flinching. Only people living in fear can be offended.

Be bold, even on sensitive subjects. Be humble, not wishy-washy. Aspire to go further. And finally, live with courage, the courage to better yourself and the world.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value

Something that is valuable without strings attached has intrinsic value. I find intrinsic value is far more reliable than extrinsic value, because it’s self-reliant, independent, and free of the influence of others. The opposite of intrinsic value is extrinsic value. I like “extrinsic” as a word, but don’t see it used much. What it means is the value is assigned to the item by external forces. The item is worthless on its own. Or perhaps it has a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic value, so it is simply less valuable.

One thing that’s hard to accept about intrinsic vs. extrinsic value is that it’s a sliding scale with different paradigms. Nothing is binary. Something that has intrinsic value in one context and have no value in another. You might think the item has extrinsic value, and from a completely objective perspective it might, but it’s entirely okay to call its value intrinsic for the sake of comparison.

A great example of the two types of value is money. At the extreme end we have currencies made of paper and backed by nothing more than military might. These are called fiat currencies, because they’re valuable by legislative fiat (an order). The United States has fiat currency. My money has no value unless other people agree that it does and will exchange goods or services for it. It cannot be turned in for anything of value (besides coins), more of it can be created at virtually no cost at any time, and if all confidence is lost in it, it doesn’t even make good toilet paper. The money’s value is entirely extrinsic. In fact, it’s declined considerably in my short life. I remember in 2002 when gasoline was 85¢ a gallon, but now it’s over $4. It’s not because of shortages—there’s plenty of higher priced gas available. In terms of fuel, my money is one-fifth as valuable as it was six years ago. Granted, the increased prices are also due to the oil companies joining to form monopolies, but if our money had value that was fully intrinsic, such massive losses would be impossible.

Now, the U.S. dollar has not always been fiat. Before Nixon abandoned the Bretton Woods system in 1971, you could trade in a dollar for 1/35 an ounce of gold. So it had intrinsic value. During the world wars, convertibility was abandoned so more money could be printed, so for a time there was no intrinsic value. But even under Bretton Woods, paper dollars didn’t even have intrinsic value so much as representative intrinsic value. They’re still worth nothing on a deserted island, but as long as we were under the current system of things, their value may as well have been intrinsic, because they could be exchanged for something solid. The value was never fully intrinsic, or else Nixon wouldn’t have been able to pull the plug.

A step up from paper currencies are metal currencies, like the dimes and nickels in your ash trays. Though illegal, in times of panic they can be melted down to build real things, because they’re made of metal, not worthless paper. Gold and silver coins are even better, because people universally value those metals. However, as building materials, they are less valuable. Going back to paper, the bills in my wallet have some intrinsic value I forgot about. If it’s very cold and I need kindling to start a fire, I’ll be happy for my stack of $1’s.

The king of all currencies is gold bullion. It’s never going away, because people universally believe it has value. Its value is unchanging and largely intrinsic. When I see the worth of an ounce of gold is soaring above $1000, I don’t buy the hype that the gold has more value. What’s actually happening is that our dollar is becoming less valuable, but gold is the same as ever. Now, if you can buy more with $1000 of July 2008 money than you could with, say, $500 of July 2001 money, that’s doesn’t mean gold has gained value. It just means everyone is taking losses, by providing goods that are worth more than the money they charge. When the empire (the United States) is dying, everyone takes losses.

Even gold doesn’t have the true, objective type of intrinsic value I talked about at the start. If you’re back on your deserted island, all the gold in the world won’t do nothing to get you out of there. An airplane is something with solid intrinsic value. But you still need fuel, a pilot, and lots of other stuff. Heck, you even have to depend on the laws of physics remaining stable so that it continues working. But most of us would agree that little of its value is extrinsic, so those concerns are small. If all 6.5 billion of us agreed tomorrow that gold is as worthless as water, it would be that way in an instant, though.

Some things have intrinsic value that’s fleeting. The apples at the grocery market are valuable as food, but as soon as they turn rotten, the value is lost. The same can be said for human life: my Grandfather has no intrinsic value, because he’s dead and burned. Nor does my cousin, in spite of being dead and preserved in a coffin. The only value of his body is assigned, because many of us believe in stuffing and preserving corpses for some reason. We believe a corpse has value, but that’s extrinsic to the corpse. A person does have intrinsic value, but only while living. Value shifts from intrinsic to extrinsic upon death. Extrinsic value is not universal, either. My family values my cousin’s corpse much more than my neighbor’s. Extrinsic value can be fleeting. A lottery ticket is valuable extrinsically, but only till the numbers are called. Then it’s worth nothing. If it’s a winner (never happens), the value shoots up all at once, but it’s still extrinsic, just like the coupons in my wallet, because it’s reliant on fulfillment by others. Intrinsic value is not, or in relative cases, it’s reliant on unlikely-to-change entities like society or a humongous government, so it’s always a safer bet.

Where you can use the two types of value in your life, is in analyzing the time and money pits around you. Recognize that if you’re pursuing goals with extrinsic value, your goals belong not to yourself, but to other people. Sometimes, supporting the goals of others is inevitable. Florida Power & Light will cut off my family’s power if we refuse to continue to pay them in extrinsically valuable money. Could we live without power? Probably, but it isn’t practical. I couldn’t even share this writing with you without the power for my computer. Money is something most people value by mandate, despite being extrinsic. It even says on my $1 bill, “this note is legal tender for all debts, public and private,” so I’m required to accept money as a valid form of payment even if I open a business. The business isn’t truly mine if I’m required to give people valuable stuff for in return for crap (fiat money). But I accept that I have no alternative with what power I have now. There’s a massive gulf between this lost freedom and the lost freedom you are probably subjecting yourself to.

One thing that definitely has no intrinsic value is a college degree. A college education has intrinsic value, but only to the person receiving it, and then only if it is applied. A modern college education is utterly worthless. College is a crock. You’re trained to be a docile slave for any master and brainwashed to tell lies as truth to support the state. Lies like global warming, the cancer myth, and politically-correct language. Instead of learning real stuff like history or how to spell, you have to read and write garbage about The Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s worth less than nothing. College saps your mind and spirit. It is a self-accepted prison and you are a self-accepting prisoner. I am currently a prisoner with you, unfortunately.

What a college education does have, is plenty of extrinsic value. Employers, in cahoots with the universities, agree to accept only mind slaves with worthless degrees for jobs. Or perhaps they’ll accept anyone, but pay you much more if you’ve gone through four to six years of obedience school (on top of thirteen years of mandatory training). College is a job where instead of being paid, you pay. Can’t you see the irony there? You learn B.S. subjects like humanities and calculus, wasting upwards of thirty hours a week “studying,” when really you’re just memorizing pointless trivia and useless formulas to reiterate for a test and then forget. A typical collegiate essay is a series of citations, footnotes, references, maybes, “he or she”s, “what if”s, and semicolons. Nothing is from the heart, everything is crap, and no one would read it if they weren’t being paid. There’s no growth and you’re not developing as a person, despite how you may protest. College is at best an expensive social experience, and even that is on shaky ground.

A college education is firmly in the category of extrinsic value. Unlike universal concepts like serving others, inspiration, and passion, and working for yourself, college is ultimately a waste of time. It’s okay to do things with extrinsic value, even if they cost huge amounts of time and money. Repeat after me: “I, Richard X. Thripp, allow myself to pursue projects that have no intrinsic value.” BUT, you cannot live in fear by deluding yourself into believing you’re acting on some higher purpose. There is no higher purpose to my college education. Tasks with only extrinsic value must only be pursued for utilitarian purposes, should you claim to be living courageously.

Buying things that have mere extrinsic value, unless to resell, is something I cannot live with. Diamonds are an example. Unlike gold, they have no intrinsic value because they’re as common as dirt. One company (De Beers) controls all of them, releases very few, and advertises how wonderful and valuable they are. De Beers has managed to make diamonds extrinsically valuable to an insane degree. If you can make yourself (or a product) highly valuable, you can make a lot of money, even if it’s extrinsic.

Intrinsic value is the only path that has a soul, though. In sociological terms, coordinated efficiency (i.e. teamwork) represents intrinsic value, whereas allocated efficiency (i.e. buy the best people) is to extrinsic value. Money has its place: it represents you contribution to the world (either type of value), and it can be exchanged for goods and services of either type (food vs. diamonds). But if you do something for money alone, that means it has only extrinsic value, be it to yourself, the world, or both. With my website, I hope I’m doing something of intrinsic value to others, and I know it has intrinsic value to myself. I take, post, and give away creative photos, write free and hopefully insightful articles, and develop as a person through all of it. If you’re doing something of intrinsic value, you’ll know it because you’re energized, dedicated, and excited about it. If you don’t feel the heat, you might be providing a service that’s intrinsically valuable to others, but not to yourself. If I fixed computers for a living, it would be an important service to others, but it wouldn’t do anything for me. The other thing that can happen, is that you’re doing something you love (intrinsic value for you), but its worthless to others. Perhaps it is painting, playing piano, or taking nature photographs. What you want to do is to find something that’s intrinsically valuable to you and others, or convert what you’re presently doing over. Often, this just involves publishing your art online, or releasing a music album by burning the CDs on your home computer. But when you’re on the path of good for yourself and the world, everything will feel right.

While it takes a lot of soul-searching to reach the goal, I can tell you some of the clues that you’re on the wrong path. If you’re not sharing it with others, it can’t have any value to others. The first step to converting something that’s valuable to you but not to others is to show it to them. If you’ve written an awesome book but can’t find a publisher, just set up a blog and give it away free in installments. Tell a few friends about it. If it’s interesting or useful, lots of people will pick up on it and visit. You’ll know this because you’ll be getting lots of comments and trackbacks, and your bandwidth meter will be maxing out quickly. If this doesn’t happen, it means you suck. It’s okay. Right now I suck. But sucking is the only way to progress.

Once you’ve built you a following and love what you’re writing, you’ve already made it. It doesn’t matter if you’re giving everything away and losing money. If you have a website, and a lot of visitors, it’s impossible not to make money. Then put ads across the site. Register for Amazon Associates too, then start dropping product links everywhere, like this. Soon, you’ll be making money off something that’s intrinsically valuable to everyone, which is great. A lot of people will try to tell you that you can’t do it, you have to pick between money or heart, and that you should keep your day job and just follow your passion on the side. Ignore them and forge ahead.

If you’re working for a corporation with no intrinsic value, it probably puts up a smokescreen of purposeful charity to substitute. Instead of changing the world directly, the company donates a couple percent to charity. This is the “throw money at the problem” mindset, and instead of integrating charitable practices into the business, it’s just tacked on as a “me too” afterthought. Corporations like Wal-Mart, Target, and Publix do this. Then, they’ll come up with some phony mission statement for their employees, like Office Depot’s “delivering winning solutions that inspire worklife.” I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically when I first heard that one. Next, require all the employees to wear shirts with the mission statement and chant it over the intercom.

Ask any candid Office Depot employee if he cares about the mission, and the answer will be an obvious no. Very few people who work there, or have any sort of job, do so for an intrinsically valuable purpose. “For the greater good of all humanity” is an excellent purpose, but most companies that bandy it about don’t believe it. It is of extrinsic value to them. It’s fake, a charade to fool dummies and investors. You’re never living intrinsically if you’re living fakely. It’s better to work for a company with the mission, “to make the most money possible, at all costs.” Or live your life like it. But that’s a petty experience. Most companies are not that bad. They have a decent amount of respect for their customers and employees. But to call themselves charity cases is false and pretentious.

What else is only of extrinsic value? Certification. Education. Expensive clothes (unless radiation proof). Rites of passage. Careers. Tradition. Rules and procedures. Legacies. Religion. Sleeping at night. Clocks. Being an employee. Corpses. Funerals. All these have no value on their own. Only if other people agree, or demand them, do they become valuable, and then only extrinsically. Don’t be too worried about them. They’re red herrings.

What things do have intrinsic value? Love. Doing what you love. Purpose. Learning. Passion. Discipline. Wealth (for leverage). Power (the power to know better). Respect for human life. Serving others. Serving yourself (you have to to serve others). The list goes on, but you can see that aligning yourself with these principles, and paying no attention to the ones of extrinsic value will alienate a lot of would-be friends. Do it anyway.

How to Be Happy

My belief is that happiness is a means, not an end. Living for happiness, games, or to avoid conflict is shallow and cowardly. We have an increasingly materialistic society, and that too applies to happiness, because people seek it instead of something greater like service to others, which is a truer path. It’s like focusing on making money rather than providing a valuable service to others (the only persistent way to make a lot of money). Articles like this that say things like “life satisfaction occurs most often when people are engaged in absorbing activities that cause them to forget themselves, lose track of time and stop worrying” perpetuate the myth. Happiness comes from courageous action for the benefit of others, not solitary hobbies like journaling, photography, or music. If those hobbies can be purposed to educate and inspire others, then all the better. If they cannot, then the only value they have is for your personal growth. You can use them to gain the strength to serve others through other means, but the hobbies are just a shell on their own, just as happiness is a shell. A stable job, a house, a car, money, friends, a family, and a ticket to heaven (church lip-service) is misery if it’s all you’ve got and you dedicate your life to maintaining it.

Ultimately, happiness cannot come from your hobbies, spouse, children, family, God, or even service to others. It has to come from within, from strength that you may have built through those means but that has become self-sustaining. Serving others will make you happier, as will engaging hobbies, loving relationships, etc., but only as icing on the cake, the meat of which is your own independence, intelligence, courage, mental resources, consciousness, and authenticity. Sure, you can live without these things. But would you be happy with a cake that is 100% icing? No: it would taste disgusting and make you sick. Materialists live this sickening life every day.

One movie that made me think a lot about the roots of happiness is Star Trek: Generations. In it, Captains Kirk and Picard are trying to stop a man who is going to kill millions of people to get into “the Nexus,” a Utopian realm where you get live forever and have everything you want. The catch is that you have to consciously live knowing that it is all an illusion. Picard gets sucked into it by accident, where he has his dream: a loving family to celebrate Christmas with (he has no family back in the real world). But after ten minutes of screen time he rejects it and leaves, because he wants to live in the real world, no matter what the cost.

When you live for your hobbies, your religion, or your family, you aren’t being real. Being real is the only way to live, which is being intelligent rather than ignorant, and knowing lies and evil so that you can embrace the truth and the good. That’s why God lets us choose good from evil: it would be meaningless if he made the choice for us. Children who live for their video games, their friends, or Hannah Montana may look happy, but they’re in fact quite unhappy. They grow up when they realize how empty and unfulfilled their existence as children was. Or at least, they hopefully grow up. Only 5% ever make the leap. The other 95% spend their lives pursuing childish, mouse-like, fake happiness, and die never finding it. If I can help just one percent of these people, then I’ve done well. If I can grow up myself, I’ve done well.

My mom inspired me to write this.

Being a Free Photographer

break away

I run into a lot of photography purists, but I don’t believe any of it myself. Photography is nothing but a series of manipulations. You’re manipulating the scene by composing it any differently than a non-photographer. You manipulate the appearance of the scene by zooming in or out. You manipulate your viewers’ outlooks by composing to exclude unsightly objects. Motion blur, shallow depth of field, under or over exposing… these are all creative manipulations on your part. You may not have as much creative control as with painting, but you can still be quite expressive. But creativity isn’t “pure.” If we can define any solid definition for “pure” photography, they’re going to be dull, boring snapshots that no one wants to look at. Don’t do pure photography. Anyone can do pure photography; it takes a real master to do impure photography.

The great thing is, when you embrace impure photography, a whole world of creativity opens to you. Pure photographers are constantly wasting time with ethical debates: is it okay to make the world look purplish in Photoshop, or only through the white balance setting in-camera? Can I crop my photos, or is that misrepresenting the scene? Can I add contrast to a scene that obviously needs it, or do I need to stick to my limiting philosophy? Impure photographers have no such shackles. The “code of ethics” is: do whatever is right to make the photo beautiful. No one cares if you change the white balance. Adding contrast is great. Brightening teeth? Spot-editing blemishes? Sure. It makes people look like they should. It isn’t a question of keeping the image true to the camera sensor; the goal is to produce an image true to the vision in your head. Creative photographs come from people, not computers.

Ironically, as an impure photographer, you’re always making the world look like it’s supposed to. Sunsets are supposed to be beautiful, bright, breath-taking, colorful. Raindrops are supposed to be frozen still, black and white, shiny, and contrasty. And darn it, flowers and people are supposed to be bright and animated with nicely blurred, defocused backgrounds. If you’ve ever debated F1.2 as impure for not showing the world like our eyes see it, you’re really steeped in the dogma. Let it go. You’re on to a grand world of free photography.

In truth, the only way to be a photographer is to be a free photographer. As a creative photographer, your task is to create an idealistic reality that is also a realistic ideal. If that means desaturating backgrounds on roses, removing specks of dirt, and burning in corners, then so be it. If it means adding a glow effect, filters, and sunrays to a sunset, it’s all good. Your tool is your camera, but your real power is your mind. It’s like painting, where you get to pick all the colors for the scene, but without all the heavy lifting. You can create so much more because there’s no need to build everything from scratch. You start out with a solid base (the world), and then you take away or alter the elements that need changing, be it by composition, post-processing, or any other method. As a photographer, you unlock your creative mind and become a more free person, because you’re set free from the grunt work of other artistic mediums and can instead work on the big picture. It’s like moving from assembly code to a high-level programming language.

As a free photographer, you will refuse to support film where digital surpasses it in quality and efficiency. There is no purism; hard work does not contribute to the creative value of a piece. It makes no difference if I took 100 shots of the falling droplets on my digital camera, picked the best, then edited out the ugly bits, rather than wasting 100 expensive frames of film and 15 prints in the darkroom getting my exposure and burning right. Even if I do that with the film, it’s not going to be as good, because I’m not good with film. If you’re not good with film, so what? Use digital then. It’s the wave of the future. The finished product is what counts. If it took you three days in the darkroom or thirty minutes in Photoshop, it makes no difference and each medium is as valid as the other, as long as what you do looks good. Your photos have to be inspiring, beautiful, challenging, creative, and fresh, all at once. That’s what counts.

If you’re in any sort of camera clubs or photography classes, your friends won’t like what I’m writing. They’ll spout some spiel about how photography is a time-honored and labor-intensive craft, and it must remain so. It’s not your job to change or influence the world; you’re just a recorder. If you edit your work, you are cheating your viewers. Your taking away from all the good photographers who put the work in (a.k.a. luck) and create one-tenth the beautiful images because of their fear-based orthodoxy. That’s what you’ll be told. Don’t listen to it. It’s not your friends who are talking. Their true thoughts have been stolen by the prevailing spirit of oppression and negativity. It is not your job to change them. Just go into the world pushing forward with your art, and if you are being a free photographer, other people will take note, because you’ll be producing fantastic work. And they’ll start switching over too. We can start a revolution.

A note on “camera clubs”: don’t join one. I’d never join a camera club. If I want to be with my people, I’ll join a photography club–not a camera club. Just like if I want to read, I’ll join a reading club, not a book club. It’s not so bad with book clubs, though. The unfortunate thing that happens with camera clubs, is that people get caught up in the science of photography and forget about the art. And even then, they’re not focusing on the science so much as their own notions: limit-based notions that keep them from pursuing their art form for want of some technical limitation. But there are no technical limitations. Sure, this is all relative. You can’t do much with a cheap disposable camera, and there are just things our cameras can’t capture, like huge ranges of light or certain shades of purple. But the difference between what our cameras can do, and what the camera club participants pretend they can do is quite vast. If you have a Canon PowerShot A590 or anything like it, you can do anything. Practically anything. In fact, by the time you get near the do anything level, you’ll be four cameras up. It won’t even matter. Start creating your best work now, not ten years from now.

I remember when I started getting serious about my creative photography in 2005, and all I had was a Fujifilm FinePix A360. And there were some things that I just could not take pictures of, or they were really hard to take pictures of. I could never get a good shot of lightning, despite numerous attempts, because I had no control over the ISO speed or shutter speed. With the cheap cameras, many things are automatic-only, like the settings on mine were. I wanted a good shot of falling raindrops, and after much perseverance, I got Raindrops. Unlike with my Canon Rebel XTi and fast lens, the only way to do it with the FinePix A360 was in the bright sunlight, so it had to be raining in the sunshine, but that happened because I kept watching. Then I had the necessary light to freeze the rain in motion.

You’ll run into all sorts of limitations like this in your photography. Perhaps you have the Canon Rebel XTi, and you’re finding the kit lens is too slow for indoor low-light portraits (I did). Or you’re filling up the burst buffer too quickly with your rapid shooting on the football field. The limitations can be anything, but the free photographer’s way is to embrace and work with them, at least till you can afford the expensive gear that attacks them directly. Learn how to be still to avoid camera shake with a bad lens, accept grainier photos with a higher light sensitivity setting, or just take three shots for every one so you’ll be bound to get one right. Switch from RAW to JPEG for quicker burst shooting, or buy a faster memory card to compensate (rather than a faster camera, which is much more expensive). Whatever you do, don’t give up saying that good photography is impossible with your current setup. That’s the coward’s way out.

Free photography, as much as it is about embracing all formats, methods, and editing as equal and valid, it is about not making excuses for anyone but yourself. If you miss the moment when the lightning struck the ground, don’t blame your camera, or your lens, or your lack of a college education. If you can’t produce a beautiful image because your source image needs work and that work isn’t permitted by your oppressive photography religion, don’t accept it as fate. Don’t blame anyone or anything else for shortcomings in your work. Have the courage to accept that anything you’ve failed to do or any photo opportunity you’ve missed is your own fault. The reason you can’t create beautiful photographs isn’t because you never see anything interesting. There are plenty of interesting things in your house, in your yard, and around your neighborhood. Or there are dull things which can become interesting when you shoot them in a new light or from a new angle. The “I never see anything / go anywhere interesting” excuse is your own way to excuse yourself from the guilt of not following your artistic passion. But you can stop it, right now. Instead of saying “there’s nothing interesting,” say “I don’t put enough effort in.” Once you rephrase your thoughts and words to put the keys in your hand, you’ll be on your way to putting more effort in, or making whatever change you need for your art form. It’s the first step. No more excuses.

I’ve used the “I never see anything interesting” excuse myself, once or twice. But if all I’ve written hasn’t appealed to you, I have one more piece of advice. Go somewhere interesting. It’s not that hard. Millions of other people do it every day. Go for a walk, visit the park, climb to the top of some high building. If you’re not seeing interesting subjects, it’s your responsibility to change that. It’s all part of being free and empowered, rather than a slave of fate.

Enjoy your life as a free photographer. You’ve just made a huge step above 99% of the other people in your field. I hope to be with you too.

I am no longer an employee

I was fired an hour ago. It took me this long to write this (I’m slow, you know).

If you’ve read my first post about this, you’ll know that I was in trouble for telling my boss she’s in the wrong career. And possibly for teasing her for five months, but she started that and it didn’t become a problem until after my nerve-striking statement, after which she was searching for problems to catch me on. That meets the definition of a red herring.

Bascially, I was fired for being honest rather than fake, by my boss’ supervisor over the phone. When you have a boss (even yourself) who wants attractive but evil fakeness rather than honesty, then that is the only thing that can happen if you refuse to compromise. The only thing.

Perhaps if I would’ve groveled a bit more at several key points along the way, or put up a wall of fake professionalism through the past three months of my job (i.e. not talking about anything deeper than the state of the morning coffee), then I could’ve clung on a lot longer. I also could’ve sucked it up and not asked to be transferred to the Ormond branch, and acted as if I wasn’t being held back.

Or maybe it was sharing Fear is Evil with my supervisor and old friends at Ormond. It was probably too jaded, yet truthful for them. Truth is a scary thing, for people who have sheltered themselves from it. There isn’t one truth, but many, and mine is one of them. I learned this from my year in QUANTA. Mine is a particularly frightening one to someone in the system.

Sharing that article was not a “smart” thing to do, from the standpoint of a normal person. What would the normal behavior be?

• 1. Offend your boss, not by something inherently offensive, but because there’s a shred of truth in it and she is scared.
• 2. Apologize profusely.
• 3. Promise it will never happen again.
• 4. Say it wasn’t true, you were just joking.
• 5. Say it wasn’t true, you were just angry.
• 6. Beg forgiveness.
• 7. Work extra hard and donate money to the library (or the equivalent for another workplace), to prove what a wonderful servant you are.
• 8. Not try to get transferred, because that’s asking too much.
• 9. Go up the chain of command and tell them how sorry you are too, because that’s what it’s going to take.
• 10. Be so wonderfully nice to everyone, you’re bound to be loved. But to everyone else, it’s obviously fake.

… and the list goes on. Do any of these sound like the behavior of a smart, passionate person? If this is the list you’d follow, it’s time to wake up.

In my younger days (12-15), I would’ve been more apt to handle this differently. I’d respond with a month of hatred toward my boss, plus three months of hatred toward the system, and then, because I was never weak enough to seek revenge, six months of apathy. Then I’d just try to forget all about it. But when we forget, it’s just avoidance. Fear. I’m sixteen now, and I hope I’m passed that. You have to face your fears if you’re ever going to grow anywhere. Being an employee isn’t so great after all. This is a blessing in disguise for me.

I’m not angry, I’ve moved above anger. Which is great, because anger drags you down. It’s a weight on your soul which pulls you down to the level of an animal. All I can feel is compassion, which is great because it means I’m moving forward and I’m not permitting negativity in my life.

The big problem, even bigger than being pushed to act fakely, is that since my new boss started (Jan. ’08), she took away everything I used to do. I was relegated to shelving and organizing the shelves (shelf reading), and not helping patrons check out items, or find stuff, or on the computer (unless it was something she couldn’t do), or issuing library cards to new faces in the library, or photographing story-time and other children’s events. In fact, she was bent on a strict code of professionalism in the workplace (no humanity). I used to give out print copies of my photos or articles to patrons and staff often, but she prohibited it, saying it was not my “job.” Funny thing is, it’s exactly my job, because all of our jobs in life involve each other. Not a grandiose title, or a book full of policies and rules. Normal people don’t need a man-made book of policies and rules.

So, where my goal in library services is service to others, I became unable to fulfill the mission by these new restrictions. And if I can’t do the mission, than each day is drudgery. I was dreading going to work today, before the news, because I didn’t want to go through another (half) day where my path was blocked. I’ve seen it in the library, because we get half the patrons than when Lisa was there (the upbeat librarian who was transferred out at the start of the year). The shelves and books are in beautiful shape, evenly spaced (one of my projects was to make their heights equal), and in perfect order. And it means nothing.

Either way, I made 59 cents on my website yesterday, far less than my $8/hour job. But at least this path has a heart.

So what am I going to do now? Besides my precalculus algebra class that I have eight days and two tests left in, I’m going to dedicate myself here. To my photography, and sharing it with the world, and building profits off of contextual advertising. The Volusia County Public Library system is no worse than any other, but that doesn’t mean it’s better either.

There’s a really funny thing here. When I spend twelve hours on the computer on days where I released my entire portfolio as stock imagery, or made dozens of comments on other blogs, it’s a smart and logical thing to do if I make it big (i.e. make money). If I fail miserably and make nothing, than no matter how driven and positive I am, I’m nuts. A megalomaniac, and quite a monomaniacal one. Perhaps I’m even delusional, for maintaining positivity where others would give up in despair. I might even have Attention Deficit Disorder. Whatever it is, there’s something horribly wrong with me, because I refuse to be “normal.”

It’s the same thing for gambling. If you play black-jack at Vegas for twelve hours a day, you only have a gambling “problem” if you’re losing money. If you’re the most brilliant card counter ever and are making money hand over fist, there is no gambling problem. The “problem” status is not dependent on the righteousness of the behavior, but its end results. A curious quirk. There must be a name for this concept. If not, I’ll make one up. But I’ve reached the end of my thoughts for now.

An ode to courage, and to living with it even when everyone else forsakes it. I know I try to.