What were you doing when no one was watching at nine years old?
Of all the advice and workshopping around authenticity and what your path in life should be, this has hands down been the best advice I’ve ever heard…go back in your memory and think about what you did at nine years old when left to your own devices. You’ll find clues there, I promise.
Me? I loved to dig in the dirt and be outside (still do). I also loved to plant things…(in all the wrong places). If I got my hands on some seeds, I would plant them in all the places I played – unfortunately they were also all the places the other kids played too, so they usually got trampled before they had any chance of getting past the first inch of life. I had a love of the outdoors, and a deep appreciation for its natural beauty and for adventure/travel stories of any kind. I loved to design and sew, and wanted very badly to be able to draw, but was just not gifted in that area (I’m still at the stick figure level).
Now, I obviously am not making my living doing any of these things, but my underlying appreciation and attraction to design and visual beauty were a a clarion call that photography answered – I couldn’t draw or paint, but I could photograph. It both reflected and fed that love of the visual world. Sewing and design served me well for making wardrobe pieces and creating sets for styled shoots.
And in my down time? I play outdoors, travel, and plant in my garden (when I have one).
My son, who early on picked up a camcorder and filmed his daily life in a small town, has recently been revisiting his old pastime and mentioned that he’d thought of doing a horror film short for a long time – something different than just the typical Hollywood gratuitous fare. I immediately thought of him at around nine or ten years old, trying to get the other neighborhood kids to follow his direction in making a little horror film…he put together the wardrobe from what was on hand, scripted it, gathered props and staged an area in the garage to film. Unfortunately the other kids had their own ideas and quickly tired of the direction – they effectively killed the dream within a couple hours and wandered off distracted. But I have always felt like the seed of what his future creative passion would be was planted in those years.
So – if you’re feeling at a loss to what your path might be, find some time to sit quietly and remember. Visualize yourself at that age, and try to bring back memories of what you found yourself doing naturally when not being directed by a parent or guardian. It might not be that literal thing itself, but I bet it holds some clues…unpack it and discover the elements in it that attracted you. Then think about all the avenues where you might apply them.
I think spending a day following your nine year old self around is time well spent.