Right now, as the year 2017 came to an end, I started to review it in my head.
I as a photographer, traveller and content creator am very good at showing how awesome life is. But factually, no one knows what's behind the awesome story I picture myself in.
Overall, 2017 seemed to be an awesome year, at least observed from the outside:
I travelled to Kiev & Chernobyl in Ukraine, Cologne, Burg Eltz, Geierlay & Trier in Germany, twice to Tilburg in the Netherlands, made a trip through Luxembourg, discovered Antwerp, Ghent and Brugges in Belgium, spent a weekend in Warsaw, left Europe for the first time in my life by making a two weeks roundtrip through Israel and Jordan and a one week trip to New York. Many travels, many unforgettable experiences! Also photographically, this year helped me to evolve; I received many awards for pictures I have taken on those journeys and for a few portraits I took this year. Other than that, I have become a guest writer for a photography magazine. Aside travelling, I learned longboarding. So yes, seen from the outside, my life looks pretty cool and adventurous; I can’t deny that! I did all those things in addition to my full-time job as photo retoucher. Many people associate me with living an amazing active life full of power.
But now it's time to be honest, time to tell what is behind all of this, time to show the shadow sides, only a handful of people know. I don't want people to get a wrong picture of me and my lifestyle. Therefore, I have to show my weakness. And to make one thing clear, opening yourself and showing your weakness is a sign of strength, not of weakness. Only the weak believe it's the other way around. So now, let me tell you the untold stories of 2017:
A few times, I made myself completely vulnerable. I opened my heart towards people. First I was not aware of that, but very quickly I looked into the mirror and did not recognise myself anymore. I felt empty, I had no power, wanted to cancel my trips to Ukraine, Israel and Jordan. I even reached that point where I wanted to drop photography. In other words: I was completely crushed. I lost my identity; at least I thought so. I wanted to throw everything away I worked for over the last years.
For 4 years already, I live abroad in Poland. I know many people. But I have only a handful of people I can call friends. Some of those are far away from me and I can talk to them via Skype sometimes more, sometimes less; even less do I see them. I got used to it. I made that choice to live abroad. On one hand, it is sometimes really hard not being able to just quickly drop by and hang out with them. On the other hand, it also opened my eyes and showed me what friendship is all about. It’s not about meeting every day. Friendship means to care for each other and be there for someone if he really needs you. I don’t know, how my friends could stand listening to all my self-doubts I had last year. My thoughts constantly spun in my head. Without my friends, without their patience everything would have been even harder. Their open ears helped me to survive very difficult times and dark moments.
To cope with this situation, I tried to keep myself as busy as possible, trying to turn off my brain and gain distance to my spinning thoughts. So, I engaged in sports: Skating, running, swimming, tennis and other activities that just popped up. As everything seemed to go smoothly and when I was feeling happy and satisfied with my life, I started to suffer several downfalls again: a surgery that did not allow me any big activities for 6 weeks, a broken heart, muscle inflammations in my right food (too much skating) and in my arms (taking and retouching hundreds of images). I was disappointed of not being an established famous photographer, although I worked so hard for it. I doubted myself many times and thought: "Maybe it's time to run away. Maybe it's time to settle down. Maybe it's time to get an ordinary life." But in the end, I decided to just stop doubting it, follow my heart, do things I love so that everything will automatically fall into place, as it always has so far. Living abroad made my life rich, I got to understand many cultural differences, learned from other cultures, learned how to drag myself out of holes I dug myself. I believe that only passion, dedication, self-criticism and endurance lead to greater things. But don't get me wrong, it is damn hard! I had many nights, in which I woke up 5 times from nightmares or just barely fell asleep. The good message is: Now, it is over. I just had to learn to accept myself, to accept how I am and that it is okay to have a different lifestyle than those surrounding me. My surroundings were even sometimes full of haters or people who wanted to use me. Those people just wanted to become “my friend” so that I take images of them for free and give me small presents to buy my loyalty. I am definitely done with that! I learned to draw a line, to share my life with people, who really care about me and to drop those, who simply fake it.
Overall in 2017, I asked myself very often what life is all about.
Just recently, I came to the conclusion to gain strength from all the downfalls I had, forgot the bad aspects of all of those and focussed on the positive aspects instead. Every situation in life can be seen negatively and positively. But our human brain somehow focusses more on the bad than on the good things. In order to forget one negative experience, you need compensate with 10 positive experiences - at least I heard so. If so, in the end of this year, the whole math would add up to a negative sum. According to that, I would be a very miserable person - at least mathematically. But that is not the case, because I did not have to compensate for the bad experiences, I learned from them and gained new strength!
This new gained strength allowed me to deal with my fear of failing as a photographer. In order to do so, I stopped focussing on the destination and how far away I am from it. Instead, I started embracing the way getting there, enjoying every single day, finding and mastering new challenges until I reach a point, at which I can be proud of myself. Many people call that arrogance, but those people simply don't have goals. (Sometimes I wished though to be one of those, as it is definitely the easier path.) But I listened too much to people, who just wished me to fail. Haters will be everywhere. Haters always gonna hate! People will always envy others for not being passionate, trying to influence them with their negative energy by putting up barriers and obstacles. Honestly, just ignore them! And another thing: If other people are jealous of you, it means that you do many things right, as they envy you for your achievements. Use their jealousy as a fuel to drive your engine. The stronger the hate, the more fuel, the longer the distance, the bigger your success. It is not a bad thing to be proud of yourself. No! It is absolutely important and necessary! It is hard enough to follow your big dreams and to see how far away you are from them. So you also have to look back and celebrate your achievements.
Be proud of yourself!
Let me give you an example: This year, I entered the genre of portrait photography. While shooting portraits, voices of those "technically perfect" photographers surrounding me became louder: "That's not a portrait. That's a landscape with a person in the frame", "your landscapes are great, but stay away from portraiture. That's nothing for you","why the hell do you shoot on ISO 6400 and get so much noise in your images?!". I was seeking for feedback in this new genre I entered. So I took those words quite seriously. But those words brought me into a deep crisis, where I considered to stop photography. Luckily after a while, I realised that it is simply hate, no feedback to help me. Hence, I quickly learned to not listen to their hate. Instead, I just did my thing! I just accepted and appreciated that I had a different photographic background. I brought something fresh to it. But probably that was their issue. I had my own photographic language and vision they were lacking themselves. So the stronger their hatred, the better my images. As simple as that! And now, there are so many models and girls, who appreciate my photographic style for being different. I have photo shoots varying from two to five times a week. Matthias 1, haters 0.
Once again, this year I challenged myself, but I succeeded. In the beginning of the year, it scared the hell out of me to interact with models, to have this pressure of taking good images. A landscape does not complain if the pictures are bad. People do! If I had not taken good photos, no one would have wanted to shoot with me again. And now, many people want to be photographed by me. I started this whole thing to be able to express various emotions: Joy, happiness, darkness, sadness. Because no one is just always happy. And now, looking back at it this challenge was absolutely worth it and brought me closer to my dream than I would have admitted a month ago.
My new goal is, to be the jack of all trades, a well multifaceted photographer, not only a photographer in one genre with one style. For now, I am able to shoot landscapes, documentary, street, lifestyle, portrait. And honestly, I’m curious, what will be next!
Overall, I learned this year valuable lessons and achieved quite a few things:
- I learned that you can achieve everything you set your mind to, if you really want it. Just go your way, stay focussed and don't let your ambition overtake you.
- I met incredibly cool people and learned to communicate using only the Polish language in my everyday life: At doctors, at photo shoots, in all situations, in which people were not confident to speak English, which is okay. I live in Poland, not in England. So I cannot demand from everyone to talk to me in English only. I learned to be proud of myself, accept myself and to not give up my dreams.
- I learned that you first have to find yourself to be satisfied with yourself. Otherwise, you start living your life for others. It won't make you happy. It is not an easy path, but it rewards you sooner or later.
- If there is anything that holds my life together in good and bad times, it's friends - no matter what distance - and photography. I can feel sad, I express it in images. I can feel happy and excited, I express it in images. I have a certain concept in my mind, I express it in images. I can approach strangers I have never met and ask them to take pictures of them. I take those images!
I want to live my life, not simply survive it.
It might be different than the typical way, but does that mean it is bad? I don't fit into patterns the society wants me to fit in. I am a single guy for two years, I am not married, I have not settled down yet, neither did I buy a flat, take a loan or commit myself to live in one place in the world for my entire life. Life is full of chances. Don't run away from them. Embrace them, it is hard, but worth it. Without those challenges, I would not be where I am today. I would not be a guy, travelling the world by myself and knowing awesome people on every continent in the world. I have learned how to live a fulfilled life by myself. Feeling lonely is normal. But it is not a bad thing! I deeply believe, everyone should have such periods of loneliness. Because in those times, you finally have the chance and time to truly find yourself, to find your own values and to find out what you really want in life. You might never fully find it, but searching for it, makes you a better person. And how should you find someone who fits to you, if you don’t know yourself?! I do not want to wake up in a few years and realise that I am tied up in a life I do not enjoy, because I didn’t thoroughly search for my own identity. And I believe, only if you know yourself, you can find someone matching you.
After those two years, especially after this one I know that I do not want to tie myself up in loans, debts or buy things I cannot afford. I want to spend less money on things I do not need. Of course, sometimes you cannot resist and buy something, but overall my spendings this year fell mostly on rent, food, sports, travel and camera gear. Spending money for experiences is worth more than anything else. Items break, can get lost and you will have to replace them.
Experiences stay forever. Memories don’t break!
I cannot wait to spend my money for more journeys to explore a new continent of this beautiful planet. I also know what I want for my next year:s Travelling, spending my time actively outside and become a better and successful photographer. With endurance, passion and dedication I will get there for sure! it is just a question of time. And that is the biggest lesson I still have to learn: Patience. I always want to force all my success. But certain things in life just came over time. And no one is born a master ;)
Life is, what you make it! Not what others want it to make!
In that sense: 2017, you were a very tough, but rewarding year. It made me stronger, let me grow as a photographer and as a person. In 2018, I want to return to the stage of 2016, when I lived in Norway, came back and gave inspirational public speeches. I want to continue inspiring others to go out, explore the world, explore themselves, to open their heart to new things, different cultures, and to grab a few of those endless opportunities waiting for them in this world. There is more than one predefined path to reach your goal and to live your life.
Enough of the speech. The world definitely needs more actions than words! So then, peace out and see you all again in 2019! I have big plans! More travels, more challenges, more changes. Honestly, I cannot wait to find out what the future holds.
Travel! Explore! Create!
Life is awesome. Don't survive life. Live it!