“Why are YOU here?”
I’ve fielded this question from dozens of friends during CUNA’s huge Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) the last two years. It was understandable. After all, I’d served many of them as a keynote speaker at their national conference, state Annual Meeting, or all-employee event, or they’d given me the opportunity to help them overcome challenges with developing their emerging and experienced leaders.
Yet there I was with a “PRESS” sticker on my GAC badge and running around with my camera and small arsenal of photography gear, taking pictures of the 51 young professionals from across the country who were Crashing the GAC and shooting photos for the Herb Wegner Memorial Awards.
These friends were rightly confused. They’d ask me if I was there as a speaker, all the while keeping a wary eye on my camera and preparing to go into Gazelle Mode if I pointed it at them. Oh no, I’d respond. I’m not worthy to be in the same room as GAC speakers like General Stanley McChrystal, Ari Fleischer, and Arianna Huffington or Wegner honorees like Bob Schumacher, let alone on the same stage. I’d tell them that I’m merely there to use my photography to tell the story of the amazing people who make this industry special.
To my regret, I wasn’t able to stick around for most of their responses. When you’re there to document the actions of several dozen highly energetic Crashers and several hundred elegantly dressed Wegner attendees over a six-day period, there’s a click-worthy moment happening every half-second if you know where to look, and I didn’t want to miss a thing.
The reactions I did catch a fleeting glimpse of before lifting the camera to my sweaty face for the bazillionth time that day were a mixture of “So, is he just a photographer now?” and “Is he still speaking?” and “Dear God, I hope his pants don’t explode trying to get that shot.”
I wish I had time to tell them that I still love to speak and, by Christ’s grace, still have something meaningful to say that will help at least one person make this world a better place. I wish I could’ve told them how much I treasure the opportunity to help others run the right race and cross the right finish line.
I wish I could’ve shared how I’ve learned that the process by which I will bring the previous paragraph to life is neither linear, predictable, nor fully understandable; that my career and role in life don’t fit into a tidy category, and was never meant to in the first place. As the Crashers I shot in 2014 said, “I Am More”, and I believe that now more than ever.
And that’s only because of where my focus is now.
I realize that the best trophy case I’ll ever fill in my life won’t have my name on it or in it. The best stories I’ll ever tell don’t have me as the star. The greatest keynote I’ll ever give won’t highlight my life but will instead let others shine.
For me, those things will happen when I use photography to honor, in a unique and meaningful way, those I hold close as heroes and lift up as role models to my children. It’s an art form that has humbled me, changed me, and challenged me. It’s made my life blissfully unstable, pushed my ego off the throne I build for it every day, helped me love the messy and beautiful process of serving others whose lives are just as messy and beautiful.
I don’t know where it will lead but I know the journey will be worth it.
I hope I get to meet you at some point along the way. I’d love to buy you a cup of coffee, listen to your story, find out what makes you tick and where you want to be. You can’t miss me – I’m the tall guy with the face for radio and a camera at my side. I’ll probably snap a few quick photos of you before we’re done. Don’t worry, I’ll get your good side. At the end, you’ll have a few shots to hang on whatever wall you fancy, inspiration to keep fighting the good fight, and a new fan who can’t wait to tell others about you.
It’s why I’m here.
A version of this article first appeared in CUinsight