Everyone has someone they turn to when they’re in a tough spot. For me, that’s my dad.

My dad is nothing short of a hero and I am so fortunate to have a father figure that is my number one fan. Over the last twenty years he has also learned to be the best source of comfort to my restless and self-doubting soul. He always tells me the same thing when I believe I am miserably failing at my goals – “be a sponge.”

I am privileged enough to go to one of the best journalism schools in the world with thousands of talented students just as hungry for success as I am. While being surrounded by equally motivated peers is inspiring, it also puts a TON of pressure on you to be the best – all the time.

This statement obviously extends far beyond journalism and into just about every facet of life. But I think this constant standard of perfection can distract from the true purpose of college – to learn. A huge part of being a student or working your way through anything is making mistakes and learning from them. Absorbing those lessons and keeping them with you will make you a better photographer, writer, and human!

I lose sight of this all the time and just tend to get down on myself when I know I did a shoot that wasn’t my best, and my editors tell me they know I can do better. My habitually negative brain says “Why did you do that? Maybe you aren’t good enough to make it out there in the real world.”

Here’s a good example of this from Sunday. I was on shift at the Missourian (which is the hardest yet most amazing experience I have ever had so far), and I was having an off day. We have been experiencing some crazy winter weather up here in CoMo and I was “feature hunting”, aka exploring the city looking for good scenes to photograph. I saw the moments but the shots just weren’t as good as I had hoped, I needed to explore different angles, etc. My editors told me the shots were close, but not all the way there. I left for my final assignment, photographing a roller derby team in near by Hallsville, feeling discouraged.

When I showed up at the warehouse they practiced in, I was focused on working my angles and exploring that extra step to get the most visually interesting frame. I started out a little timid, but by the end I was having lively conversations with the members of the team and sprawling myself all over the floor to get that money shot. I came back with horribly dirty jeans and a really satisfied feeling – I had absorbed my failure from earlier shoots and turned it into something good. I was “sponge-ing”.

You will fail. I have failed so many times at so many things. But it will make you into a better shooter, better writer, better friend and better person. I know my dad is right when he says the best thing you can do is soak in everything happening around you, every lecture, every experience. The path that waits before you can only be navigated by trial and error, so let the error happen and try and appreciate it even when it hurts. Maybe we should listen to the successful people we look up to when they say failure is the first step to success.

(Thanks, dad.)


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