If I Had A Do-over In Life

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Eddie Adams – Marine Corps Combat Photographer

While serving as a young Marine, in Vietnam 1967-68, I had the opportunity to meet a number of Combat Photographers, both military and civilian.  Even then I was envious—they were seeing and photographing the whole war, I was only experiencing a small piece of it. And they had some bitch’n cameras:  Most were carrying the relatively new Nikon F SLR (usually 2 or 3); a few were still shooting with the venerable Leica M-3.  Probably 80% of the images were taken in B&W (at least early in the war when I was there) with Kodak Tri-X 400 print film.  

If I had a do-over in life what would it be?  This isn’t about how I would change myself, because I’m not really convinced we can do that.  I could be wrong of course, but I think we are pretty much who we are—for better or for worse.  I do make an effort to downplay my negatives and play up my positives, but I’m not sure I can (or even should) completely eradicate my negatives.  And, frankly, my negatives define me as much as my positives do—maybe more.  And counterintuitively negatives are sometimes positives.  Don’t you just love this psycho-babble crap, and from a guy no less?  So this soliloquy isn’t about undoing the hurt I’ve caused other people, or how I could have been a better person, husband and father.     Important issues to be sure, but this is more about the selfish-me—what I would do-over to be more faithful to my true inner nature (my intrinsic self).  That I have regrets about past relationships with people is a given—so, moving on, lets talk about the selfish-me.

Knowing what I know now I would have become a serious photographer much earlier in life. This would have taken one of two directions (and eventually both) I think:  As a young man I would have enjoyed being a Combat Photographer (what they now call a War Photographer).  There was much that I enjoyed about being a Marine (even in Vietnam):  I liked the challenge, both physical and emotional; I enjoyed the excitement; I enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow Marines.  And I was good at it.  What I didn’t like was the discipline imposed upon me by so-called superiors who didn’t know their ass from a hot rock.  I hate taking orders, especially when I know they’re bullshit.  I am an independent operator and work best alone (and that’s always been the case, even from early childhood). Alone I can focus like a laser on the task at hand.  I trust my instincts, and I trust my abilities.   The other fork in the road would have led me to Wildlife Photography.  Again, working alone and in solitude would have suited my personality to a tee.  I would have been outdoors, I would have been my own boss making my own decisions, and the excitement of getting the shot would have thrilled me like it does today.

My personality traits dictate who I am, and to a certain extent what I’m good at.  Are these traits negatives or positives?  I guess it depends primarily on context.  I will list them (not in any special order), and I think that you will immediately see that I was not suited to the corporate life of a Commercial Banker.  And yet I spent thirty years of my life doing just that.  It’s obvious to me, now, that I wasn’t happy—and I can, now, appreciate the strains it put on my various relationships.  So here we go:

I like solitude, I like being alone much of the time

I like challenges, physical, intellectual and emotional

I like adventure and danger (within reason)

I like being my own [the] boss

I am confident, agile and quick-thinking

I don’t like taking orders

I don’t like being a team player

I don’t like being cooped up indoors

I don’t like game playing

I don’t like the trivial

I hate injustice

I hate hypocrites (especially if it’s me)

I love being creative

There is no way I should have been a corporate executive, a bank officer.  The personality profile just doesn’t fit.  My negatives/positives/talents just didn’t fit.  Human Resources should have weeded me out a long time ago.  I should have been:  My own boss, operated out-of-doors, traveled to exotic locales, faced dangerous situations, spent a lot of time alone, and above all I should have been creating something.

My definition of a perfect day:  Is to get up early (very early), travel to an interesting place to take my photos, to see and/or photograph something new and exciting—if there is an element of danger to it so much the better,  being self-directed, alone and in the flow, coming back and having a great breakfast (with lots of strong coffee), processing my days work on the computer and heading off to an evening with my male friends.  Male friends because I can be myself, telling stupid jokes, acting like an idiot and drinking too much Scotch and smoking too many cigars.  No games, no drama.  Now a perfect evening is something entirely different:  Women friends, games, drama, too much Scotch (no cigars), and well …

Perfect job for Steve would have been:  Combat Photographer/Wildlife Photographer. Perfect lifestyle would have been:  Expat traveler, and uncommitted romantic (lots of lovely women, no real relationships).  Perfect Indulgences would have been:  Lots of Single Malt Scotch Whisky, lots of Cuban Cigars and lots of dogs.  Perfect Environment would have been:  Simple, cheap country living in Asia, Latin America or Africa with plenty of wildlife, solitude and peace & quiet.

Note:  I told you at the outset this was a selfish do-over.  You were warned.  This has been an exercise in “what-if’s” laced with some tongue & cheek humor.  But the facts are basically true … even if I’m not entirely the insensitive, uncouth cavemen I portray myself to be.

My question for you is:  Have you gone through this exercise yourself?  Have you looked within and asked yourself what would make you happy and satisfied in life?  If you haven’t, then maybe it’s high time that you did.  I spent virtually my entire working career (almost 50-years) doing things I didn’t enjoy, because I thought it was expected of me.  There is a time to be selfish.  If you are not happy with yourself, then it’s pretty damn hard to bring happiness to others.  What would you like to be doing in life?  What would your do-over look like?  Think about it.  It’s probably not too late.

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