Politics, photography, and owning your happiness


A quick note:  I originally wrote this as a Facebook post the morning after the US election.  It took me some time to figure out why I didn’t feel the same shock and dismay that many of my friends felt, but once I did understand it I shared my thoughts on Facebook with them as a message of hope.  

Now, full disclosure:  I am Canadian.  Proudly so as a matter of fact, but I love my neighbours to the south and spend a lot of time there on my photography travels.  I intended on re-writing this post into something more specific to photography that I would post here, but I think I am just going to post it with minimal editing.  Please note, this is not a political discourse.  On the contrary, it is a message of hope, and an encouragement to do what makes you happy and to not let extrinsic forces dictate how you feel.  I would love to hear from you about what you do to take ownership over your own happiness, but please no political commentary.  This essay uses the election as a launching pad for the conversation but it is not about politics, it is about life and living as a creative.  I hope you like it, and I promise the next two or three posts will be chock full of San Francisco photography goodness.

I went to bed last night like many people in the world, saddened by events in the US Presidential Election. Not shocked, just…. sad.   I am not a fan of campaigns that are based on fear and hatred, and I know many people had issues with both candidates.  This was a difficult campaign to predict, but I think there is a reality that countries crave change after a period of time and last night the US sure got it.

Interestingly though, I didn’t wake up shocked, or saddened.  I woke up feeling…. good.  That surprised me, and I ended up taking a long walk in the rain to try to figure out why I felt the way I did.

It finally hit me that I was surrounded by great things yesterday, things that will always impact my day to day life more than the leader of any country will.  My daughter, who is 10, eagerly watched the election with us last night and tried so hard to stay up for the results.  She was hoping for a Clinton win, so she was saddened by the results of course.  The bigger message though is that she is becoming a citizen. She was so excited by Justin Trudeau’s win here in Canada, and now was saddened by Hillary’s loss.  She understands the concept of personal responsibility as a citizen, and about the privilege of living in a country that has a free vote.  She also saw a woman rise to almost win the highest office in the land, which is just another example in a long list of strong women she is influenced by.  She lives in a province with a female Premier, her mother is brilliant and highly educated, her martial arts instructor was a highly accomplished woman, her teachers are brilliant, she has seen female doctors, her dance teachers are female.  My daughter doesn’t really understand the concept of gender inequality, because she sees women in leadership positions all around her.  Now, do we still have work to do to narrow the gender gap?  Of course we do, but the fact that she is 10 and doesn’t see that gap yet speaks volumes to how far society has come.  She says she can be anything she wants to be, and I fully believe her.  In the face of defeat we still need to see the successes.

I woke up this morning feeling good because I watched the election results with my wife last night.  My wife is brilliant.  A Masters degree holder in early literacy, who dedicates her time to her grade 3 class and helping her peers become better teachers.  As good as she is as an educator, she is an even better mother, and an incredibly supportive wife.  Let’s face it, I can’t be the easiest person to live with.  I am driven to the point of obsession at times.  I am a working creative.  I have been a professional musician.  I am a photographer.  I write.  We creatives always struggle with our desire to create, our frustrations when that isn’t happening, and our highs when we make something we love.  It can be the worst rollercoaster sometimes.  Additionally, I have been a paramedic for 20 years, I teach in that industry, and I am always juggling balls in the air.  I don’t know why, but I have never been content just to “be”.   I jump on planes on a regular basis with my camera because I have a need to travel and document with my camera.  It is like breathing for me.  Through it all though, like a rock, my wife is there to support me.  I feel good because of her.

This past Saturday I photographed a dear friend’s wedding.  I watched someone I care about marry her man, and photographed the joy everyone shared that evening.  I recently returned from a week of shooting in San Francisco, my favourite place in the world.  That was trip number three this year though, as I have also been in Amsterdam and New York for photography.  I have the opportunity to create and share, and that is awesome.

I woke up this morning feeling good because I received a text last night from another friend, who is currently photographing Italy.  It was 5am there, and I received a text from him saying that he was standing in Piazza San Marco all by himself, no doubt with a camera in his hand.  I love that many of my friend’s are following their dreams and living the lives they so want to live.

I woke up this morning feeling good, despite the fact that a friend and father is being buried today.  He died at the age of 42, and was a first responder that I worked with for years.  He recently donated a kidney to save the life of his beautiful daughter.  I felt good because our peers are going to honour him today, and after that many of those same brave men and women will go on duty tonight to continue their chosen role of protecting us when we need it.  I will miss this kind gentleman, but I feel good that his work will never be forgotten, because people won’t let it be forgotten.  The world needs people like that. The world needs heroes.

I woke up feeling good because I have PTSD from my life as a paramedic (I’m not sure if I have ever shared that here on this site).  Now, that is probably the strangest thing I have ever written, but stay with me for a minute.  My life got turned upside down when I got PTSD, but it also changed everything about the way I look at life and about the way I choose to live my life.  They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and in my case that is entirely true.  I am more productive than ever, and I work to ensure I live life on my own terms now.

And, I think that last point really brings this all home for me:

“On my own terms”.

No one else owns your happiness.  You do.  Yes, an election didn’t go the way many people wanted it to last night. Yes, there are things we all still need to work on collectively to improve our respective societies. Yes, like every election, life will change in some ways. The United States is 240 years old though.  They’ve had great presidents, and they’ve had failures I’m sure.  As a nation they have gotten over their hurdles and continued to slowly improve their society.  As individuals we also have an intrinsic responsibility to ourselves to continue to build the life we all want to live.  And, we can build it.  The whole shebang.

If you want to change the way you parent, if you want to change your career, if you want to go to school, if you want to travel… just, do it.  It can be terrifying, it can be exhilarating, it can be overwhelming, but it should always be on your own terms.  Don’t let an election, don’t let a new president, don’t let your current job, don’t let bad traffic, don’t let any of these things dictate your happiness.  Instead, let those things guide your actions and build a better life for yourself.  If you live in the US and didn’t like the election results last night, get active in politics now, you have 4 years to enact change.  If you don’t like the traffic or your job, start today to change those things up.  I cannot say enough how liberating it is to consider a new life, to step out of “the machine”, and to focus on what you love.  You can build a new life, you can take ownership, you can live on your own terms.  I’m not saying it is easy, I’m just saying it is possible.  Let last night’s results (if you weren’t happy with them) serve to motivate you to own your happiness. This morning it served to remind me of my amazing family, my career as a creative, my health that I fought to regain, the amazing people I am surrounded by, and the possibilities that lay ahead.

Work on what you can control, work on what you can influence, and don’t dwell on things outside of those two circles.  Be the architect of your own happiness.

For me, that is living my life as a creative with a camera in my hand, and I am so thankful to have the opportunity to do so.



12 thoughts on “Politics, photography, and owning your happiness

  1. mikevincent64 says:

    Ian, I just want to acknowledge you for your wonderful full message of hope. Like you, I am a passionate creative. I earn my living as a professional magician, speaker, coach, corporate trainer and…..,.photographer. Your words resonated with me because every morning when I wake up, I give thanks for another day to love, create and make a difference. We were born happy, our job is to remember that and use the fule of happiness in our creative endeavours. Thank you for being so generous. You have reminded me what a privilege life is and our mission on earth is to repay that privilege by how we chose to love, contribute and serve.

    • Ian says:

      Wow, many thanks for that kind comment Mike.

      Life can be difficult at times, sometimes overwhelmingly so, but it is so important to always remember that we can take ownership of our destiny much of the time. Life is short, and I hope we all take actions each day to get the most out of it.



  2. FULLSPECTRA says:

    Very well said, I agree with Barron. A very poignant post. And for what it’s worth, a handshake from one in the same profession. Not always a walk in the park is it? You hold your head up well Ian with a strong resolve. As we Brits say, stick in.. and I’m glad to have read your post. Thanks for sharing and all the best.

    • Ian says:

      Many thanks my friend. I look back at my work with pride and honour, and I’m even more thankful that I have my art on top of it!



  3. JohnAmes says:

    Ian, this post is one of the finest I have read recently about our election. Thank you for your insight and understanding and thank you for being a hell of a fine person.

  4. Jan Sears says:

    Hi Ian. As I’m on a ferry about to take a one day workshop with Valerie Jardin in San Francisco, I thank you for the reminder that we are indeed in control of our lives to a certain extant. We all need that to be mentioned to help us get back on track. And you’ve done that so eloquently. As a medic, father and photographer, we share some common background. All I can do now is wait and see what happens outside my two circles. We will soldier on. Regards, Jan

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Ian, I hope I’m not too late to the party, but I wanted to express my gratitude to you for putting into words how I feel about my life and taking responsibility for my own happiness. I, too, often wake up grateful for my life and feel excitement for what the day may bring. It’s up to me to make it happen. No more lame excuses.

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