At midnight on a Friday, crawling along the windy road up to the Blue Mountains at fifty kilometres an hour because the horizontal rain and unexpected ponds that have appeared on the road mean I am driving like a blind eighty year old who doesn't want her license to be taken away, I am thinking this is not exactly how I expected my weekend away to begin.
Six months ago I rashly booked a weekend photography and styling workshop in New South Wales that I couldn't really afford but decided I needed to attend. It was to start on Friday afternoon with a wander around the venue (an old rambling farm over the mountains) and stretch to Sunday afternoon; a weekend filled with food, photography and wonderfully styled meals. A weekend of beauty and an opportunity for a group of likeminded people to gather and learn about the art of food photography. A group of people who all arrived on time and who, I imagine, are probably punctual, organised and not silly enough to drive a 26 year old bomb halfway across the country.
So when we pulled up in pouring rain, eleven hours late at one am on Saturday morning in what was definitely the oldest and shittiest car on the grounds, my confidence levels weren't high. After years of wandering around the world, this situation wasn't all that unusual for me- sleeping outside a bus station with homeless people on a freezing night in Spain was a lot less fun- but I wasn't sure what reception my unorthodox arrival would garner. So the next morning, when I dragged myself out of bed to go and sit by the fire in the common area, I was gratefully relieved by how welcoming everybody was.
After breakfast we kicked off our two very full days of photographing, styling, editing and gathering as much information from the lovely lady teachers as we could. We learnt a lot, photographed more and ate so much food that I couldn't even imagine ever eating cake again (when I got back to Sydney that silly notion completely disappeared, thank goodness). There was so much to discover, my brain was bursting. But the two things that really stood out, that stuck with me for days after the workshop, that I think will be the most useful pieces of information to pass on, are these:
1. Everything has been done before, but not by you.
2. You are the authority on yourself; nobody can be as authentically you as you can.
These might seem obvious. Of course you know yourself better than anyone. But putting yourself out there in these times dripping with social media can be quite difficult. There are thousands of people doing exactly what you are, and some of them will be doing it better. It is hard to escape other people's creativity and expression long enough to develop your own ideas. For creativity to flourish, you need to find stillness. You also need to accept that there will always be people doing the same thing as you, some of them will be better. That is okay. All you need to do is focus on doing things as authentically as you can and as well as you can possibly do them. Don't settle and continue to challenge yourself. Focus and believe in yourself.
These are the things I took away from last weekend's workshop (as well as some lessons in how to use my camera properly because I was pretty clueless). I have been musing over these thoughts all week and I think, in them, I have found my mantra. And then this weekend, browsing through a bookshop in Sydney, I came across a book called Grit. The author of Grit is a psychologist and the book is all about success and how natural talent is not, actually, that integral. Successful people are those who have the most persistence, self-belief, passion and... grit.
Things happen for a reason. Be yourself and be gritty. And have a look at these photographs from my weekend in the mountains.