When I was in college, I learned a lot of things. I learned about how to create dimension in table top product photography from Dick D’Alessandro. I learned how to find and convey emotion in portraits from Gregory Heisler. I learned how to pose any size group in any light from Richard Barnes. I learned the importance of giving back and donating my time and skills from Beth Reynolds. I learned a ton from my fellow students, who came from all different backgrounds and walks of life. All of that stuff was immensely important. But, the most important lesson I learned in my life can be summed up in six words, first expressed to me by my 8th grade Algebra II teacher, Mr. Novakoski – “Never stop learning.” “Don’t be mediocre.”
It’s strange what sticks to your head when you’re in school. I remember everything about that lecture that day. See, Mr Nova was well-known to go on tangents. Students assumed it was just because he got easily distracted, but not me. I always believed Mr. Nova had planned these tangential escapades as part of his curriculum. Whatever the real reason, this lesson in particular stuck with me for one reason – I felt his passion.
Looking back on it now, it’s clear to me that he cared a lot. He was very passionate about teaching and instilling in children that they shouldn’t hold themselves back, or let other hold them back. That they should be fighting everyday to improve themselves and their lives. Don’t settle. Look life in the eyes and take control. It didn’t fully resonate with me at the time, but there it sat in my mind all these years. For over 14 years, it sat; relevant life lessons coalescing around it. Gaining relevance and slowly seeping into every minutia of my thought process like a vine.
I like to say that no matter what I do, I want to try and be the best at it. That’s not to say I believe myself to be the best at everything I do, far from it. Rather, if I ever hope to improve, I need to hold myself to a high standard. If I practice, execute, and learn everyday, then even if I don’t become “the best”, I very well may achieve the best version of myself.
It takes passion, resilience, determination, persistence, strength of will, and sometimes even cockiness and aggressiveness. And I think the heart of what Mr. Nova said 14 years ago was that it’s not good enough to just be yourself. You need to be the best possible version of yourself. Strive to be more and better everyday, and not just for you. For your friends, family, coworkers, colleagues. Because if you can do that, you’ll achieve happiness regardless of your circumstance, and from that happiness will spring more success.
Thank you, Ed Novakoski. For this lesson, I will be forever grateful.
Below is a turtle who reminded me of this life lesson after he demonstrated his non-mediocrity to me by, using what I can only imagine to be shear strength of will, altering the physics of the universe itself to safely cross a busy road in the rain in Lancaster County Central Park. Stay you, little guy!
Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 @ 50 1.8