Highlighted Topic: Following your Passion
I feel very lucky that circumstances dropped Justin Lee, wedding and fine art photographer, into my life. Although, in the same breath, I don’t think it was a coincidence. I believe that there are impactful relationships, precisely placed into our lives as gifts for us to learn valuable lessons from. People act as mirrors for us. Especially people who wake us up and shake something within us to think deeply and inwardly. Justin has been this type of person for me. He, very quickly, became a friend whom I was inspired by because of the vision, perspectives and, in turn, life that he has created for himself.
I hate to sum a person up by tagging them with what they do for a living, although Justin is a person whose craft as a photographer is inner woven with who he is. He's the first one to acknowledge this. He expresses himself through what he does; what he does acts as a vehicle for him to express who he is. I believe that when you’re “doing” or spreading your gift, what you do IS enmeshed with who you are and what you stand for.
I think that’s why Justin’s product is of such value and quality. In my opinion, anyone who is expressing their true gifts, love and passion through their work is going to have a pretty kick ass result or product. I have never seen this equation fail. The result of Justin’s product is one that keeps clients seeking out his skills and continues to lead him all around the world shooting beautiful and creative images.
Justin described in our conversation that, in an essence, photography found him. He is the first to say that he IS doing and making a living from his passion. He is utilizing his gift. How he found his unique gift? Simply put, in our conversation, “by paying attention.”
I knew when I started “Inspired By” that Justin was a man on the top of my list of people I wanted to share an in-depth conversation with. This conversation travels through so many cool perspectives and is filled with raw commentary and some pretty good one liners. It was such a fun conversation to have. Thanks dear friend.
Here is the conversation I had with Justin provided in question and answer format. I feel moved and excited to share this with you. Enjoy.
Q & A with Justin Lee
Kim: Fill us in on how you have created the life you are living today? Give us some background.
Justin: It (My interest in photography) started organically and with a desire within me to figure out what I’m supposed to do here.
For whatever reason around 15 years old, I found that I had an eye. It came from shooting a little bit. I had success right away with my first film camera. Success at 15-16 years old (meaning) that I liked what i did. I saw it and was like, “This is good, I’m happy with this.”
Shooting…..It felt really good to me. I felt like this is something that i can really enjoy and be good at.
The truth is, I really wasn’t good at other things. I didn’t do a bunch of sports when i was younger. School was hard for me. I had learning disabilities and all kinds of random shit (wrong) when i was young regarding school. I went inward with a lot of my creativity.
I found photography at 15-16 years old but, it wasn’t until years later that I took it more seriously. I really went after it in my mid 20’s.
Kim: What made you go after it and take photography more seriously?
Justin: I think I was fed up with working hard and not feeling satisfied. I always had a good work ethic. I was working hard and I was driven, but I wasn’t satisfied. When you’ve found what your good at and what you naturally have talent for, but you don’t listen to it, it will come back to you somehow.
Kim: What do you mean? How did it come back to you?
Justin: I was just paying attention more. I was catching things like photography shows. I was getting more interested in film. I started to learn more about story telling…… Once I decided to take (my interest in photography) more seriously and moved south to San Diego from the Bay area, I went to night school for two years and studied film. That was another big stepping point for me. Within the first couple semesters of school, I totally fell in love with it (photography) and I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life.
Kim: Was there a specific moment or event when you knew that you found what you wanted to do with your life?
Justin: I think it was something added up over time. In school I was around people that had a shared interest in art that fueled me because It gave me validation. That inspired me.
Kim: How clear do you think you need to be in order to create a specific vision for your life?
Justin: If you really go after something and figure out that part of your belief system, and you know it, like life and death know it, it doesn’t matter. You will figure it out… Having more Clarity can create a quicker path. Clarity is a tricky word to use because I don’t think we are ever going to get full clarity unless we’re a “f-ing” monk on a mountain or we’re dead.
Its okay to step back a little bit ..Its important to want to progress, that’s healthy. Having goals is healthy. At the end of the day when I started my career I didn’t know if I was going to “make it.” I didn’t really care. I just loved it (photography.) That love gave me a form of tunnel vision.
Kim: What advice would you give to people that don’t know what their passion is and feel stuck?
Justin: If you don’t have an exact answer of what to do with your life right now, then just work on yourself. Put it back on you. Figure out what makes you happy.
For me, at some point I was able to identify that I had an eye and I felt really strongly about that. I could have had seasoned veterans in photography tell me my work sucked, but I probably would have done it still because I just knew that I can be good at it. I just knew that I can offer a different perspective. That little essence is the “special sauce.” I don’t know where it came from, it was just there.
Kim: How do you continue to hone what you want for your life?
Justin: It’s so important to be in tune with some level of (your natural) instinct. We literally use language like “my heart is heavy” or “I have a gut feeling.” Those are real. That’s a real thing. Those are instincts that we were born with that’s so important to be aware of and pay attention too. Have self awareness around that. It all starts with you listening to those instincts and then acting on them. My instincts told me I need to be telling a story.
Kim: Did you ever have doubts about pursuing photography as a full time venture?
Justin: I never felt pressure that I shouldn't do this (career) because it doesn’t fit the typical rules of what society says. I didn’t know if (photography) was going to provide a long term income. I didn’t let that influence my decision making. That part was very clear. I didn’t give a shit what anyone said to me. I didn't care if I wasn’t going to make a crazy living from it. I just wanted to be able to do it and get better at it. I knew that the rest would come.
Kim: How do you get back in a positive head space?
Whenever I start to feel that I’m struggling, I try to figure out ways to work on myself . When you do something out of passion and love…..there is no plan B. I don’t even know what that would be. There is nothing else that I would want to do with my life. That’s not a f-ing hallmark card.”
When it’s hard I think of what i have been given. The recipe for happy is not a unique thing. It’s hard work, being patient, finding what you love and sticking with it.
I have crazy days, intense days, negativity thats thrown at me. Not staying in that (negative) place (is what helps me.) The trick is not letting it (negativity) go beyond that moment. When something negative happens, I turn it into something (positive) quickly. I do that by thinking of (positive) memories that I’ve built up or (turning to) a song, a book, a hike, there are all kinds of ways I know how to reboot. I’m real about (being in a negative space) and I check myself.
Kim: How about the person who is really affected by others (negative) energy and influence? What is your feedback for them?
Justin: I’m naturally wired as an underdog. I never felt the need to be influenced by others. I already felt like I was not apart of the group (when younger). I have it in me to not to be a follower. I sure as hell don’t want someone else’s shit ruining my day. That ain’t gonna work for me.
If you’re sincere to yourself in wanting to grow……You have to get comfortable with not following what others say you should do. If you want to grow you have to get uncomfortable.
……..The conversation went a bit further with Justin, but above is the meat of what we talked about together. What I took from our talk is that when you really want something, very few things can stop you from going for it. As Justin would say:
“If you really go after something and you believe it’s what you want, something will come of that focus and energy.”
Justin is such a great example of following his inner knowing, fire, passion, or whatever you want to call it. He literally had tunnel vision when it came to pursuing photography. Keep in mind that when you have fire about something, that’s a sign that there is something “there” for you to pay attention too.
Check out Justin's work:
* The above image of Justin was provided by him.