manually focus your life

Daises3

DSLR cameras have this option where you can choose to use autofocus, thus relieving the photographer of having to manually focus the lens. Thanks to this auto function, beginners can instead apply their energy to other things and not have to worry about this fundamental – but surprisingly tricky – skill.

Ever since I wrote my post “Uplifting Cancer Story,” I’ve been in inspirational guru mode, which has led me to think about how this concept of “autofocus” illustrates something important about life. Usually I’m not in guru mode. It probably helps that I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point.” I always find Gladwell’s writing interesting, novel, and motivating. He has a really unique way of connecting ideas and translating them into concepts that are easy to understand.

Back to my autofocus analogy. Autofocus is helpful for a nascent photographer, and it’s also what we do for children. As adults, we tell them where to look and what is worth looking at. By the time children reach adulthood, hopefully they have been taught the importance of manual focusing. In other words, instead of being told what to do, they have learned how to become active agents in their own lives. They take responsibility.

Manually focusing your life is not always easy. Lots of teenagers start off majoring in philosophy in college because they haven’t developed manual focus yet. They don’t know where – or even how – to look. I’m not knocking philosophy majors. I’m just stating a personal observation from my own college years. This is, in my opinion, one of the things that universities do best – teach kids to ask big questions and show them how – and where – to look for possible answers.

The point of manually focusing your life and actions is not that you do something perfectly every time. We all make mistakes. It’s like lifting weights. Lifting the heaviest possible weight you can handle safely until your muscles give out is how you build stronger muscles. It’s the same way with our intellect, our aspirations, and our potential. Mistakes are how we learn and from them, we can derive great strength and fortitude.

When I was in my twenties, I thought I was manually focusing, but really I was just being an idiot. I now have the benefit of hindsight, which is the only reason why I know that. Do I regret anything I did in my earlier years? I don’t, because all of those experiences – all that flailing, all those mistakes – helped teach me what I value, the kind of person I want to be, and the kind of people I want to be around. They helped make me, me. Those experiences ultimately honed my focusing skills.

As I said above, I’m in guru mode, so I’m going to say something you may have heard before: it is very important to live your life with intention.

Digital photography is not like real life. Remember that in reality, we’re only shooting with a few rolls of film, and we rarely know when we’re on the last picture. So pay attention. Focus. Get the shot.

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