When I returned to the Pacific Northwest from our RTW trip, I had three major concerns:
1. How are my kids going to adapt to their new circumstances, after being away for 11 months?
2. Would I be able to re-enter the highly competitive job market in Seattle and still have the necessary "edge" to continue the work I'd like to do?
3. Will I be able to incorporate more travel into my work?
Two years later, I finally feel like I have positive answers to all three questions.
My kids are now 18 and 14 respectively - Isabella just graduated High School with the highest honors, and will be attending the University of Willamette in Salem, OR, in the Fall; Marco graduated from Middle School and will be attending Mount Si High School in September. Although they've had challenges re-entering, the transformative effects of our extensive travels are very palpable in every aspect of their lives. Isabella's perception of challenges and social interactions is deliberately acute and seems to be reflected in all of her life decisions. And although Marco is a more introspective person, we have noticed significant changes in his view of the world: he has become very aware of the fact that such a trip is indeed a once in a lifetime opportunity, his universe has expanded, he now understands that his interactions within the "system" (be it society or institutions) don't necessarily mean "compliance", and he constantly speaks of going abroad to explore new places and cultures as a natural and necessary possibility. They both know why their parents made this unusual bold move to instigate a "reset" in their lives. I am certain those effects will continue to be present in them for years to come.
The answer to the other two questions is that traveling has made me a strong visual storyteller. And it came just a week after our return, when I got my first assignment from the ad agency where I worked very hard for almost 4 years (and was able during that time to travel on assignments abroad for the first time.) I was hired to photograph for a big client during a product launch event in NY. It involved shots of various products being used by famous professional athletes, who were all under very tight schedules. The opportunity to travel again was delightful. But I was petrified, and still very much shaken from the re-entry. I had numerous doubts about my future as a capable professional, and as a middle-aged human. I trusted that my eye for new things and situations would definitely play an important part in the outcome of the assignment, but I couldn't quite come to terms with what I considered a "hyper self-awareness" in regards to my capabilities. One thing is photographing to fulfill a personal desire, and document a self-discovery journey; another is to shoot to spec, set specific milestones while remaining adaptable in order to manage all the risks involved, including client and agency expectations.
The experience was amazing. I reconnected with two former co-workers who I always considered friends and allies during my tenure at the agency, and their trust and honest liking of me played a crucial part in the success of the trip. I felt re-energized and decided that assignments like that should become my goal moving forward.
It also made me realize that the experience I had just come out of had made me somehow unique. I never honestly think about competition. I honestly believe in the natural results of hard work, commitment, and ethics, and those will always be the driving forces to any work I do. I like to think that my values are reflected in the quality I instill in everything I do, and that my work is a reflection of that - it speaks for itself, as everyone commonly says. So now it was a matter of how I would be able to incorporate more travel into my life, and choose assignments that had more meaning, more purpose, and that continued to fulfill my constant hunger for new experiences.
Then I got a call from a friend and he offered me a job doing exactly that. Our plan was to expand the kind of video and photography work that his small production company (ArcMedia Studios) had been doing, into new markets, while aiming to bring in more revenue. They needed a guy like me, and I needed exactly that kind of work. I had met them during some crazy big project I produced and directed at my former agency, and they didn't disappoint - high quality post production, remarkable work ethics, and faster than any other contractor I had ever worked with during my entire career. To make things even better, the job was 100% remote and flexible; we did pre-production and post completely off site! It may seem risky to some businesses, but to be honest our levels of productivity and effectiveness are pretty high, not to mention the lack of stress (specially being able to avoid Seattle's horrible traffic), and very low overhead. We still have schedules, tasks, milestones, goals, and serious coordinating efforts, but we are able to do all that without the usual "face value" approach - and that makes us more positive, and reduces randomization. It's also great for the planet, and the sooner more companies start to embrace a more flexible operational model, the better off we are all going to be.
My first assignment was to travel to 2 locations in the US (LA and Atlanta) and 3 countries in Europe (UK, Ireland, and Denmark) to produce and direct 6 videos for Microsoft. I went back to Dublin and Copenhagen, two of my favorite cities in Europe, and places I was already very familiar with - it didn't feel like work. I consider those videos a milestone in my career. They represent very well that perfect starting point, a culmination of all the best elements I always aspired to have present in my work (flexible working schedule, more traveling, purposeful assignments for cool clients, no usual office BS, competitive pay); and they made me regain confidence that despite all odds, uncertainties, fears, and risks, I have options. And I know now that opportunities can be created if you are aware of your surroundings, and if you position all that you think you can offer as an advantage. I put my fears to rest one job at a time, knowing that if I don't grab that opportunity, someone else will.
Since then I have traveled numerous times domestically and abroad - our latest creative effort took me to Amsterdam, London, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Hyderabad, Tel-Aviv, and Sydney. Every new job reassures me that this is exactly where I should be, and what I should be doing. And it always brings me back to our life changing RTW trip, when I learned to embrace change and challenges with an open mind, and to view the world as a series of doors to infinite possibilities. I feel like I am living proof that traveling is not only liberating, it is vital to our development as compassionate, respectful, and resourceful human beings. And If that is not an ultimate life goal, I don't know what else is.