Photography Recap of 2011

Year in Review Melissa Rachel Black

As human beings, we often overestimate what we can accomplish in a short period of time, but we drastically underestimate what we can accomplish in a year or two.  - The Minimalists

It has been an incredible year of intense change, rapid growth, love, loss, gratitude and contentment.  Here are the most kick-ass, memorable parts paired with some of my favorite shots from 2011.

Landed my “dream job.”  I worked 9-5 as a graphic designer and letterpress printmaker in Dusseldorf, Germany, making fancy-ass wedding invitations.

Melissa Rachel Black

Landed my “dream job” as a letterpress printer & graphic designer.

Quit my dream job. I realized it was someone else’s dream, and what I really wanted was to sustain myself through my own creativity, my own decisions, and on my own time.  To have time to live and experiment and give back and do crazy things.

Moved to Berlin.  Fell truly, madly, and deeply in love with a city.  Met amazing people, danced till sunrise, ate enough falafel to last a lifetime.  I recommend you move there like Maneesh says, or at least visit it.

Berlin by Melissa Rachel BlackMoved to Berlin. (You should too.)

Berlin by Melissa Rachel Black

Sparked the creation of a group of 4-Hour-Workweek entrepreneurs which still meets weekly and has grown to over 150 people.  Found some of my closest friends, mentors, and inspiration within it.  One of the most life-changing and amazing things I’ve ever experienced.

Sparked the creation of a 4HWW Entrepreneur's group.  With Maneesh, Rachman & Tim Ferriss.Sparked the creation of a 4HWW Entrepreneur’s group. With Maneesh, Rachman & Tim Ferriss.

Started my first business.  Out of my love for jokes, letterpress printing (and the desire to be my own boss) grew Ye Olde Gangster, the world’s first collection of gangster-rap birthday cards & love notes.  Got featured in some awesome places, was selected to sell at Neurotitan’s brick-and-mortar, and teamed up with the Hipstery, the raddest company ever.  Got two menterns to teach and learn from and keep things running while I start the next adventure.

Ye Olde Gangster by Melissa Rachel Black
Started my first biz, Ye Olde Gangster, handmade gangster-rap greeting cards.

Launched Art Outlines, a collection of handmade outline illustrations I draw for folks to use in wedding invitations, website design, books, etc.

Art Outlines by Melissa Rachel Black

Launched Art Outlines.

Broke up with my boyfriend.  Stung like hell for a while, then turned out to be a blessing.  My new freedom allowed me to refocus my energy, meet loads of new people in a new city, and clarify my priorities.  We subtracted the parts that weren’t working but kept the parts that always rocked, meaning our friendship was able to regain its full strength and we each had space for fresh opportunities.  He’s still one of my favorite people.

Won a trip anywhere in the world from my favorite author, Tim Ferriss. I ignored the voice in my head that said I wasn’t good enough or big enough to win a competition of this magnitude, and with a little (no, A LOT) of help from you my friends, managed to win!  You guys rocked my world and I won’t waste this opportunity: I am using this ticket to share something awesome with you.

Spoke at an international Etsy conference with my favorite Etsy blogger, Danielle Maveal on small business, passion, and making it happen.

Learned German.  It’s nowhere near native level, but I moved to Germany without knowing a single word, and by the time I left a year later, I could read and write and communicate just about any idea (as long as the listener was patient).  I keep up now by reading my great friend Sebastian Michel’s blog, Mr. Minimalist.

Traveled.  With my brother for the first time–had stinky cheese with our friends in France and a picnic in Switzerland.  Harvested honey at my friend’s parents farm in Germany.  Couchsurfed with vegan anarchists in Czech Republic.  Climbed the Swiss Alps in the pouring rain (scared shitless, literally thought I was going to die) with new friend.  Traveled all over California and stayed with old friends from college in Oakland, Santa Cruz, & San Francisco.

 Got to try life on the farm with my friend's family in Raakow, Germany.

Got to try life on the farm with my friend’s family in Raakow, Germany.

Learned Capoeira.  Sucked at it, but enjoyed getting sweaty, meeting new people, and trying something new for a few months.  Started an exercise routine that sticks.

Launched The E.A.T. Team, a project where I’ll use the ticket I won from Tim Ferriss to  travel across Asia, Australia, New Zealand and USA in 2012 to interview artists and chefs for an inspiring cookbook I’ll co-create with one of my best friends.

Met some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.  This is the most meaningful part of the list for me.  I’ve learned and changed a lot over the last few years, 2011 especially, and meeting people who embraced these new ideas that I loved fueled my fire and I am incredibly grateful for that.  It’s not often you “click” in a deep, fundamental essence of being like I do with my friend Sebastian Michel of Mr. Minimalist.  I got to live and work and play with Adam Fletcher, Maneesh Sethi, Rachman Blake, Mars Dorian, Marcel Phillippe, Fab & Vivien, and a few awe-inspiring people here and there who don’t live on the internet ;)  I also met some of my favorite authors and entrepreneurs, including Leo Babauta, The Minimalists, Tim Ferriss, Charlie Hoehn, Corbett Barr, Camila Prada, Nicola Rowlands and more.  The cliche of surrounding myself with like-minded people turned out to be an extremely worthwhile one to pursue–it’s like having a big non-cliquey family who cheers each other on.

The big life changes don’t happen over night. Give yourself some time. Put in a lot of effort and keep at it. You’ll be surprised with what can happen in a year. The Minimalists

The biggest lesson I want to carry into 2012 is living without expectations of myself or of others.  I feel like every single second, no matter who you are, there are enough blessings in your field of vision to last a lifetime.  Knowing that you are, have, and do enough in this moment, you’re set for life.  Happy New Years and here’s to an epic 2012!

30 Day Challenge: Fitness

Exercising in a beautiful place makes it easier. Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz, California is my all time favorite.

Today I completed a 30 day challenge for fitness.  I hate being sweaty and I hate running and I’ve never stuck to a regular workout routine before this one, and that’s because my goals and expectations were way too high in the past.  For this month, I decided to set the bar SUPER low.

The goal was simple: walk twenty minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Instead of promising myself I’d run an hour a day 6 days a week even though I felt up for it on Day One, I knew there would be days I’d give that goal a big hunking middle finger and damn it all to hell.  Not only did I set the goal really low, I arranged it around my shower schedule to make it even harder to find an excuse not to get a little sweaty.  I accounted for the terrible lazy werewolf that lies inside me and comes out more often than I’d like to admit, and made it virtually failproof.

Ready to try cheerleading?

So even when I was sick, even when it was raining, even when I was on my period, even when I had a JAM-PACKED day with “no time” for exercise.. well I was always able to manage a tiny 20-minute walk.

In the past, no matter how much I knew I “should” do something, like floss my teeth every night for healthy gums and to avoid costly dental visits later in life, no amount of “motivation” could get me to do it consistently.  You’ve probably gone through the same scenario as you try to form a new habit–you start out at breakneck speed, kicking ass and taking names. You are a rockstar, king of the world, no one can stop your unbeatable machine… for the first 3 days.  Then something comes up or you get sick so you miss a day, then you get pissed that you missed a day, and you toss your would-be habit into the gutter with the rest of your failures.

Well, I found that if I promised myself to floss just one tooth per day as Ramit Sethi suggests, I was able to once-and-for-all commit to daily flossing (and usually end up flossing every tooth).  And I figured that if that worked, the same behavioral change could be applied to my exercise routine.

The Results:

In the end, there were only a handful of days where I only walked for 20-minutes.  In reality, I often ran and walked intermittently for an hour or more.  I even did my routine on some of the off-days.  Many times, I got excited that I fulfilled my twenty minutes and that positive boost gave me the energy and desire to keep going.  Because I started small, I left myself room to expand or contract as I saw fit, all the while making baby steps in a positive direction.  

Some of my favorite benefits from this fitness challenge include:

  • Time to think.  Detached from computer, just me and the road.  And the trees and the streets and the birds and the sun and the rain and the people and the sights and the smells and so on and so on.  Letting my mind wander from the things it usually thinks about.
  • Added flexibility.  See photo!  Stretching wasn’t part of the goal, but it kinda just came with the territory.  I’ve never been a runner, but I soon discovered that running without stretching hurts a lot.
  • Sustainable while traveling.  I was on the road in northern California for the majority of this challenge, and that was one of the main reasons I wanted to pursue it–I knew I would be surrounded by lots of good friends and good food during the holiday season.
  • Weight loss.  Just a smidge, but a noticeable smidge.  Proud to say I can now close the button on my favorite jeans from college.
  • Social aspect.  Sometimes my days feel crunched for time (working on that one too, stay tuned), and taking a tactic straight from one of my favorite books, Never Eat Alone, instead of scrapping social time or exercise, I combined them.  I invited my friends to join me on a hike, which made a totally different exercise experience keeping the challenge fresh and varied.
  • Exploring new places.  As I said, I was traveling for the major duration of this trial, and in the past, I’ve used traveling as an excuse not to exercise.  ”I want to use the whole day to see new sights!”  Walking or running can be done anywhere and doing it while on vacation can heighten the experience–you get to see new places and faces while you maintain your physical balance.  I explored parts of Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz that I never saw before thanks solely to this challenge.
  • Not hating running.  Ugh, I’m almost embarrassed to admit this one, but also excited.  I no longer hate running.. I’m not gonna go so far as to say I love it, but once I got into it, I realized and experienced some of the benefits you hear about it all the time.
  • New techniques.  Discussing this challenge and my new interest in running with friends brought up some interesting discussions, which led to learning and testing “the one best way” to run.  I realized I had been running incorrectly, and it was causing a fair bit of knee pain for such a light jogger.  I just tried my first set of 100-ups and barefoot running today.  It’s a fresh experiment so I’ll save the conclusions for another time, but so far I can say that it was an interesting experience and I enjoyed the feeling of lightness and accuracy of minimal footwear and connectedness to the ground.  My ankles are sore from this new technique (not landing on the heels), but I am looking forward to trying this again soon.

I’m not 100% sure what’s next but I will maintain this new habit for the forseeable future.

What baby steps can you take today?  My idea in sharing my 30-day challenges is to inspire you to try some experiments of your own.  It’s only been a personal achievement and helped me until I hit “publish”, but if it inspires even one of you to take action then that makes it even more worthwhile for me.  Let me know if its gotten you thinking or doing and please share a link with your friends if so!

Are You Stuck? Change Your Perspective Instantly – Take Off Your Glasses

Without glasses, my world looks a bit like this.

Tonight I bicycled home blind.

Well, almost.  I am not legally blind, but I don’t think I’m far from it.  I wear glasses or contacts to help me navigate through daily life.  I got my first “sight correcting contraption” at the ripe age of 11; until I put on those glasses, I had absolutely no idea my vision was “impaired.”  That was just the way life was, and it didn’t dawn on me that there was a different, better, clearer way to see the world around me until I noticed that my classmates could read the chalkboard when I couldn’t.  In other words, I didn’t know I had a problem until I compared myself to my peers.  But imagine my delight as I put on my (super sexy circular bug-eye) glasses for the first time.. “HOLY CRAP!  Everything is so CRISP and SHINY and BEAUTIFUL!  I have been missing out on a LOT!  …Woah!  There are letters on license plates?!” and so on and so forth.  It was a glorious moment to behold.  This was the way everything was supposed to be seen, and now I could enjoy it too!  A level playing field!  Hooray!

As the years passed, I thought about how annoying it was to have to wear these things all the time.  How unlucky was I that  I had to wake up everyday and flail blindly till I found my specs; or that I couldn’t fall asleep wearing them or I’d bend or break them; that I had to waste time cleaning them every day; that I must pay  heaps of cash for these stupid ugly things I didn’t even want; that I couldn’t just roll out of bed and SEE!; that others were born with “perfect vision,” but not me.  Life was unfair, and it irked me.  As I grew older, I dreamt of the day when I could afford laser eye surgery and be rid of my burden forever.

This evening, I found a new perspective.  Two, in fact.. a physical perspective shift introduced a mental perspective shift.

It’s not a new idea in the world of personal development that a new mental perspective provides a fresh outlook on life, and as I trekked my 1 hour bike-ride home from a day of printing through the city, I realized that I was being a huge grump.  I  was impatient, rushed, nervous, and thinking rude thoughts about people who got in my way.. not nice & certainly not my ideal version of myself at all.

When I realized what I was doing and that I wanted to stop being a jerk, I remembered that I could use a perspective shift.  So after a few failed attempts, I found one that worked: instead of thinking about how the people on the street were “making” me feel (nobody can make you feel anything, you decide that), I tried to imagine how they were feeling.  And I didn’t have to imagine once I started really looking.. it was a fun game to read the emotions on people’s faces, and it made me feel good that I could relate to each and every one of them that way.  It also felt a lot less selfish, and got me out of my own head.  And since I was unabashedly looking into people’s eyes, I couldn’t help but smile when I imagined their stories, and they usually smiled back, which just formed a sweet positive feedback loop.

But that’s not even the perspective shift that really caught my eye (no pun intended.. kindof).. because as I was making my way through the Tiergarten (Berlin’s enormous, beautiful central park) I decided I wanted another perspective shift.. so I took my glasses off.  Immediately my world transformed from people whizzing by on bikes, dogs, cars, leaves, trees, dirt, & ground into a soft landscape of light and colors.  The way the light from the sunset filtered through the gaps in the leaves looked like shimmering diamonds or stars, blinking on and off in soft cascading rhythms.  I slowed down to savor the sight (and, let’s be honest here, to avoid crashing into a tree).  When I got onto a small side street, I was mesmerized by the floating lights the lamps created, which bounced off parked cars, which were intersected by headlights of oncoming traffic, all the while neon signs beamed from the sidelines.. I felt like I was on drugs.  I was stunned by the beauty and the stark contrast to what I was used to seeing; like the first time I saw the Grand Canyon and the Swiss Alps.  And here I was, just on the same-old regular trek that I have ridden almost every single day for the last 6 months.

As a photographer, my first instinct was to capture it with my camera so I could remember and share the sight and experience.  Then I remembered that that was impossible.. it was something only I could see.  I was occupying the same space as the people around me, looking at the exact same things they were, only seeing it in a completely different way.

It dawned on me that my new world looked exactly like my camera’s bokeh, which is defined by Wikpedia as “the blur, or the aesthetic quality of the blur, in out-of-focus areas of an image, or ‘the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light.’”  Simply put, it’s the blurry bit in the next two photos.

Bokeh: the blurry bit in this photo.

Bokeh: the blurry bit in this photo.

So am I going to ditch the specs all the time now?  No–both perspectives are valid & I enjoy being able to switch between them.  And as my growing business brings me closer to being able to afford that laser eye surgery I so desperately longed for.. well I guess that’s crossed off the shopping list.  Since it seems I have the opportunity to shift my physical perspective in a split second…  that got me thinking about my mental perspective on my vision.  Maybe my burden is actually a gift.

Update: I’ve tried this a couple times in the last few months, including today in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.  Each experience has been like dreaming while awake.

As I stood staring at the seemingly mundane, I must have looked quite strange to passersby who saw things with “clear” vision.  But I was in my own world, seriously focused on the present moment, and enjoying it all too much to care.

If one can change their physical perspective in an instant and be teleported to a world of imagination, adventure and possibility, they can change their mental one in the same way and reap the same benefits.  Are you feeling stuck like I was?  Make a conscious decision to change your perspective–physical or mental and see what happens.  The world you see is based on it.

As the Gorillaz said, just remember that it’s all in your head. ;)