An Update: On Gratitude and Looking Ahead to 2012

 Above: At the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, Taipei City, Taiwan (August 2011)

It’s been quite the Thanksgiving weekend on my side. I got to stay offline for four whole days, disconnect from cyberspace and connect with family, especially my one year-old nephew. Waking up daily at 6 a.m. and playing with him, spending afternoons at the playground and watching him giggle at the little things was so refreshing. Catching a cold also forced me to take it easier.

I had time to reflect on where my life is, three years after leaving my full time law firm job.

On Thanksgiving morning, I had an eye-opening conversation with my sister, who is an accomplished fashion designer and now mother, juggling more responsibilities and yet doing it so seamlessly.

As we talked about my past years of travel and trying to find my passion, I admitted in the middle of strangled sobs that for the first time in my life, I felt like I have failed. Gulp. That was a hard one for me to even admit out loud. But yes, I felt like I hadn’t achieved as much as I should have in three years of travel, and maybe all I had done was just complicate my life. My sister was even more stunned by my admission. She wouldn’t have it. She reminded me how brave it is to even pursue what you love to do, to leave a full time job behind that makes you miserable day in and day out and seek out your true purpose instead. She then pointed out to all the amazing memories and experiences I’ve gathered in the past three years since I hit the road. Yes, your bank account may not be as padded, she said, but look at all you’ve done!

She reminded me how we were raised to be competitive and high-achievers. Our parents didn’t want an “A” out of us growing up, they wanted an “A+” and honors. It was never enough, you had to reach for the skies. And even when you did, it wasn’t anything to be rewarded, it was what you were supposed to do. (Gosh, I’m still carrying that around.)

Yep, she was right, I was doing it again — being super hard on myself. Expecting results too quick too soon. But surely three years is a long time? Not with travel writing and photography, as I’ve learned — both demanding professions, hard to crack, and a constant hustle for most. I’ve learned that uncovering your passion is one thing, but succeeding at it to the level of a full-time job is not an overnight affair. It takes time, lots of time, patience, perseverance, persistence, prayer and constant learning. It also takes a lot of networking, much more than any other profession. And it hit me too, that I had one foot in travel photography for five months out of the year, and another foot in being a lawyer the rest of the time. Neither one was getting my full attention year-round. All the travel has also worn me out some, and it hasn’t been kind on my love life (what love life you might ask – exactly.)

While we sat reflecting on life and looking ahead, I realized I really do have a lot to be grateful for. And maybe therein lies my mistake: I was focusing on what I hadn’t achieved yet, what I didn’t “accumulate” in three years (publications, income, recognition) instead of the learning, growth and maturity I’ve amassed. Where I wasn’t according to society (you know, married with kids, and not “galavanting” the world). But I decided to live life to my own beat three years ago and survived, surely I can be proud of that. Two months in Grenada, three months working in Belize as a writer/photographer, a week in Taiwan on a press trip, four-month long winters in Jamaica for the past three years. All of these trips were character-building, and skill-building. The key now, is to mesh all of this together and to find direction, to surround myself with positivity and to work harder than ever. To remember that this isn’t grad school any more, it’s not about racing to get that A+.

It’s about finding balance and focus – and for me in 2012 this means finally finding a permanent home base that I love (and stop complaining about how much I hate DC), a place where I can settle for a while and work that will allow me to make a decent living (let’s face it, the bank account needs re-padding!) but also using the skills I’ve built up these past three years. It will definitely involve writing and photography. And travel, but more of the more side-trip kind. Balance and focus, on the right opportunities. That’s the plan. And when the word “failure” comes up, I’ll just have to shoo those deceptive feelings away.

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend with family and friends. There’s nothing like it to put things in perspective.


  1. Thanks for sharing this post Lily and it’s really important to know that it does take time, perseverance, patience, and prayer. You’ve had an amazing year you should be extremely proud and grateful for – from making important contacts and gathering some solid publication credits to going on some amazing trips.

    As you reflect on 2012, definitely remain grateful for all what you’ve accomplished so far, and take on 2012 with renewed vigor!

  2. Lebawit Lily Girma

    Thanks so much Lola, means a lot! And yes I have accomplished much this year, definitely thankful. And I like that phrase – renewed vigor! I will remember that as I start the new year. :-)

  3. You’ve accomplished so much in a short time; many people who were professionally trained as writers/photographers spend far more time trying to get to where you are today. Best of luck on your next steps!

  4. Lebawit Lily Girma

    Thanks Julie!!

  5. Congrats again on the feature in Complexd Magazine. Being around loved ones really does help put it all into perspective. You have accomplished a lot of great things and definitely one of a few I hope to emulate in the future. I have a loooooonnnnnnngggg way to go! LOL. :-) Best wishes for an even more prosperous and productive 2012!

  6. Lebawit Lily Girma

    Thanks April! :-) And you are already on your way, doing great! Best wishes to you also for 2012 and looking forward to some great results for us both!