This past Friday was a big day for our family. After a long time of waiting for my husband’s new job to start and then more time waiting after it started, we were finally going to find out where we were headed on our first (for this job at least) overseas assignment. We had a list of over 50 locations. We had ranked them, changed our rankings again and again and had then left our fate in the hands of those in charge. There were so many amazing possibilities. From Ecuador to Senegal, Russia to Vietnam, we were excited and so nervous to find out where we were headed. If I had to pick a first choice out of our 13 highs, it probably would have been La Paz or Moscow, but whatever the case, I was convinced we were going to Astana Kazazkhstan. Why? Who knows. Probably because one can only hold so many possibilities in the brain at one time, but I was sure. We’d ranked it as a high, even though it seemed kind of boring and SUPER cold and it just seemed like where we would be headed. I spent the weeks leading up to the announcement studying Russian a couple hours a day so I wouldn’t be at zero with the language and could feel like I had a little head start. I spent hours researching the cutestwarmest winter coats and figuring out trip itineraries. Flag Day (the day where every Foreign Service Officer in the initial training gets a flag to where they’ll be headed) came and they started reading names and places. So many people, so many places. Cameroon, Bolivia, Senegal and Kazakhstan all came and went without Nathan’s name being called. Then the announcer said, “Shanghai, China…Nathan Voelker”. I was shocked. Not bad shocked, just shocked. Why China? That wasn’t on my radar. We hadn’t really even talked about China, aside from the glaring reality that a sizeable portion of his class would be headed there…but it wouldn’t be us, right? When Nathan walked around with his flag, his face had the same look of confusion and shock that I felt. Shanghai? Really? It was in our top 10, but we never even considered that it was going to be our location.
To say I wasn’t excited isn’t accurate. I was excited, but it just wasn’t my plan. We mingled after the ceremony, laughing nervously about learning Mandarin Chinese, and then went home.
Once the reality started to sink in I began asking myself a couple questions. Why was I feeling so connected to the other plan? Why was I a little disappointed? Why HADN’T we thought more about Shanghai? The more I considered these questions and the more I researched Shanghai, the more a very simple truth set in: I was being ridiculous. Not only was Shanghai going to be fine…it was going to be amazing! A new culture, new language, gorgeous city, incredible schools and a plane ride home that doesn’t cost much more than flying across the United States. While we hadn’t thought much about Shanghai, if we would have, we would have realized it should have been our first choice all along. Sure it meant stepping out of my plan and starting fresh, but it was worth it for the opportunity that this city would afford our family.
I think it’s probably pretty easy to gather how this might connect to our art. There are so many times when I plan, work and follow through on a path that I’m sure is the right one. I push and push with blinders on, not looking outside of whatever project I may be working on. While focus is important, I find often that when I am hyper focused on something, I often miss the beauty on the sidelines. If beautiful light is “my thing” I may miss out on the moment of connection illuminated by floursecent lights because it doesn’t fit my light requirement, failing to notice that moment of connection is shining brighter than the sun. If I’m looking only for red, I might miss out on the fact that the sky is the clearest blue it has been in weeks. Often times these other paths might have roadblocks that sway us away. Whether the art or the language seems out of our skill level, we need to remember to look anyway. We need to keep our focus, but also remember to look around and consider other points of view and other options. Sometimes those other paths won’t lead anywhere and you’ll probably find that out pretty quickly. There are also those times where your plan just changes. No explanation, no real reason, it just changes. Your project you’ve been working on just falls through or the collection you thought was amazing was rejected by 25 people…remember that maybe the new direction you’re being forced in is exactly where you need to be. Maybe this new direction is going to lead you into making art that is better than anything you were doing before. I know you had your heart set on Russia, but maybe you need to move to Shanghai.
Amanda Voelker is a fine art and lifestyle photographer. With her children and light as her inspiration, Amanda finds beauty in the everyday. She strives to capture the subtleties of human emotion and connection in a beautiful way that showcases both the moment and a piece of her self. Amanda is also the Co Creator and Editor in Chief of “The Long Way Home” Magazine and instructor at "The Bloom Forum"