Guest Author: Gareth Pon
My name is Gareth Pon,
I love taking photos.
I’m a 29 year old South African who was born in a little town called Benoni.
My dad is Chinese, he was also born in South Africa and speaks Cantonese, English and Afrikaans (a local language, which is a derivative of Dutch). My mom is Mauritian, she was born in Mauritius, moved to Johannesburg when my parents got married and speaks Creole (A native Mauritian language), French and English. Naturally (and unfortunately), my parents didn’t speak anything but English at home because it was their common language, so as a result I only speak English and have constant random spurts of desire to take up French classes.
I grew up in South Africa’s busy city, Johannesburg –
(also known as Jozi, Joburg, JHB, J’burg... you get the idea.) This is a city where you’ll find almost every different subculture intertwined into all the various suburbs – it’s multicultural to say the least.
Growing up in South Africa I never felt I belonged anywhere.
At school, it wasn't uncommon that I found myself hanging out with “jocks” one day and then the “geeks” the day after, while spending my afternoons with the “artists” in the creative class. Maybe it was my diplomatic nature or my underlying desire to find my place in life, but whenever I was in a crowd I adapted -
I became who I needed to be.
I later realized that this skill of adapting (which I thought was a flaw) was something that would I would have to learn to embrace.
I used to think that, in order to be successful, I needed to define myself.
I would think:
"What am I!?"
"Who am I!?"
"And if I don't know who I am what am I doing to find out?... I've got it! – I'm a part-creative with a love for technical things, so that must make me an architect. Or do I think I need to be an architect because my dad is one?..."
"Why do I feel all this pressure?"
I got to the point where I realized that the more I tried to define seasons of my life, the more I found myself in experiences without any joy.
My heart sank deep into my soul and lay there, deprived of mystery, excitement and discovery. I had become a joyless individual; and even more: I had forgotten to romance the mystery that comes with discovering life.
There’s one thing for sure, and it’s that life is uncertain.
No matter how much we wish we knew what was coming toward us in the future, we have to embrace the undefined, unknown, mysterious future as one of life’s greatest challenges, and greatest adventures.
One of the first things people ask you when they first meet you is:
“What do you do?”
The answer to this question has always given me slight anxiety.
What would my answer be? Since I can remember, I’ve always answered that question in different ways: I would remember some of my past replies and then adjust what I share to somehow attempt to alter the opinion of who I was talking to.
To some people, I simply tell them that I am a travel photographer and I get paid to take photos in different locations around the world. With others who are perhaps more connected to the creative industry, I’ll tell them I’m a consultant who assists brands/agencies in creating strategic content for Instagram marketing.
Most of the time I try and play down what I do, because in reality it’s really hard to define my career with a simple sentence.
In the favor of curiosity, and to provide perspective on my story, I’ll attempt to do so:
I’m traditionally a filmmaker, who then ventured into taking stills, which then progressed into growing a large following on Instagram over the last few years. As a result, because I understand a lot of the culture and inner workings of this new era of Instagram and digital content, I also do creative consultation for brands and agencies in the form of workshops and direct consults to their visual presence online - this is often paired with content creation for these brands/agencies and furthermore consulting on the style and visual aesthetic of a brand.
On occasion I also do influencer trips, which basically allows me to travel with like-minded people who are usually other influencer-types (Instagrammers, YouTubers, Viners, Bloggers, etc.). On these trips the client will encourage us to share their particular experience from our own genuine style and then seed this perspective to our audiences in the form of photos and films.
However, the best part of what I do is not the traveling necessarily, but rather being able to spend time with like-minded creatives from all over the world, some whom have become my closest friends.
It keeps me on my toes, because I never know what’s coming next.
Somewhere along the way,
I took on the anxiety that comes with giving an impressive “job description” as a way of measuring my success as an individual.
I always felt I needed to prove myself; and if I didn’t have something important to say, then I would feel insignificant.
The reality is, every person has a certain level of expectancy on other individuals; and part of what I believed is that I needed present a certain level of perfection and definition that would fulfill people's expectation and leave them thinking well of me.
Too often we ask people to define who they are by what they do, what they’ve accomplished, where they’ve been, or who they know.
And too often we feel that we have to define ourselves this same way.
I feel like we have this wonderful habit as humanity of explaining things away. As soon as we gain an understanding of something it’s almost as if we say,
"Ok it’s done. That’s what it is."
If you’re a science geek (like me), we quantify things. We walk away and leave that “thing” in with the definition we've placed on it - never to return to it again.
We make a habit of labeling ideas, people, and experiences based on our first impression – and then never go beyond that point to discover that there is always more beneath the surface.
But what if there’s more mystery than that?
Surely there’s a level of "The Unknown" that will always apply to life, love, and everything else (did anyone just get my Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy reference?).
I’ve always had faith and trust in God, but only in the last few years has faith become less of a belief and more of a revelation to me.
I’ve made a switch: going from having understanding and entering a space where my heart says, “Yes! I’m into that.” - call it conviction. My heart skips a beat at the undefined, the unknown, the mystery of walking through life in faith. Sure at times it’s daunting, but even in those scary “what if” situations there’s a sense of discovery that really cancels out any fear and pulls you into the realm of nervous flutter - and I love that.
Making this transition helped me realize, that for me, faith wasn’t just the process of gaining understanding, but also the love I developed for not knowing what comes next.
Faith gives me peace with the fact that I don’t have control over what comes in the next few seconds, let alone the next few years.
With this understanding, my heart can settle, my mind can be at peace knowing that my future is in the hands of the One that controls everything - that for me is faith.
Something that has helped my faith – is the concept of a dream.
A dream is so much more than just an idea in the mind, it’s something that enables you as an individual with everything you need, to do well.
I believe that everyone should have at least one ridiculous dream.
MY RIDICULOUS DREAM IS TO GO TO SPACE.
Once you as an individual see that dream becoming a possibility, it pushes your belief into a place where any other dream you have just seems attainable. Because at that point, every other dream fails to compare to your "ridiculous" dream.
We each have big unknowns in life;
things we’re journeying toward but don’t quite know when, where, or how they are going to happen.
Another example in my life where I’ve had to embrace "the Undefined" is perhaps one of the biggest of all:
finding true love.
Since I can remember. I’ve always dreamt of the moment when I’ll meet the girl I marry. I kind of imagine it happening like this scene from Big Fish"
Sometimes I strategize about an abstract formula of how I can perfectly piece that moment together and best prepare for it so when it happens - it’s as perfect for her as it is for me.
Maybe you can relate?
I think one of the reasons we worry so much about wanting to know the future is because we care a lot about these things, and we really want to do them right, and if possible, even attain a certain level of perfection.
This is also a reason why we try to plan out every detail of the future, and can feel like a failure or like we’re behind in life if we don’t meet our own expectations.
Then take this example further:
When I turned 18 I was convinced that I would be married by the age of 25.
In my mind I had always dreamt of meeting the perfect girl, and I tried to paint a picture for myself of what she might be like and how our story might unfold:
She would need to be a little shorter than me... someone who was either younger or at most 2 years older... perhaps she would be a brunette... and I think she’d have to have great style...
This approach however, left me facing the biggest conundrum of trying to predict the future:
you just can’t do it.
Year after year passed, I got closer to 25 and I had met absolutely no one - my "defined" plan had put me in a really awkward place.
I woke up one morning, feeling a bit sad and it dawned on me:
I had defined my future spouse so specifically within my own mind, that even if I were to meet someone who could end up being incredible for me I would be blinded by the impossible standard I had set.
I had idolized my "perfect love story” so much, that I had excluded myself from the excitement and discovery of truly falling in love.
At that point my heart changed.
A friend simplified it for me this way: she told me that she hoped that I forget all my expectations and simply just fall in love with someone who makes me happy.
So I decided to let go of my definition, I let go of the “perfect plan” I’d created that had actually been getting in my way.
I chose to fall in love with "The Undefined":
the adventure of living by faith, of trusting that the future will work out, having peace in the fact that I don’t have to know everything.
Now I know that she could be anyone, taller, older, younger, blonde, brunette, you name it – as long as we are happy and somehow find a way for our paths to cross into one that we walk together and all I really want is the most romantic version of our story to become a reality.
I’m not here to offer a solution for every problem. But perhaps I’m here to give a bit of insight for freedom.
My motto in life is this:
to always bring life to situations, people & circumstances;
whether that means I just give someone a hug, or spend a few days with them, showing them that they’re valuable. At the end of the day, all you really have is people – their friendships and the beautiful stories that will come from spending time with them, and if you allow those stories to unfold you’ll find something beautiful.
It’s ok to let go.
Because sometimes, living Undefined allows you to be exactly who you were meant to be:
Where no amount of planning, thinking you’ve done, or knowledge you’ve gained can sway the individual that lies inside you, the best kind of person that only you can be.
And that’s epic.
Are you wanting to take the first step into your dream or business, but feel like you're unqualified or uncertain of how to get there?
Are you trying to expand your influence and grow to the next level, but keep hitting a wall over and over?
It can be frustrating to know there's a problem, but not know how to dig it up so that you can move forward. Maybe you need a little help overcoming internal obstacles, dismantling fear, and learning from experienced creatives and entrepreneurs from all different industries.
Consider my book, STEP 0: Featuring an exclusive Masterclass by Gareth Pon on "Leading an Online Following Through Quality and Consistency".
Gareth Pon is one of those people you see online but have no idea what he actually does for a living.
Born and bred in Johannesburg, South Africa. Gareth is a filmmaker, photographer, creative consultant and Africa’s Top Instagrammer (named by African Blogger Awards in 2014, 2015 & 2016) – He has been featured by CNN, MTV & Instagram’s Official Blog.
Gareth is absolutely stubborn about keeping his head in the clouds and dreams of one day fulfilling his ultimate dream of going to space and capturing a photo of the Earth’s curvature in zero gravity. Gareth is a passionate traveler and has been to over 34 countries, he works as a creative consultant and pioneers the use of Digital Mobile Content and Instagram as mediums for creative expression in branding, marketing, and documentation.
Until Gareth can one day fulfil his dream of space travel, he will continue making pixels, eating ice-cream and refusing to live a mediocre life, while keeping up the hope of one day meeting a girl whose dreams are as ridiculous as his.