The Top 7 Things 2014 Taught Me

Mike DeSocio
Dec 27, 2014 · 11 min read

This year, I debated whether I wanted to write an end-of-year blog post like I have the past few years—the latent hipster inside me was screaming, “It’s not cool anymore, everyone’s doing it.”

Boston University campus in the fall.

But alas, here I am writing one anyway because I simply can’t resist some good ol’ fashioned nostalgia.

It’s an understatement to say 2014 was year of huge changes and realizations for me, and with that here’s an attempt to pick out the most important things I learned:

7. Drawing is a way of seeing

When I realized I had to take a drawing class before I could start graphic design courses, I was pretty horrified. Even as an art, photography, and design student, the idea of doing traditional fine arts always makes me a little nauseous. On the first day of class, our professor listed off the supplies we would need, and I sat there thinking, “We have to do what with charcoal? What are we washing with ink?”

But as we moved from still lives to full figure drawings, I began to see our three hour drawing sessions as challenges I could overcome with enough hard work and effort. It took me a long time to get used to it, but I realized that drawing is a way of seeing, and one that I’m very grateful to have learned and practiced rather extensively.

My final project for drawing class.

6. That the Asbury Park Press moved into a new office across the street

This headline is a joke, but the lessons I learned interning at the APP this summer were actually extremely meaningful.

To explain the headline: On the first day of my internship this summer, I showed up to the office building I interviewed at during the spring…to find an empty parking lot and deserted building with chains locked around the door handles. Needless to say, I panicked and spent the next hour making calls that were met only by voice mailboxes. Eventually, while I sat in my car, sweating, in an open parking lot, my editor called me back and explained what he forgot to tell me: the APP had moved across the street to a new office building just a week earlier.

So while my first day on the job was a bit rocky, the rest of the summer was nothing short of incredible. On the first day, I was given a complete set of equipment befitting a staff photographer. Along with the cameras and lenses, I was given the full responsibilities and expectations of a full-time photojournalist. Whether it was breaking news, features, or sports (not my favorite subject), I was expected to go find the story and come back with 10–15 images for an online photo gallery. Every time. That was the hard part: coming back with good images every time. There isn’t much room for error when you’re shooting on deadline for a daily publication. Not to mention, I was often asked to shoot a full video story in addition stills, including multiple interviews and b-roll.

One of my favorite singles from the summer, from a White Coats Ceremony at Rutgers.
Another from the White Coats Ceremony.

I’m so grateful that my editor trusted me with these responsibilities and gave me countless opportunities to grow — as well as many invaluable lunchtime discussions about the future of journalism.

The challenges of my internship pushed me way out of my comfort zone as a photographer and a professional — they also sent me driving way past my usual radius. As hard as it was, and as much as I couldn’t wait to leave on those long nights of overtime shooting baseball games, when the time came to part ways in August, I almost couldn’t bring myself to walk out of that new office building across the street for the last time.

One of my best baseball shots from the summer.

5. Making time for friends is important

This is probably a given for most people, but I tend to get really busy and forget that I should spend time having a social life every once in a while.

It took me just about a year of college to realize that it’s really important to spend time fostering your friendships and getting to know people.

If you set aside time to spend with your friends, it doesn’t matter if it means that you stay up a little later that night doing your homework, because in the end it’s worth it to have those relationships.

This fall especially, I’ve spent time more time than I usually do meeting up with people, building deep friendships, and creating a network of amazing human beings that I can rely on and share experiences with. I feel more connected to my peers at school than I ever have before, and that is something I’m extremely grateful for.

My friends from my floor during freshman year of college.

4. Hard work finds its way of paying off

Early in 2014, I responded to a Facebook post from the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s national honor society, that called for Scouts interested in helping out with some communications projects. Perfect, that’s me, I thought, and sent an email indicating my interest.

About a month later, I received a response. They looked at my portfolio website, liked my work, and wanted me to help out on a special project: leading the Brand Evolution Team, which was tasked with evaluating and redefining the visual brand of the Order of the Arrow. I was honored and excited about the opportunity, so I said yes and unknowingly agreed to one of the most rewarding learning experiences of my entire life.

Over the next few months, I worked tirelessly with two other skilled designers — shout out to Michael Watts and Caleb Hou — as well as my awesome leaders and advisers Alex Call and Matt Madderra, to create a comprehensive brand book for the organization.

In a way, the project for me was less a challenge of design and more a challenge of leadership; I had to stay organized, work hard, and motivate my team, which for a group of busy college students was a lot harder than I anticipated.

Looking back, what we created was certainly a feat of design and determination, and the product of many Sunday phone calls, late nights, and tough design decisions. When it was all set and done, I figured it was one project completed successfully and that would basically be the end of it. Instead, people noticed our hard work, and recently it’s been paying off in ways I couldn’t even begin to imagine just one year ago.

This fall, my colleagues in OA Communications have given me countless design projects: social media content, patch designs, even the visual identity for the organization’s National Planning Meeting this weekend. With every email and assignment I received, I was blown away with where these projects were taking me. And with each project I completed, the effects of my hard work grew even larger.

So where does that leave me now? Well, I can now officially share that over the past two months I’ve had the absolute honor of designing the logo and visual identity for the Order of the Arrow’s centennial, national conference this summer that will be attended by over 12,000 people.

It goes without saying that the process has been ridiculously humbling, and I’m in awe that I was given the opportunity to serve this organization in such a significant way.

To top it all off, all that hard work found one last way of paying off: I was offered the opportunity to serve as the Brand & Identity Lead of the OA in 2015, a position which will allow me to continue serve this incredible organization in an even larger way.

3. Being broken is a good thing

This semester, I enrolled in my first college-level photojournalism class. On the first day, our professor, who introduced himself simply as “Greg,” spent the entire class explaining camera basics I already knew well.

This class will be a breeze, I thought to myself.

Well, not quite. “Greg” was actually Greg Marinovich, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning photojournalist from South Africa with a book, movie, and international following. And Greg’s expectations were nothing short of lofty.

In our first critique, I was rather proud of the images I presented. Greg had different ideas about them.

A portrait of my roommate Max I include in my first critique of the semester.

“That’s not a picture…no, neither is that. These aren’t very good. Are these really your selects?”

That’s when I realized this class wouldn’t be anything close to easy. For the first few weeks during critiques, my work was beaten, and my pride in the images broken. I would spend hours and hours each weekend shooting images that illustrated different camera techniques, only to come back and with mostly “non-pictures,” and only a few solid keepers.

One of my keepers from the shutter-speed assignment.

But this process of being broken down, being forced to look at my work really critically, and being held to the highest of expectations has made me a much stronger photographer.

I eventually fell into the groove of shooting at this high level of craft and professionalism, and found myself shooting a long-term story about a community gardener in Roxbury. With both stills and video, that is one of my proudest pieces of work to date.

Willie Brown, the subject of my final project for the photojournalism class.

2. Service is about quality, not quantity

When I decided to run a spring-time Help-Portrait event this past April to give free portraits to the people of the city, I did not anticipate how difficult it would be. We secured our location — outdoors on the Greenway in downtown Boston — and got out volunteers together, so what could go wrong? Well, the weather.

It rained on the Saturday we had originally planned, so we moved it to Sunday, but with that change I lost nearly all my volunteers. And is turned out, that Sunday was cold and gray. But something pretty awesome happened anyway: my roommates stepped up to fill in the holes and spent their day standing out in the Boston cold holding “Free Portraits” signs and greeting passersby.

Cullen, one of my good friends and suite-mates who volunteered at Help-Portrait in April.

We ended up only giving about 3 portraits that day, but it didn’t matter.

What mattered is that those 3 people had something to smile about that day.

What mattered is that my roommates realized that Help-Portrait meant so much to me and those we serve that they volunteered their time on a minute’s notice to help me out with a job that certainly wasn’t very appealing.

When we ran Help-Portrait again just a couple of weeks ago in Boston, it was a far cry from our April event. I spent nearly 6 months planning, we had funding from the wonderful Kilachand Honors College at BU, and we were set to give 100 free portraits to the guests of the St. Francis House homeless shelter.

It’s completely safe to say that it all went off without a hitch, and it was by far the most successful Help-Portrait I’ve run so far (I’ve done five in total). At the end of the day, we served 31 people of our goal of 100. But again, it became so clear to me that number of portraits we gave simply didn’t matter. What really mattered, to quote a member of the St. Francis House staff, is this:

“Thank you for offering our guests the opportunity to build and experience a bit of trust. It is experiences like this that teach our guests it is possible to accept a helping hand, while reminding them that they have not been discarded or forgotten. This in turn builds hope.”

Hope is what mattered. We gave each of those 31 people an experience of trust, hope, and happiness, and it is my sincerest hope that those 31 people are better off because of it.

Our volunteers at 2014 Help-Portrait Boston.

1. Truth matters

To start this one off, I’m going to share an excerpt from my memoir about my canoe trip this summer, when we were discussing truth as a moral value over lunch one day:

“As a journalist, I immediately thought of a million things to say — I could have started spewing ethics and experiences and advice right there on the spot. But by the time the discussion circle reached me, my crew had given me an entirely different, non-journalistic perspective on truth. For most of them, truth was about being true to yourself — not lying to yourself for the sake of ‘fitting in.’

My crew, who taught me so much this summer.

Listening to my crewmates share their personal struggles with identity and self-esteem profoundly affected me. And these stories compelled me to take a critical look at myself. I suddenly began to realize all of these little ways I was deluding myself on a daily basis.

This personal reflection made me remember many times — especially during my first year of college — when I hid parts of my personality for the sake of making new friends. Or when I would judge something based on a common consensus, rather than my own personal convictions. I realized I had been creating a sense of myself that was in some places confused — caught between my own ideas and those of my peers.”

Truth is vitally important, and I realize that more every day. It really hit me during this moment with my crewmates this summer.

It’s easy and obvious to say that telling the truth is the right thing to do, or that “honesty is the best policy,” however the core of truth goes far beyond that.

Truth is about being honest with yourself. Truth starts with you, and once you’re honest with your own thoughts, comfortable in your own skin, only then can you begin to build honest and deep connections with others.

I wear my heart on my sleeve, I share my hopes and dreams, anxieties and fears with my friends, and I live by my true convictions. I try my best to not allow anything to get in the way of that.

I’ve found that when you’re open like this, people take notice. They remember the sincere moments you share with them, and these are the things that build lasting relationships. I mentioned earlier in this post that I’ve realized the importance of friendships this year, and truth has been a big part of that.

I also mentioned that I learned drawing as a new way of seeing, but if you embrace truth, it functions similarly: living truthfully is an entirely new way of seeing your life.

I think it’s time I stop rambling and leave you with this:

If nothing else, make 2015 a year where you live for yourself, not for the expectations of others. That sounds selfish, but I mean it. Make decisions that you want to make.

Live truthfully, build relationships with people you really connect with, and work hard. You might just find the life you’ve always dreamed of falling right into place. I certainly did this year.

If you like what you just read, please hit the green ‘Recommend’ button below so that others might stumble upon this post. For more of my writing and visual work, please visit my website, Facebook, or Twitter.

    Mike DeSocio

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