From The Meaningful Life Center, your spiritual health center
Hi Rabbi Jacobson,
I am a student in a 12th grade class that you just spoke to, though i wish to remain anonymous — I am not one of those girls who speaks up in class to express their thoughts. I have always had a passion for taking pictures and finally I just got my first ‘real’ camera. So far its just a hobby, but in the future I might like do to something more with it. I would like to go to college to study photography even if its just as a side thing and then later on I could develop it more if I decide to. On the other hand, I feel like college is a bad influence, and maybe learning photography is a distraction and a ‘waste of time’ that will take me away from focusing on serving G-d.
What do you think?
A 12th grader
Dear 12th grader,
Thank you for your letter. I am moved by the fact that you feel comfortable to write to me with your thoughts.
It is very important that each of us utilize our talents and interests to the fullest. G-d has blessed you with a keen eye and an interest in photography and you should use them to the greatest extent that you can. At the same time you must remember that G-d wants that “b’chol derochecho do’eihu” — “in all your ways you should know G-dliness” (Proverbs 3:6). With the many distractions that life throws at us, it is critical that we have a firm and stable awareness that our underlying mission in life is to transform the world into a ‘home’ for G-dliness and holiness, using the talents with which we have been blessed.
As I explained in the class, each of us must first establish a steady center — a conscious awareness of the purpose of our life and its ultimate goal — and then we can go on to draw the circle that is our life’s journey around that center. To use an example from photography: When framing a photo, you focus on a primary focal point (the ‘center’), and the rest is background that may enhance the photo by adding context, but it is not the main focus. You want to capture a particular aspect of an object or event, and use the surroundings as elements to support the center stage.
Going to college — particularly at a young age — can oftentimes distract a person from discovering his or her “center” — the purpose and ultimate goal of life. Without a sharp clear point of focus, a picture will be blurred, unfocused, and out of sync with its purpose which is to present a clear visible illustration of whatever happens to be the subject of the photo. The same is true of each of our lives; without a clear focus on the purpose of our life, we can quickly become unfocused and out of sync. However, once a person has found their center, and is firmly grounded with a clear and focused mission, then education and learning more about their particular interests will only enhance the fulfillment of their mission.
I believe the same is true with your interest in photography: you must learn to use it for good and holy purposes to help you fulfill your mission in life. I have no doubt that by doing so, your talent will only grow and will become actualized in the fullest way possible. You can definitely achieve this without going to college, which — particularly at your age — may pull you away from your life’s purpose. There are excellent photography books and even classes available, and many skilled and experienced photographers from whom you can learn. I happen to know a number of such photographers, and if you so wish, I will be happy to introduce you to some.
Wishing you success in all your endeavors, and please write again.
(Rabbi) Simon Jacobson