Musings, person of interest

Person of Interest: Kenneth

Name: Kenneth V.
Occupation: Photographer and Trader-in-training
Born in: Canada
Grew up in: Bangkok/Toronto
Current Living in: Toronto

How we met
Kenneth and I went to the same international school in Thailand; we were classmates in first and third grade. That was the extent of our relationship. We had mutual friends, but we weren’t close enough to call each other friends. After Kenneth moved to Toronto at the end of seventh grade, we connected through Facebook once it became the popular social media platform to be on (RIP Myspace). He was someone I’d see pop up on my newsfeed once in awhile and it made me wonder what he was up to. However, because we weren’t really friends, I felt weird randomly messaging him. This blog gave me an excuse to catch up on his life and also because since he had not gone the traditional “go to college after high school then find a job” route, I wanted to learn about his experience.

Summary of your journey through life up until now:
After I moved back to Toronto, I graduated from elementary school for the second time [elementary school for our international school in Thailand ended after fifth grade, whereas it goes all the way to the end of eighth grade for Canadian public schools]. In Canada, I went to normal public schools. Unlike in Thailand, where the consensus is that private schools are just overall better in almost every way if a family could afford it, in Canada, my mom had the impression that private schools tend to cater more towards students with learning difficulties. The fact that the difference in quality between public and private schools here isn’t nearly as large as in Thailand, and that public schools are free for Canadian citizens was a factor as well. My mom also thought it would be beneficial for me to learn how to mingle with more “normal”/”common” people [non-international kids like us]. With the experience of our international school in mind, when it came time for me to choose the high school I wanted to attend, I was still psyched for school. I loved the experience of “school” in Thailand. So decided I would go to this particular high school because I thought it was “better.” I ended up switching schools after half a semester. As much as I had loved being at school in Thailand, when it came to Canadian public schools, school merely became something to “get done.” Being in class and doing the schoolwork here wasn’t fulfilling to me the same way it was back in Thailand. I didn’t feel accomplished each day until I learned some stuff on my own, outside of school. School here became something that was just in the way of me being able to pursue and learn things that actually made me feel accomplished and satisfied. The public schools here are almost certainly tens of times better than the public schools in Thailand, but it cannot hold a candle to the experience that was our international school. I’m so eternally grateful for the time I’ve gotten to spend there. I’ve been passionate about tech since I was little. After school hours, I would go to tennis/tae kwon do practice, do my homework, then it’d be midnight and I wouldn’t feel like I had accomplished much throughout the day in terms of furthering my acquisition of knowledge/insight. So I would still put in a couple hours reading about tech on my own each night. I wasn’t getting much sleep. I wasn’t very happy. Switching to a different high school with a lighter workload gave me more time for my extracurricular activities and interests.

As for photography, when I first got into it, I didn’t have any intention of being a professional photographer. To me, being good at computers is similar to being good at English. Digital photography was interesting to me because it was something tangible I could create using my knowledge of tech. So it’s like saying to someone,”I wrote this book”, as opposed to just saying “I’m good at English.” That was one of the reasons I got into photography. It’s not necessarily that I’m in love with the medium of photography. It wasn’t like I saw photos when I was a kid and thought, “Oh I wanna be able to take cool photos”. I just did it because I felt like my skillset was useful to accomplish that. The other big attraction to photography initially for me was that I thought photographers, the ones I looked up to anyways. tend to posses balance of geekiness, ability to think methodically, quantitatively, and yet, also the ability to appreciate subjective intangibles that I feel are hard to find all present in the vast majority of people in other industries. Basically the marriage of the love for learning/bettering oneself, art, and science. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “these are the kinds of people I would enjoy talking to and would want to be my friends. I would love to work with people like this.”

Once you figured out that photography wasn’t really something you wanted to do, what did you decide as your next course of action?
To be clear, I still very much like photography. I’ve just decided to move away from trying to make photography my primary means of financial sustenance. As mentioned earlier, I didn’t originally have any intention of being a professional photographer. I was doing it basically for my own satisfaction/expression of skills. But in around grade 10 and 11, people started offering to pay me to take pictures of them, their friends, or cover events. It wasn’t one big decision or any pivotal moment. People were paying me to do this and I enjoy doing this so sure why not. I stumbled into the profession of photography. Eventually in grade 12, when people were thinking about university and jobs, I thought, “Well I’m already doing this, so let’s just see how far I can take it.” But if it’s not for me, that’s okay as well. So then I did it for maybe three years pretty serious and hardcore. At around the second year, leading up to the third, it gradually occurred to me that maybe I do have what it takes to be a successful professional photographer, but even if I did, I realized the amount of time and dedication it would require. That meant I would not be able to pursue a lot of my other interests. Both in terms of academic interests and spending time with my current and future family. Sometimes I would have lunch with my mom, but I wouldn’t really be in the mood to talk to her because I was mentally preparing myself for a shoot in the evening. I started noticing that over the years and I thought, “Is this really how I want to place my values in life?” If I really wanted to “make it” in photography to the degree that I would feel satisfied and accomplished, I would have to give up too many other things in life that I’ve decided I’m not willing to give up. So I’ve moved on to learning forex and futures trading from my mom.

With trading, I like the idea that I am fully in charge of my performance and my earning potential. No one has to agree with me, as long as I get the results that I want. Whereas with photography, I enjoy it when I am taking the kind of photos that I want to take the way I want to take them. But when you’re doing photography and getting paid to do it, sometimes you’re gonna be taking photos that you’re not really interested in or maybe it’s a photo that you are interested in but the clients want it done in a way that isn’t the most satisfying or fulfilling for you as an artist. At that point, it can feel like a job as opposed to just doing what I love and getting paid to do it. So I figured, if it’s going to end up feeling like a job, I might as well do a job that gives me all these other benefits like being able to go back and forth between countries and not having to listen to anyone. So trading just seemed to check a bunch of boxes, certainly more boxes than any other alternative I could think of.

Do you enjoy trading?
The act of doing it is not as fun as photography for me, but the other benefits which it affords me does make me happy. It’s an interesting and weird realization for me too that even if I’m doing something I don’t enjoy as much, but overall it’s actually possible that that makes me happier as a person.

What advice would you give someone who is looking to go the nontraditional route?
I notice the irony in it. It actually makes me feel awkward sometimes because now, it seems like so much of what’s in and the hype where it’s this “Quit the job that you hate and follow your dreams. Don’t settle for a job you don’t enjoy.” It’s circulated everywhere as good advice. Here’s the interesting thing, I’m almost doing the opposite. If you frame it a certain way, you could say I’m actually quitting my passion and settling with a boring job, right? It’s kind of weird, but if I explained it fully, how it ultimately makes me happier, at least at this point in time, I think you can see how it actually makes me happier. It’s weird because I’ve had people from my high school come up to me after high school, not even in the same class as me, friends of friends, people I didn’t even know noticed me, and they’re like, you know you doing photography inspired me to pursue a career doing what I love. It’s like, yes it’s flattering to hear that, but in that situation, I almost don’t want to tell them, oh yeah I’m not really doing photography full time anymore. I almost kind of feel like I’ve let those people down, in a way. I know why I made my choices and I can fully stand behind it, but in a quick conversation, I sometimes wonder how to have other people understand.

I would say, do what feels right to you at each moment. In high school when I decided that I wanted to give photography a go, I wasn’t even set that this was going to be THE thing. I just feel like this is what I should be doing right now and I went through with it. There came a time, when I thought, you know what, I don’t feel like this is what I should be doing anymore. Maybe this other thing, trading. Let’s explore that and see if that would make me happier. So it’s just listening to myself and being aware of how I feel then I’ll ask questions. Like why do I feel this way right now and would this other thing, maybe alleviate these concerns or worries. I don’t at all regret the time and energy I put into photography because I’ve learned many things that I think are extremely important skills in life. Not to mention, people I’ve met and/or become closer to because of it. Maybe don’t worry so much about taking the most efficient and direct path. Some people might view the time I spent in photography as a waste of time because that’s not what I’m doing as a career now but you can pick up a lot of stuff in those detours that can add more value to you as a person overall. It can give you an interesting perspective in whatever other field and pursuits you take in the future. Well, at least that’s what I believe. I’m not sure I’m actually qualified to give advice to people, as I still see myself as having a long way left to go before considering myself reasonably accomplished.

Did you ever feel the pressure of how you’re doing something completely different from what most people did after high school?
I don’t feel pressure in terms of social acceptance probably because I’ve never really felt socially accepted in any point of my life haha so that’s foreign to me. The pressure that I do feel is almost completely self-imposed, but related to my parents. To be clear, my mom is super supportive, and my dad would still explicitly support my decisions, even if, at times, he may have a difference in opinion. My mom was actually the one who brought up to me that I don’t necessarily have to go to post secondary as long as I find ways to always continue my education. Most of the pressure I feel to be “successful” is just so my parents don’t have to worry about me. From what I can tell, compared to the vast majority of parents, they are really great at not imposing that pressure on me, but I definitely do very much place it on myself. I don’t want to be successful to please my parents – I want to be successful to please myself at accomplishing the feat of not having my parents worry about me.

Also, to a far lesser extent, because I’m thankfully fairly immune to other people’s perceptions and thoughts of me, you know how a lot of the time, you can be merely mediocrely competent at something that is mainstream accepted, and most people will think you are doing “fine”? But when you are doing something that isn’t mainstream accepted, the standards all of a sudden get raised so much higher. If you are not doing a mainstream thing, if you aren’t wildly great, then a lot of people would place you as “failure.” You kind of have to be wildly great to be accepted positively if you’re going against the grain.

How would you describe yourself if you meet someone new? How would you introduce yourself?
I am very specific about the people I spend my time around. I value deep connections/relationships. I’m not a small talk guy at all. I like to hang out with a few people at a time. I guess I’m also a focused person. Well, that might depend on how someone defines “focus.” I have a lot of things on my plate at once, which some might say is the opposite of focus, and I would actually agree. However, despite all the different things I have going on at once, when I do something, I give it 100% of my undivided attention, time, and energy…sometimes to the determent of things that probably shouldn’t be ignored for so long haha. I like to bulk/batch do things as much as possible. So maybe it’s that I’m obsessive over many different things. So, for example, I’ll stay at home working for days in a row not seeing anyone. Honestly, sometimes even weeks without socializing. But when I go out, I basically only use my phone for GPS navigation. I barely even read messages when I’m out, and I certainly don’t reply to them unless it’s urgent – even if my reply only takes 20 seconds to type up. I don’t browse social media when I’m physically around my friends, but I spend more hours on it at home than the average person. So somewhat ironically, my phone actually gets used more when I’m at home than when I’m out. I’m overall, definitely an introvert though. I need my alone time. When I meet people, it’s very deliberate.

There are different kinds of introverts. Most people think there’s only one type of introvert – the shy introvert, but I’m actually not shy at all. I’m generally a pretty confident and straightforward person. I’m not afraid/intimidated/nervous when I go up to talk to people. It’s just a lot of times, unless I know specifically why I want to talk to someone, I’m just not going to. But if I see a reason, I’ll do it. it doesn’t bother me.

When I meet someone new, I generally default to introducing myself as a photographer. Almost all of my social media is photography related, and pretty much all of my friends I’ve met through photography somehow. It also generally leads to more interesting discussions than if I were to tell someone I just met that I trade forex and futures. At the very least, I’d rather talk about photography than trading haha.

What does happiness mean to you?
Having the freedom, in terms of physical ability and also opportunity to do what you feel like doing, pursuing the interests that you have and being with the people you want to be with.

Three sentences to sum your 24 years of existence.
“I don’t believe in “forcing” myself to do something I don’t “feel” like doing. If I don’t feel like doing something, it’s a sign I’m doing something that isn’t in line with my values (in which case, I shouldn’t be doing it). Or, if something is obvious to me that it “should” be done but yet, I don’t feel like doing it, then that’s a sign I should reevaluate my own values.”

Any upcoming events that you’re attending that you’re excited about?
I’ll be spending 6 weeks in Thailand, starting mid-May. I spend at least that long at least once a year back in Thailand to keep in the loop with my family and friends there. I also just simply enjoy spending time there. One unique highlight for this year’s trip is I’ll be spending a few nights in Phuket with some childhood friends of mine (they are still some of my closest friends I have in general – regardless of Thailand or Canada). Otherwise it’s the usual errands, shopping, taking photos, and spending time with family.

What things have been on your mind lately?
There’s always too much on my mind haha. One particular relatively new thing I now have to work out, now that I’m trading, is balancing the time between work and friends. Back when I was only doing photography, since the majority of my friends could somehow be involved with photoshoots, “work” could often also be “social time” for me. Even my friends who aren’t explicitly “in the industry” would sometimes help out as extra hands on set, like helping to move things or securing light stands while we’re shooting outside etc. Now, with trading, I don’t get to spend time with friends while working…and if I’m with friends, work isn’t getting done.

I hope you enjoyed reading this interview! It’s always fun to learn about different people’s experiences in life. No matter if the experience was good or bad, there’s always something that you can take away from it.

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