Follow Your Calling To the Perfect Position

At some point in our lives, we come to a place where we long to uncover our mission — a lifelong assignment that evolves from deep within our soul.

My father, the son of a New England minister, described one’s mission in life as a “calling.” A calling isn’t exactly a job; that’s something you do to support your lifestyle. Nor is a calling exactly a profession, which is earning a living by doing something you like to do. A calling is more. It’s something you have to do, love doing and love doing for others.

For me, it began as photography. After a year covering the war in Vietnam as a Navy journalist, I went to work for a variety of adventure and sports magazines. By the age of 32, I was feeling pretty good about my achievements, but I’d become bored. I longed to make photographs and tell stories that made a difference. When I learned that Robert Gilka, then director of photography at National Geographic magazine, was going to teach a workshop at the Center of the Eye in Aspen, Colo., I signed up, was accepted and arrived at the workshop with portfolio in hand. Working for National Geographic and traveling the world making photographs of my adventures were lifelong dreams.

It was the summer of 1972, and I was thrilled to be among 20 would-be photojournalists, all hoping to be discovered. Appearing before Mr. Gilka at the workshop, I presented my portfolio. He opened my book, turned a few pages, closed it and pushed it back across the table. Then, in his famous drill sergeant’s voice, he said, “You earn a living with this stuff?”

I left the room in disillusionment and spent the remainder of the day in shock. I finished the workshop with thoughts about my future racing through my mind. However, I realized that if I was to make a statement with my photography, I needed to learn from the best. All fall I thought about what to do. The Center of the Eye went out of business. My research turned up only a few other workshops, but none that fit my requirements. I jokingly said to myself, “Why don’t I start my own workshop right here on the coast of Maine?”

Soon thereafter, with the help of a photographer and designer, I started the Maine Photographic Workshops in Rockport, Maine. That first summer, 150 students attended 12 workshops. It all started with $1,000 in my pocket and a $3,000 loan. I lost money the first summer, and again in the second, but the realization of what was happening drove me on. During the winters, I recouped my losses by photographing ski races, sports personalities and resorts. Sooner than I could imagine, I was surrounded by the greatest minds in photography.

More than 25 years later, we have a new campus with eight buildings, a summer enrollment of 2,700 and have become a well-established international center. As I look back over the years, I see that Mr. Gilka gave me just the right assignment after all — not the glamorous one I sought, but an assignment that answered a deeper calling. It has been a gift to be able to build not only a place where creative people can come and learn but also a place that provides support and encouragement for those developing their own calling. That’s what I intended to do all along.

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