I was ridiculously shocked to hear my name called out at the 2014 WPPI Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas, as the winner of the WPPI Adorama Inspire Award. The ceremony had just started – I swear we were five minutes into it – and Jerry Ghionis, who was hosting the ceremony, introduced Jeffrey Snyder as the first person to present an award. I remember that Jeffrey said a whole lot of very nice things about someone who inspired others in photography and in life, and then he finished by saying that they were pleased to present the 2014 WPPI Adorama Inspire Award to … Tamara Lackey??
And suddenly I forgot everything else he’d just said.
(I so hope someone was recording it because I’d really like to hear it now.)
But, at the time, I didn’t even understand what was happening. My heart was beating so loudly inside my chest, it was reverberating through my ears. I had actually only just arrived at the award ceremony minutes before, and I had barely settled into my seat, so I felt completely disoriented.
I walked up on stage, was handed my award and whispered, “Um, what do I do?”. He said, “You take your award!” So I did, trigger-smiling for a photograph, clutching the beautifully unexpected honor, barely glancing at the thousands of people in the audience – and then I pretty much raced off stage.
That whole experience took about two minutes, in total. But I’ve replayed it back in my head for a pretty specific reason: I had people to thank. Wait a minute, I had people to thank, and I didn’t thank them.
Why? The truth was that I did not thank anyone else because I had been overwhelmed with a surge of voice-robbing self-consciousness. Are you sure this is supposed to be going to me? Are you sure I deserve this? But what will people think if I accept it? I even double checked the etching on the award: WPPI Adorama Inspire Award … yep, that was actually my name that had been engraved on it. So that means they’d actually had some time to think about it, too. They really had meant to make this decision.
Perhaps more of a surprise to me? The rising up of that voice in my head. I know I’m not alone when I have thoughts that tell me to think less of myself than I am. I believe we all experience this to a lesser or greater degree. We grow up hearing voices that tell us things about ourselves – cruel words or judgments, insults hurled our way, questions asking us who we think we are when we try for something big, or even what is meant to be good-hearted warnings: don’t aim too high, lest you be disappointed. We hear these voices at all different ages and stages, and often process them so painfully/personally that they become co-mingled with our own voices. And, for a long time, we don’t really know the difference between what was said to us, or about us, and what we have simply become used to saying to our own selves. These voices station themselves as our “noble” guards, holding us back in case we fail or, perhaps worse, to protect us from what people will think of us if we don’t.
I’d been presented with something important to me, and I immediately wanted to hide it. A voice reared up, and I listened to it, without question. The reason I didn’t thank the people I’d wanted to thank is because I became fully self-focused at the exact same moment I became suddenly self-conscious. That’s how that works, actually – and it’s something I speak about often, how they go hand in hand. We get so focused on our own discomfort, our own nerves that we lose our focus on the other person, subject, partner in our relationship … or even, in this case, on an entire audience.
I spend a lot of my attention focused on awareness – on seeing why I do what I do, and what my thoughts tell me about myself and other people. I have moved pretty far along since practicing this, so it was a surprise to me, how quickly I fell back into an old pattern. And once I really got that, I realized that what I needed was a Do Over.
I’m a firm believer in Do Over’s, and I believe they are constantly available to us in one way or another. I believe that everything that happens to us in life is somewhat malleable. No, I’m not saying that we have the power to change everything – there are experiences we will always wish for, things and people we will always want back – and no matter what we say or do, we simply cannot get an exact Do Over in all cases. But! But, if you get creative enough, you can figure out ways to Do Over things in different ways that can begin to impact the effect of what’s happened.
Consider adult-child relationships; we cannot Do Over our childhoods, not even those painful ones. But we can start new cycles when we become parents, when we create whatever we call our new families. We can raise our own children with the intention of filling them up with good, supportive, open-hearted Voices. We can teach them early on to become aware of the difference between others’ thoughts, their own thoughts, and how spectacular they really are, above all of that noise. We can even Do Over the relationship we have with our adult parents, long past our childhood. We can actively create a new dynamic with them. Even if that means we have to do so again and again and again, even if it sometimes feels like we are the only ones who are really trying.
In so many ways, every moment of our lives contains the opportunity for a Do Over.
For me, I’m no longer on stage in front of thousands of people. But I recognize that I have the opportunity to reach out to even more than that here.
And there are people I wish to thank.
So, without further ado, here’s what I would have said:
Thank you so very much. I am incredibly grateful to receive this beautiful award.
I’d like to thank WPPI, an organization that not only produces great content, cool membership benefits, and challenging competition opportunites all year long but also happens to bring together an ALL-IN crowd of tens of thousands every single year. This is my tenth year attending The WPPI Convention, and each year it fosters an even more powerful community of high-energy individuals, while still showcasing warmth, friendliness and a truly significant emphasis on education. There’s really nothing else like it in the photography community.
Thank you, Adorama. You were already my favorite camera store long before I’d learned more about the amazing educational resource that is Adorama Learning Center and Adorama TV. I know firsthand just how much you care about creating excellent programming, and the millions of people you draw in to your gigormous website know it more and more every day. I love that you sponsor this award, given how much you do to inspire so many photographers all around the world.
I want to thank my friends – my closest friends, my newest friends, and my only-see-once-a-year-but-feel-like-I-know-better friends, all of them. I prioritize friendship so actively because it’s incredibly important to me. I have received, and have made a point to have given, tons of support in person, by phone, by skype and of course via social media because people caring about people matters so damn much. When I mention my friends, I also include my awesome studio crew – my Studio Manager, Sarah Coppola, my associates, my production assistant, and my interns. You all make “work” life easier and a lot more enjoyable.
My children! Ohmygoodness, do I love my exceptional children. They don’t tell you how much you learn from your kids – or, at least, I hadn’t heard it. And I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a multitude of cool facts (There’s not one un-cute member in One Direction! The first dinosaur named was the Megalosaurus! It’s possible to lose 7 pairs of glasses in less than 6 months!). I’ve learned that I can love a little one so much so quickly that it doesn’t matter if I give birth to them, take them in my arms as a baby in Africa, or shake their little hand as a toddler in Ecuador. I will love, and that love will be life-defining BIG.
And my children have taught me patience. Deep breath, count to three, try again: Can you please put both of your shoes on now, so we can be only 10 minutes late to school now … sweetheart?
Another ongoing lesson? Humility. One major upside of being a parent is that you don’t ever really have to worry about having an out-of-control ego because you spend so much of your life serving. My job as a parent is to teach them about love, how to learn to take care of themselves more and more, to help them with homework, to show them a multitude of skills – how to tie shoes and clean up messes, rooms, laundry. I will shop and cook so many meals, I will bathe them, dress them, hold them while they cry … my job is to serve, and I know that.
And it’s ridiculous how much they can make me laugh, how one long, sweet hug can fill back up all my reserves – and then some. It’s a beautiful, meaningful, exhaustingly wonderful job to have, and I know I’m lucky to be entrusted with their little souls. I learn that I am still often stunned that I won the job to be their mother.
And, lastly, I would like to thank my husband, Steve. I wish he were here right now to see this, although when I text him my news as soon as I get back to my seat, he will send back the most warm-hearted message with a photograph of him smiling in such an all-encompassing, loving way that his pride will be downright palpable, and it will all mean even that much more to me.
What we’ve built together has become something pretty magical: an actual true, fair, and lovingly supportive partnership. And it’d be wonderful to say we figured out how to do it right away – but the truth is we didn’t. We both got so busy with raising our children and building our own separate careers that we put the priority for our relationship with each other at pretty much dead last. Accordingly, our relationship start disintegrating about the same time our lives got the busiest.
If we managed to build an incredible fire from the very last smoking ash (and that’s not really an exaggeration), then it’s because we both decided separately to figure out what real communication was. Apparently it’s not trading schedules, diaper duty, and irritated reminders about overdue appointments the other didn’t keep. Take two entrepreneurs who happen to not only be married to each other but also, in many ways, to their work and add in a great passion for spending notable time with their children – and you can end up with two individuals who are downright competing with each other for time. Well, at least that’s what we ended up experiencing.
Setting up a new paradigm in a relationship means to actively practice stepping on one’s own ego and leading each conversation with vulnerability instead. It’s practicing extreme kindness and listening for all the words the other doesn’t know how to express yet – and doing so with patience and, yes, sweetness. It’s apologizing without contingencies and realizing how much blessed freedom there is in forgiveness. It’s eventually knowing that it’s really, really hard to feel compassion for the other person when you don’t practice it with yourself first.
There are few things that bring people closer than amazing communication. Because that’s the key to amazing connection. We didn’t know that before, but we learn that more and more every day.
We take turns rooting the other on. While I am here at WPPI, he is pretty much full-time dad for 3 kids and 3 dogs, and he virtually high fives me every time I finish a presentation. When I get home, it’ll be major family focus until it’s his turn next, the big Tarheel 10-Miler race he produces, the largest in regional history with 6 thousand racing and close to 15,000 spectators. I know he’ll be caught up in that, and I’ll be full-time mom to 3 kids and 3 dogs for however long that takes to fully ramp up, until the actual day. Then, like every other year, I’ll run the event, along with all 3 kids and then we’ll cheer him on at the finish.
We went from competing with each other for what we each thought we needed to collaborating across the board, which in turn gave us both more than we ever knew possible. And our entire family is so much the better for it.
If I’m getting an award for inspiring others, it has everything to do with how much I’ve been inspired myself – by great organizations, wonderful friends, my family, my husband and, of course, the never-ending possibility of the constant Do Over.
Thank you. (Thank you, Thank you.)
It should be noted here that I didn’t stay quiet for terribly long. In fact, I ended up carrying my award around with me for the rest of the night, like holding out Simba, my very own Lion King, every time I walked into a room. I’m fairly sure that every single photo taken of me afterwards shows me clutching my award close. I even refused to have a sip of celebratory wine without lifting my award up, too.
I guess, in the end, gratitude has a lovely way of pushing its way through unsureness.
Thanks to Sara Harris, for grabbing these photos while I was on WPPI Awards stage and after I got back to my seat:
With friends Jen Bebb and Sara Harris, right after the ceremony:
With Lauren Naylor and Jeffrey Snyder, from Adorama, who presented me with the award:
A fun shot from my friend Sally Sargood:
Couldn’t stop holding up the award, so Jason Groupp, Director of Education & Membership at WPPI, helped me out:
With dear friends Jerry & Melissa Ghionis and my associate (and friend!) Erin Costa:
There are plenty more photos, and plenty more to report on as it relates to the WPPI Convention, in general – but that will come later.
For now, I just wanted to thank some people.