My Golden Birthday: Turning 26

By Kat Nguyen

Life Lessons/My Thoughts:

Another year of my life has passed, and in this year, so much has changed. For the past few years, I have been in pain almost every day of my life and have not been able to do as much as I have wanted. My body felt like it was failing, and because of that, I have been unable to give my full attention to my art - and I have felt as though I was failing the people who asked me to photograph them as I often couldn't accommodate their wishes due to my body's limitations. It has been two years of doctor's appointments, blood tests, and trying various treatments - but recently I was able to find a treatment that worked for me.

So for the first time in two years, on my birthday, I finally felt like myself again. For the past month, I have been able to do things I never thought I would be able to do again. I have met people who inspire me with their love and joy and have met others who inspire my creativity. I have spoken with people I would have never been able to meet even just a few months ago, and I am so grateful for that. But in the time I felt sick, I have learned some things I would love to share.

Firstly, there is nothing that anyone needs to amount to in this life. I was told a lot as a kid/teen that I would amount to nothing when I was older, but now that is exactly what I want to do. There is nothing I NEED to be or do in order to be worthy of anything in this life. You don't need to set expectations that are so high they are near impossible to reach to feel like you are accomplishing something. You don't need to amount to the expectations set by others or yourself. Of course, you should still follow your passions and work diligently - but placing hard opinions on yourself will eventually drag you down rather than lift you up - which is what you should be doing to yourself throughout your life. So be gentle with yourself, be as kind to yourself as you are to others.

Secondly, yet along the same vein, surround yourself with people you admire and that make you feel happy more than not. If you feel like you're being weighed down by a friendship, or that you are mostly unhappy being around those people, you should realize that they are not good to have in your life. This does not mean they are bad people or that they aren't good people in general, they just may not be people that are good for you to have in YOUR life. The people around you: whether family, friends, or otherwise, should bring joy and support into your life and you should bring those things into theirs.

Thirdly, have a hobby that you can do alone, bonus points if you can do it outdoors. Sharing hobbies with friends/family/otherwise can be amazing and fun, but having a hobby you can do on your own is essential. It is important for you to have time for yourself so you can learn to not only enjoy your own company, but revel in it. You should have time to enjoy being alone, and also time to reflect on yourself to know which areas you need to grow.

Fourthly, make time to relax and unwind. I have noticed in our generation that people will work all hours of the day, no matter how they are feeling. I attribute this to the internet and that everyone always seems accessible at any time of the day, even on special occasions. But this is not healthy and often leads to burnout and a bad work-life balance. Though this is an issue in many industries, I find that it is extremely common in the photography industry. Many photographers answer messages and emails from the time their eyes open in the morning until the time their eyes close at night. If you are someone who does this, I suggest blocking out some time in your calendar each week to avoid everything involved with work and just relax and do nothing. I wholeheartedly believe that creatives require time to just do nothing, otherwise, their brains are too occupied to come up with their best ideas. So make sure you're caring for yourself as much as you're caring for your business/work.

Finally, I wanted to say something super cliche before I get into the concept of the birthday mini series I did: enjoy the little things. Enjoy the smell of your morning coffee, the sound of water boiling while you're cooking, the rain pattering on your window, the birds chirping outside your home, the sunlight leaking through the trees and the other things that seem inconsequential. These things seem like nothing, but if you enjoy them, suddenly most of life seems enjoyable and the bleakness of the future melts away each time you notice these little things of happiness.

My Birthday Mini Series

This series theme came to me in a dream, which sounds hilarious, but it's true! I wanted to do this series in a way that reflected my inner feelings of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. I realize this may sound silly as I am now 26, but before this year, I honestly did not feel like a real adult. I still felt like I had no direction in life and that I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my future. To some degree, I feel like I will always be figuring that out, but for now, I have gained a great idea of the direction I want my life to go in.

I wanted the black balloon to convey the idea that I do still harbor some childlike joy, but that I have graduated into a new phase of my life. The skeleton represents the fact that I am getting closer to my own end and that I do often think about my own mortality to motivate me to live a better life and find happiness in things I used to ignore. I wanted the birthday candle to represent the fun and joy birthdays used to have for me and the way that it is used to represent how birthdays have changed for me as I have gotten older. They are no longer as exciting and joy-filled as they used to be, as it seems like just another year passing me by.

As I look forward to many more birthdays to come, I hope you enjoyed my mini series!