10-YEAR REVIEW: This week marks the ten-year anniversary of my medical retirement from the United States Air Force and the start of the Veterans Portrait Project. Here’s what I’ve learned over the last decade… Though my body and spirit was broken, I learned to push through adversity and pain. I was told I’d never run again; I ran a marathon. I was told I’d never ride my horse, Sir Prize; I switched to wagon-driving instead. I was told I’d take medications the rest of my life; I now have America’s VetDogs Charlie who’s better than any manmade elixir. I was told my photography career was over; I’ve captured in-excess of 7,500 veterans’ portraits, taught photography classes worldwide and now I’m a Nikon Ambassador.
The secret to my success has been PURPOSE. There’s nothing more powerful than having a reason to live. I don’t mean simply “existing.” I’m talking about waking up with a smile, being motived, reaching bench marks, setting new goals and going to bed feeling fulfilled.
The path I’ve walked has often felt uncertain, overwhelming and scary. Even when I’ve felt alone and listless, there’ve been guiding hands leading me through uncharted territory. I’ve had the love and support of my husband, Andy; my step-kids, Hayley and Tyler; my parents, Susan and Steven; my siblings, Meggen, Tami, Chad and John; my friends Trish and Des’ola… and so many more family and friends too countless to mention in this post.
When I was handed my DD 214, I thought life was over – figuratively and literally. Turns out, it wasn’t the end of my story – simply, the ending of Chapter 1. My time and experience in the military provided the knowledge and insight I needed to begin Chapter 2; the beginning of the Veterans Portrait Project and a new mission in life. Early on, I grappled with self-worth issues. I was weighed down by all the negativity. I felt alone, isolated and pointless. With every veteran I talked to and photographed, I felt validated and vindicated. Turns out, I wasn’t alone in my struggle. Witnessing their resilience and perserverance provided me the motivation I needed to put one foot in front of the other. Often, that’s all we really need to do – one step at a time.
I am human. Naturally I’ve made mistakes, met stumbling blocks, fallen flat on my face, even taken steps back. I’m not perfect. That’s life. These trials and tribulations have provided me perspective. They’ve proved that while I have come a long way, I’ve a long way to go. I am optimistic and hopeful for the future. My future.
Here’s what I know for certain. Never let anyone tell you what you cannot do. Rather, FOCUS on what you want to do and GIVE IT YOUR ALL. Your value and worth should be measured in the small successes you achieve in spite of the obstacles before you. For me, the Veterans Portrait Project isn’t just a give-back or photography project. It’s PURPOSE. ❤️ Stacy P.