We had the good fortune of connecting with Michael Cherek and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michael, what’s your definition for success?
The meaning and definition of “success” is different for each and every one of us, and is a question we all must ask ourselves. For the answer to this question lies within and dictates our daily thoughts, actions and intentions. To me, success is not a competition amongst others, it’s not a battle of who’s the most wealthy, or who can get their name hung up in the rafters. To me, success is not grand or monumental but, rather, is realized in many of the smaller moments in life – overcoming obstacles, embarking on new adventures, finding interesting hobbies and pastimes, lending a helping hand to someone in need. As a 20 year old attempting to find and figure out for himself what constitutes success, I often ponder a saying I came across on social media, “Live a life that both your 8 year old self, as well as your 80 year old self, would be proud of.” To me, success is doing things that make both versions of myself proud.
This carries me into my next point and allows me to dive deeper into what success means through my eyes. Success is a personal quest through the game of life, one in which we’re all given different boards, pieces, and the ability of free will. As we all have unique circumstances, there’s no need for comparison to anyone but the previous version of ourselves. A quest to become the best version of myself has taught me the value of appreciating the journey, the struggle, and most of all, the growth. Looking back and seeing how far you’ve come and seeing all of your hard work pay off, brings a feeling of fulfillment that words simply cannot describe.
Life is full of ups and downs, twists and turns. It requires operating under times of uncertainty. Through each of these, it’s important to acknowledge that failure is inevitable. Every moment in life is teaching us something and shaping us into the person we are becoming. I have worked hard to train my mindset and develop my perspective to remain present in each moment and to accept failure as the learning experience that it is. I don’t fear failure, I embrace it. Being fully aware and conscious of each and every experience I go through, and accepting the successes as well as the failures, has allowed me to break free of the constraints I put myself under and evaluate life through a different lens. For each experience redirects us on our path and furthers our understanding of what our purpose is. I believe that purpose is driven by passion and fulfillment, it’s what lights the fire within us. By following in the footsteps of these discoveries, we can achieve the personal goals and accomplishments we lay out for ourselves, bringing the sentiment of fulfillment and the ability to make the difference we intend to make.
While some believe that success is the key to happiness, to me it’s the other way around – I feel that happiness is the key to leading us on the path to success. Finding what you love and what brings you joy is an enormous discovery, and one that should not be ignored. For doing what you love each day will bring you the satisfaction of enjoying every day to the fullest. Life is meant to be enjoyed and each day seized like it’s our last. When that final day comes, I want to look back knowing that I made the most of what I had and left places better than I found them. In addition, practicing gratitude will allow you to never forget the blessings in your life. Throughout life’s journey, we must always remain grateful for the possessions we have, the progress we’ve made, and the people who have gotten us there.
I am filled with pride when I look back and see the things I’ve overcome, do the things I never thought I would do, and visit the places I never thought I would see or experience. There is so much beauty in growth and in embracing individualism. Everyone has a different story that is unique to them and deserves to be shared, for life is best lived in the company of others. Taking a moment to reflect upon how far you’ve come and the limitless possibilities life has in store, puts everything into perspective. What I deem success is the growth I’ve seen in myself and the joy I find within the journey of becoming the best version of myself that I can be. In addition, I find the utmost sense of fulfillment in lending a helping hand to others and striving to serve as a good samaritan. Appreciating the past, living in the moment, and working towards a better future… success!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Throughout the past few years, I have gone down many paths, constantly trying new things and putting myself in uncomfortable situations. Some have worked out and some have not, but what I can say with absolute certainty is that each has played a fundamental role in getting me to where I am today. One of the paths I ventured down involved an internship with a film studio in Los Angeles, California, in the summer of 2020. While the position itself lasted only a few months, the insight from it brought me a lifetime of inspiration and direction, rekindling my passion for photography and the joy it brings me to make memories tangible. I am somebody who values experiences well above material possessions, and the art of photography has given me a mechanism to make the experiences I’ve had last a lifetime.
While I enjoy the simple act of taking pictures, I find even more gratification in making sure my photos capture the unique perspective I’m seeking and that the lighting is just right. No two pictures are the same and I love having the ability to impact the images in a meaningful and creative way. Although I haven’t had formal training in photography, I find that I learn best by experimenting with different techniques so I take advantage of all opportunities I can to photograph diverse subjects, using trial and error to make the focal point strong and the image crisp. Once the image has been properly captured, I do some minimal editing to make the photo come to life. I believe the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words and I’ll keep working on this craft until each and every picture I take adequately and fully tells its story.
I have learned many lessons in my photography journey, one of the most important being that you never stop learning and learning comes in many different forms. I love to read about photography techniques, I love to try over and over and over again until I get the results I’m looking for, and I love listening and responding to the feedback I receive on my photos. I started posting photos on Instagram a few years back, subsequently creating my own photography website. I have been fortunate to have met and talked to others in the photography industry as a result. I appreciate hearing what others in the community have to say about my pictures and I learn so much from viewing and studying the works of others who enjoy the same passion that I do. I’m excited to keep learning, and keep growing, as a photographer!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
While there are many people I could give a shoutout to – my supportive family, great teachers and coaches throughout the years, friends, the doctor at Mayo Clinic who, after years of misdiagnoses and failed physically therapy, skillfully identified and corrected a defect in my right shoulder that for years left me sidelined from the sports I love – I’m going to give my largest shoutout (and a little plug for pet adoption!) to my dog, Rocky. I rescued Rocky from a Los Angeles animal shelter in 2020. As it was in the height of the pandemic, you couldn’t go into the shelter to look at the dogs available for adoption but had to, instead, pick the ones you wanted to see and have the shelter workers bring them out to you at a scheduled appointment time. When I called to see Rocky, the shelter worker asked if I wanted to make a second pick as others had come to see him during the few months he had been at the shelter and had chosen to leave without him. As they explained, he was approximately 3 years old and had very little socialization during that time, so he was somewhat aggressive and unapproachable. He was surrendered to the shelter at the same time the neglectful owner dropped off a number of other dogs. Even before hearing the explanation, I had my answer – no, I did not wish to make a second choice. Rocky was going home with me.
When I brought him home, he was scared, but it didn’t take long for his infectious personality to begin to shine through. Within a week, he had come out of his shell and began to show the most amazing and incredible zest for life. Everything was exciting for him! He’d jump in circles every time I brought his food dish out (and still does to this day!). Going outside was equally exciting, whether it be trips to the dog park, walks on the beach or, after moving back to Wisconsin, adventures outside in the snow, Rocky was eager to enjoy every new experience. His love for life has made me appreciate the small things more and has helped me grow into the person I want to be – a person who doesn’t rush through life but, instead, stops to smell (and take pictures of!) the roses, one that has a genuine care and concern for others (other people, as well as animals), one who eagerly seeks out new adventures and finds ways to enjoy every day. I try to live by the motto – “Be the person your dog thinks you are.” If I can do that, I’ll have achieved true success in life.