Humans of New York in Denton

“So many people use ‘following their dreams’ as an excuse to not work hard. Following your dreams is nothing but hard work. The goal isn’t to get to a place where you don’t have to work, but to get to a place where you can choose your work and control your time.”
- Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York

At some point in our lives we hear the phrase “follow your dreams” or “reach for the stars” or “you can be anything you want to be”. Whatever the variation of that inspirational yet cliche saying, and no matter how many times we hear it, most of us never follow that advice. We get caught up in our lives - our jobs, our family, our friends, our responsibilities. All of that becomes routine and we become content, sometimes even happy. Brandon Stanton did what a lot of us do. He went to college, graduated (not without some major stumbles along the way though), got a good job, and he put all of his time and energy into that job for two years...and then he got fired.

One of two things can happen when a person gets fired. They can feel upset, angry, like a failure, and that negative energy ends up putting them back in the same old and familiar routine of contentment. The other option is to turn getting fired into a positive. To use that as an opportunity to make a change and maybe take a few risks. Thankfully, Stanton chose the latter. Going as far as to describe getting fired as a surprisingly great day, Stanton set a goal to “make just enough money to be able to control my time”. As he sees it, time is the most invaluable resource we have and when he asked himself “If I could do anything with my time, what would I do”? The answer was photography. Three months later, Humans of New York (HONY) was born. 

So how did HONY grow from Stanton taking candid photos of random strangers on a subway to interviewing and photographing the President of the United States a mere four years later? The answer to that is one of the takeaways from Stanton’s speech at UNT last night. The moment he discovers something that’s a little different about his work, he hones in and focuses on that. With HONY, eventually enough of those differences - from photographing random strangers to sharing their stories and everything else along the way - evolved into what it is today. What it is today is a project with multiple best-selling books, nearly 20 million Facebook followers, that’s sent him to 20 countries, and whose supporters have raised millions of dollars in crowdfunding to support specific causes. 

Brandon Stanton is proof that following your dreams can be more than a cliche statement that gets repeated anytime we feel discouraged. He’s a reminder that if you work hard enough, an idea can turn into something great. So, take Stanton’s advice - if you have an idea, don’t talk about it, don’t ask for a dozen opinions, don’t try to make it perfect on paper first, just do it. Maybe in a few years you’ll be saying, just like Stanton, that “the best part is that every morning I get to wake up and I get to choose what I do that day.”

Photos by Emily Cline
Header image design by Sara Button