As a self-taught filmmaker who spent the last year trying to get his first real project up and running, I've come across my fair share of disappointments, near misses, and financially tight times. As with any startup or personal project, finances are scarce and it's often your passion for the project and support from family and friends that carries it through. For all entrepreneurs (especially those on the artistic side, like me), creating something of your own isn't about making money—it's about being successful in the way that you personally define it.
And this is my definition.
First, success is defined by doing something that I love.
I shoot video because it is what I love to do. I've never considered myself an artist. I studied English and journalism in school. Wrote mediocre poetry and was a mediocre editor of our literary magazine and school newspaper. I took a photography class and spent the large majority of my free time my junior year in the darkroom. While writing was always my main focus, it was this time spent mixing chemicals and developing negatives that I got my first true taste of the aesthetically pleasing process of creating visuals, and it truly remains the time of my life that turned my creative passion towards visual media.
I continued to focus on writing through graduate school and my first few jobs, but photography and videography became my main hobbies. For nearly three years I brainstormed and planned for what I wanted to be a documentary series on unique locals all over the world. Finally, early this year, I packed my camera bag, checked my savings account, sold my stocks, and hit the road to not only begin my journey into filmmaking in earnest, but to hopefully start a company that would change how people view short-form travel content for the new media: Humanity.TV.
While traveling and shooting video I was finally, 100%, doing something that I loved.
Second, success is having a support system that encourages me to continue to follow my passions.
I knew that if Humanity.TV was going to work, I wouldn't be able to do it alone. I'm thankful that as a previously home-schooled youth (thanks mom!), I have the internal drive to learn new skills and the inclination to teach myself. It's how I learned how to shoot and edit video, speak Chinese poorly, and play the ukulele. But starting a company and traveling constantly is not something I would recommend doing alone. Humanity.TV, even now in its fledgling stages, would not have existed and would not have the opportunity to continue to exist without my cofounder Gaston Blanchet, whose creative vision and knack for picking things up annoyingly quickly has propelled us onward during our first year. He also gave me someone to talk to during meals for eight months, which I'm definitely thankful for.
I also measure success by the support of my family and friends and, by this measurement, I've had a pretty good year. For an independent artist and entrepreneur, it would often be impossible to do what you love without the support of the people you care about most. They will be your guides, steering you when you feel lost. They will be your support, there for you when things go poorly. And they will be your rock, the sturdiness from back home that can reconnect you when you're sick of being surrounded by drunk backpackers in Kuta, Bali (please, don't ever go there).
With the support of my family and friends, I know success will come because, for me, it's already here.
Last, success is the ability to have the freedom to pursue what I love.
I know that a lot of things have lined up for me to be able to do what I do. I've had an amazing support system from family and friends my whole life, and continue to have one today. I have always been encouraged to follow my passions and what I truly think is right. In short, I've had the freedom to pursue my goals and my dreams. Freedom from financial debt. Freedom from political oppression and persecution. Freedom from a rough history. Freedom to travel around the world unabated.
When all is said and done, it comes down to this freedom. Often, we destroy our own freedom with the inability to take action when it is desired. But for many, freedom isn't a choice. I understand that for me the freedom to do what I love is a choice. And for that I am overwhelmingly grateful.
Be thankful for your version of success.
After a year of traveling the world, shooting dozens of short documentaries, and meeting an incredible group of fascinating people, I've slowly eaten into my savings and am now working harder than ever to get to a place that would allow me to help even more filmmakers have the chance to do what they love. To have the freedom to follow their dreams and see the world.
And, for me, that means this year was a success. And for that, I am thankful.
—Kerrin Sheldon is the cofounder of Humanity.TV, an authentic travel series focused on fascinating locals all over the world. They are currently raising funds to hire more filmmakers and developers to turn Humanity.TV into a unique interactive tablet experience. Give him a shout: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter