Algarve, Western Portugal (Lola Akinmade Åkerström)Every year, I pick out a focus word. A word that governs various aspects of my life that year in lieu of resolutions. My previous words have been focus (2009), discipline(2010), growth (2011), nurture (2012), and surrender (2013). 

Last week, I was in DC for just two nights. The trip happened so quickly and felt like such an energizing blur that I’m still left wondering if I ever even left Stockholm at all and perhaps was just snoring away in a dream. But it happened and it was reeling and I seriously overdosed on inspiration, talent, and the ambiance of just being in the same room with legendary photographers.

As part of Nat Geo Creative, I was there for our annual meeting as well as the Society’s annual photography seminar (#ngmphotoseminar) which brings in photographers, photo editors, and photo enthusiasts to listen to and soak in some of the most exciting photographic projects currently in progress. From urban photographer Wayne Lawrence’s raw soul-touching portraits to New York Times war photographer Tyler Hicks’ accounts of witnessing the unspeakable, other photographers to take the stage included Hasan Elahi, Newsha Tavakolian, Vincent Musi, David Maisel, and Danny Lyon with Julian Bond.

It was also great connecting with and hugging photographers I’d admired for a long time. And as I sat there, giddy as ever, while family and friends messaged their support, pride, and love, it only solidified the focus word I’d already chosen back in November 2013.

Work-wise, 2013 was an exciting rollercoaster in many ways – thrilling yet terrifying. Lots of ebbs and flows with the last few months seeing me head down editing photos for months.  But as the year wound to a close, my focus word jumped right out at me. Something was amiss and I needed to pinpoint what it was. While I surrendered and let work and opportunities come and go, I also fell into that comfortable space. The one where you know you can knock out articles quickly regardless of topic. That comfortable, familiar, non-challenging space that is also the enemy – the antithesis of growth.

I fell squarely into that relaxed space.

Now, people who know me might think I’m delusional because of this inherent need to always be producing something, staying productive. But what they may not understand is that I’ve seemed to stop challenging myself. To stop trying new things and pushing creative boundaries.

So my focus word for 2014 is “Challenge”.

I’m going to challenge myself career-wise, creatively, personally, emotionally, and in other aspects of my life.

Writing and Photography

Challenging myself once again means focusing on the type of writing – travel narratives and investigative cultural pieces – I love to do in lieu of quick hits. This also means continually diversifying that income stream so that I can focus a lot more on these. Working smarter.

Photography-wise, it’s time to launch those personal projects I’ve had on the backburner for so long. I have about four ideas which I will actively challenge myself to start working on this year. The photography seminar only reinforced what I needed to do to keep moving forward and growing to someday making it onto this featured list.

I’m already halfway there and personal growth, evolution, and passion will get me all the way there – God willing.

As I free up time, I’ll also be doing a lot more lifestyle portraits and take on more commercial assignments which I do enjoy in addition to the travel photography. Here’s a quick glimpse of a few projects I worked on last year.
Lifestyle Photography by Lola Akinmade Akerstrom


I pulled out my guitar about two weeks ago, strummed badly, but felt that familiar rush well up. It’s the same way I feel when I hold an oil brush or oil pastel and paint something vivid. It’s the same way I feel when I’m the only one laughing at my own jokes as I sketch my comic, Office Supplies. These are hobbies I haven’t touched in almost two years and I feel the loss. I grieve the loss and feel the drain.

So 2014 will challenge me once again. To do those creative things that keep those juices coursing through my veins.

Building Assets

So my friend, genius storyteller Mike Sowden, put together his annual review called My 2013 In Review: Where I Screwed Up and one statement amongst many I connected deeply with was this with regards to building assets:

I don’t want to be someone who continually has to create new work to pay the bills. That’s not what I want out of life. I want to build a body of work that doesn’t need me around to keep generating income. That’s why content marketers build products and that’s why people become authors. Over time, you develop a larger body of work and, therefore, a greater number of ways to get paid. If you’re worried about writing being a fickle and insecure way to make a living, this is a great way to future-proof yourself.

It’s terrific to make something and be paid for it – but if you can find a way to keep getting paid for it, you’re laughing.

I’m now planning to make 2014 the year of Great Laughter…….Mike Sowden

I wholeheartedly agree and hope to laugh as well in 2014.

Personal Life

While no one ever wishes for challenges in their personal lives (and I don’t either), I’d love to challenge myself on some level. To continue finding a way to balance work and family time so seamlessly that I work less, make more, and have more time for my family. Personally, I’d love to challenge myself physically as well. I’ve also relaxed in many ways so I’d love to pick up something once again like my rugby playing days. Yes, I played rugby for many years.

Maybe kickboxing, jogging, and dare I say it, running even. Who knows.

But 2014 will be the year I challenge myself – fully and completely – in creative ways.

About that “2013 in Photos” post?

Belgrade, Serbia (Lola Akinmade Åkerström)
So I was planning a “2013 in photos” eye-candy style post but I have thousands of photos from Montenegro, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Turkey I still haven’t even started editing, talk less of other side photography projects, so I’ll just have to share those later…
 (Lola Akinmade Åkerström)

What have you got planned for 2014?