“The reason why we get to do certain things is that someone mentioned our names when we weren’t even present. That matters.”… Luvvie Ajayi of Awesomely Luvvie.
It took me six months to write about an incident that has been on my mind since it occurred.
Because the universe was waiting to hand me this perfect quote above from Luvvie Ajayi which she wrote in a heartwarming post about achieving one of her dreams of interviewing Oprah Winfrey and that full circle moment in her life.
I was sitting in a packed auditorium. On stage being interviewed was a legend in the photography world. One who broke barriers to become the first and only African American photographer to be represented by one of the world’s most prestigious photo agencies. We were there to learn about him, his amazing work, and his journey through such a challenging field.
But one single fact didn’t go unnoticed.
In 2016, he was still the only black photographer represented by this agency after decades.
So the question naturally bubbled up to the surface. Thrown out from a curious crowd. Why was this still the case? Hadn’t he come across other talented black photographers as well?
“Oh, I’ve discovered so many talented black photographers,” he said. “In fact, I discovered two new ones just last week”.
We were sitting with bated breath for their names to be dropped. To learn more about them and their work.
But nothing. No names followed that remark.
And my heart sank on their behalf.
In a room full of top photo editors from prestigious magazines, other legendary photojournalists, and the most recognizable visual brands in the world, those talented photographers remained “nameless” photographers.
In a room filled with people who could change their lives in an instant, they remained nameless.
Now I’m sure he didn’t subconsciously choose not to say their names and their names might have escaped his mind at the moment.
I wanted to scream out loud “What are their names?” but the interviewer had moved on.
Still, it wasn’t an excuse. I should have screamed out loud “What are their names?”
Say their names.
This seemingly trivial incident bothered me and has been on my mind for six months. I’ve been trying to digest it, to analyze it, to not overanalyze it, but it has been challenging.
Because sometimes, just saying “work harder” isn’t enough.
In some cases, it can be an inhumane crime if we are the ones who hold the key to unlock a world of opportunities for the person to whom we say “work harder”.
We all have the power in our own way and within our own spheres of influence to drastically change someone else’s life. To make that hard toil they constantly face on a daily basis a little easier for them.
It’s the difference between a friend just vocalizing their support for you or actually giving your name to that special contact they have that could potentially change your life.
Oftentimes, when we operate from a mentality of scarcity, we feel like there isn’t enough to go around and we hold on for dear life to the little we have instead of spreading it around.
Like seeds for a harvest. Scattering seeds in a field yields a whole lot more return that stowing them away in small pots on your balcony.
That is why I wrote this post about the danger of believing your own press.
Do we consciously exclude people because we feel threatened by them?
I strive really hard to remember people’s names. Not because memorizing them gives me some sort of internal victory when I drop their names on demand.
No, because trying to remember your name means I acknowledge and see you. I hear you. You as a person matter and your voice needs to be heard too. Whether we agree or not.
And many times I don’t remember names as well but I strive to.
This is why whenever I give a talk or workshop or presentation about creating better environmental travel portraits of people, I always start with that very important acknowledgement.
Because according to Dale Carnegie, names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
So going back to Luvvie’s powerful quote. The reason we get to do some things and get to some places in life isn’t just for the mere fact that we worked our backs off day in day out and that we continue to do so daily.
It is also because someone not only remembered our names but operated from a mentality of abundance, didn’t feel threatened by all our hard work, and mentioned our names to that one person who held the key.
The key to lighten the heavy load on our backs.