Humans of New York founder, Brandon Stanton urged a sold-out audience at the Jorgensen Center of the Performing Arts to focus not on your dreams, but the work to get there.
Stanton spoke on Saturday as part of SUBOG’s spring weekend lecturer.
“I’m a mess,” were the first words Stanton addressed to the crowd. The night before his dog Susie died, the first dog he ever had. Susie was a senior dog that inspired Stanton and his fiancé to start the non-profit Susie’s Senior Dogs to promote awareness and adoption for older dogs.
After “getting that out of the way,” Stanton started the lecture.
“When I was your 20 years old all I did was hit the bong in the dorm room,” Stanton admitted. He had failed out of the University of Georgia and had no idea what he wanted to do with his life.
Eventually he got his life back on track by moving in with his grandparents, attending community college and working at the restaurant Applebee’s. Soon he got his grades back up and returned to the University of Georgia, majoring in history.
Like most college students, Stanton chose to make the safe choice in getting a job that was not necessarily his dream job, but built him a “cushion” that would allow him to do the things he enjoyed doing later in life. With the help of a friend, Stanton was able to get a job trading bonds in Chicago.
For the next two years Stanton would become obsessed with markets and succeeding at his job.
“I could be in the front row at a concert of my favorite band and would still be thinking about my job,” he said.
In 2008 after the market crashed, Stanton lost his job.
“Surprisingly it was a great day. Everything I feared came true,” he said.
Stanton said all his thoughts and energy went into his job. He had focused so much on moneymaking even though he was never the kind of person to be driven by money.
“My thoughts were not mine for two years,” he said.
Looking back on the two years he spent trading, he admitted that he had nothing to show for those years.
Stanton said he was always a creative and artistic person. He made a commitment to himself that would later serve as the foundation that HONY was built upon: He would make just enough money to be able to do what he wanted.
“No amount of money was worth those two years,” he said.
Soon after making this decision, Stanton picked up a camera and fell in love with photography. He would take thousands of photos every day around downtown Chicago.
According to Stanton, when he moved to New York he barely knew two people and was living in an apartment with three strangers, a mattress on the floor and nothing on the walls. He did not socialize with people; all he did was photograph.
With not much support from his friends and family, he risked all that he had to work on his photography because that was the most important thing to him.
Stanton said that at the time, HONY was not a perfectly formed idea as it is today. He worked everyday at it making “small evolutions along the way for it to come together the way it is today.”
He believed that if he had waited for it to be perfect it would have never happened.
“You can’t wait for (your ideas) to be perfect ideas because you’re afraid of failure,” he said. “Trust you will become who you need to be and what your project will be.”
He advised the audience that working hard gets you to your dreams, not the plan, as it is the only thing you can control.
“Focus on work, not the success or you will go insane,” Stanton said.
Though he is grateful for all of the success HONY has gathered, Stanton said that success has never been what the project is about.
Stanton’s speech was critical for college students who are deciding what kind of career path they want to go down. To Stanton, happiness is much greater than the amount of success and money.
“Everyone can get to this place (his level of success) if they’re willing to work hard and sacrifice,” he said.