Half-way across the world
I was in Incirlik, Turkey at the time, courtesy of the United States Air Force. The first Gulf War was still about a year out.
Some military assignments like this one are considered “remote” which means you can’t bring your family with you. You’re left to your own devices for anywhere from 12-18 months.
This particular location was a forward operating base: the flight line would spit F-16’s into the sky in a heartbeat if tensions rose across any of Turkey’s borders. And because there were always tensions somewhere, there were usually war games of one type or another played on a regular basis.
Just do it
This was… I don’t know… my second remote assignment (I’d eventually have four) and I was still young enough and green enough to not have all the answers. My learning curve was still steep but I knew one thing: I was hungry to learn and improve. A few years earlier I found myself in a serious slump both creatively and professionally, so for me coming to Turkey came with a sense of rebirth; I needed to seriously reinvent myself.
I couldn’t have been luckier because at that time Turkey was a great country to be in if you were a broadcast journalist: Still safe enough to travel around so locations like Adana and Istanbul, Bodrum and Ephesus were easily accessible, you could walk and talk and shoot video, and it wasn’t a big deal if you were American.
When you are by yourself for 15-18 months, what do you do?
You stay busy or you develop bad habits. The only thing I could relate to was working. Pick up a camera and hit the streets. Shoot some video. Write a story. Do some work.
To me, Turkey was one huge archeological find. Remains of castles hidden in the mountains. Ancient Turkish baths nestled deep in the city. Cobblestone roads. Great food and interesting people not to mention a military mission that was screaming to be told day in and day out.
Set of tools
You’re probably wondering what life lesson I learned while traveling that has helped me in my business life, or perhaps could help someone else. The great thing about being basically alone is that you can face your fears. You either move forward or fall back into the shadows.
It’s not for me to say how much talent I did or didn’t have prior to my arrival in Turkey, but I can tell you that if you work every day: Write every day, shoot video every day, draw a storyboard or interview someone every day, you will improve. You’re gonna get better.
Eventually you develop a system. You create a set of tools. You learn to economize and make your shots count. You learn to write on the fly and voice your story on location.
Change we must
After a while, I could sense that over the course of those 15 months (or was it 18? I don’t remember) I was changing: I was working smarter and not harder. I developed a pallet of shots and techniques that I could and would rely on from then on. I was learning time management and goal-setting without even realizing it. I was learning about meeting deadlines and dealing with people, and it was happening in real time.
I would go on to other assignments in other parts of the world and I was able to keep raising the bar. Plus, I was working with other talented individuals and you learn from them as well. I’m not saying you can’t learn this in a classroom – but there’s a big difference between real world experience and a textbook exercise.
I’d like to think that if you talk to anyone who has had success in a given field they will tell you the same thing: You need to learn your craft and spend time doing it. Surround yourself with talent and be a sponge.
I’m not that involved in broadcast journalism anymore. I think if you do anything for 20 years or more you deserve a break (plus writing is a lot easier on my back). But the same lessons I learned back then still serve me well today.