We meet at Panera Bread on a Friday afternoon. Ben walks in and greets me with a smile and a hug. It’s been a decade since we were acquaintances at best, but we immediately enter into a familiar conversation. Onlookers must view us as a couple of good, old friends who are catching up. Having only recently been in contact again, there is certainly plenty to catch up on. The last time we saw each other, we were in high school and in much different places in our lives than we are now. We have both since begun our careers and created families of our own. There’s a familiarity and an ease during what could have been a stilted and awkward exchange. Ben is personable and articulate and demonstrates a genuine desire to connect with the person he is talking to in more than just a passing way. He tells me about what he has been up to and our conversation is laced with mention of his beautiful, growing family, his face alight with warmth in talking about them.
After spending some time sharing details of our lives, we delve into the more specific reason we are meeting up. When I began this blog, I went against the advice that many give about finding a “niche” and sticking to it. Blogs are supposed to be more successful when you appeal to a specific, targeted audience. But I’m not a singular-minded kind of girl, and I don’t really aim to attract singular-minded people, either. I’m dynamic. I want to reach people in different ways. I want to share inspiration where I can and hope that it makes a positive difference in the world. I quickly find that Ben is very much the same in this way. A unified vision of inspiration and community brought us to our meeting. I wanted to tell an inspirational story, and Ben had an inspirational story to tell.
During a time when negativity is given more press than positivity, we both want to reach an audience that is younger than us to share the message that you can. You can dream, you can achieve, you can inspire. It is a cycle that requires all of us to participate. Ben and I both attended inner-city schools where we sometimes met folks who did not quite believe in the young people in front of them. Sometimes people have a difficult time seeing past the poverty and the hardships to the light on the other side that is the future. I won’t go so far as to say that we were specifically victims of this poverty or this hardship; we both grew up in very stable, loving homes. But we’ve witnessed discouragement. We know what it is like to look into the faces of peers who feel that they aren’t enough; to see, perhaps, that they have already given up before they’ve had the chance to begin. Ben and I both want to share the message that coming from humble means is a starting point, not an end point. Your roots give you a steady place from which to grow. And so we said, let’s start here.
M: Tell me about your roots. What childhood or adolescent experiences – positive or negative – contributed to the path you’ve taken?
B: Growing up, we had family-owned businesses. I learned early on that I had options- not just college alone. I would watch my dad being successful, and I realized that college wasn’t the only path I could take. Entrepreneurship was also one of my options. I kind of stumbled into videography. I had a lot of other jobs before entering this field. I began doing some work with music/audio production, engineering sound for local artists. At 19, I had a small restaurant with my dad that didn’t end up being successful. I spent six years in sales. Eventually my side hustle income was enough to justify me leaving. I enjoyed the positions I worked in when there was a good culture present, but when it changed, I was ready to leave, so I did.
M: What about negativity? Was there anything negative that happened that helped shape you?
B: When we were in middle school… high school… there were always opportunities to make poor choices, to do the wrong thing. I would see my friends or people I know turn to the street life, and I had to make a decision to say that was not for me. I didn’t get trapped in the trap, and that has made the difference in my life. That is probably one of the hardest parts about growing up in a tougher neighborhood. Not all kids are able to say no.
Being someone who works with kids, I know the truth of this all too well. Many times, it is easier for them to just go along with their friends rather than stand up against what they know is wrong. Ben says this very matter-of-factly, ever the humble guy. I think about the stream of jobs that Ben has listed off to me, and I am a bit in awe at his risk-taking. I’ve always been the play-it-safe type of girl, but I really admire the fact that when something didn’t work out or didn’t feel like the right fit, he moved on rather than sticking it out just because it was safe. It takes courage and strength to be able to let go of something familiar in order to seek something that is more fulfilling, but potentially risky.
M: What was the pivotal moment in your life that pushed you to take a leap of faith into the world of videography?
B: I think it was a series of events that led me to that point. When I was working with audio, I also did some video within the music. I did skits similar to what you would see in “>The Wire. I bought a video camera and shot some music videos. I then did a Q&A session with my pastor on video. Finally, it led to me shooting a friend’s wedding in Florida on a whim. At that point I realized that videography was something I really enjoyed that I could possibly make a career out of. I started talking with an established business and became their second videographer. I started to shoot more weddings on the side while I continued my day-job. I saved six months of expenses, and as the culture worsened at the 9-5, I eventually gave my two-weeks’ notice. I thought, if I could write a million in business for someone else, what could I do for myself? I sought out mentors and established relationships with people who had already working in the industry, listened to podcasts, and read books. The number one thing was being able to ask for help from people who knew more about the subject than I did.
Are you an aspiring entrepreneur yourself? Ben recommends The 10x Rule by Grant Cardone
M: What do you feel your greatest strengths are that have helped to make you so successful?
B: Knowing that I am not the best at what I do.
M: Okay, so I guess we can count modesty as a best quality.
Ben laughs too.
B: No, really though. I’ll look back at work that I did in the beginning and cringe a bit. I know that there is always room to grow, I can always be better than I am today. It’s important to be able to admire others’ work and be inspired by them. I would say I am ambitious. I set big goals for myself, work towards them, and I am resolved to reach those goals. I’m resilient. In this business – in most businesses – you have to be able to handle rejection. I’ve had a lot of successes, but I’ve also had a lot of “failures”. You have to be able to keep moving forward. I’d also say that I’m good at networking. People are assets and you need to be able to connect with others to be successful at what you do.
M: Personable as you are and seeing what you’ve already accomplished, that all makes sense! On the other hand, what challenges or doubts do you still face even though you’ve had some success?
B: Being an entrepreneur means you’re skipping the fixed, bi-weekly paycheck for a rollercoaster ride, and at times it can be a tad bit scary. Entrepreneurship has its ups and downs no matter how long you’ve been in business or how successful you may have been so far. Some days you feel like you’re doing really well, and others you can feel like you are totally failing. You have to be able to roll with it. I also feel like art is never really complete. Year after year I know that I am growing and getting better at my craft, but I’ll look back at some of my older work and criticize it. I’m always trying to improve by reflecting on the work that I’ve done.
Ben pulls out his phone and scrolls through his photos to show me a graphic representation of the life of an entrepreneur. I know that series of high and low feelings all too well; I think we all do! As he describes his approach to his own work, his passion and dedication is evident.
M: The life of an artist, right? You never feel like your work is done; you always want to tweak or change something. From seeing your work, I certainly think that you have plenty to be proud of, no matter how you feel about the quality later on. Based on what you’ve learned about your journey so far, what advice do you have to offer young people who may be struggling now, but have the potential to succeed?
Ben takes a pause here and breathes out, clearly being very thoughtful about what he wants to say before answering my question. Then, he answers honestly, another testament to the person he has grown to be.
B: Man… I don’t know. That’s a tough question. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life – the big picture – for a long time. I would say that young people should follow their interests and find mentors in that area. Learn from people who have been there before. Be willing to listen. There are some things that you have to do when you are in school because that’s part of life and growing up. But you never know where the different experiences you have will lead you. It may even lead you to something that you didn’t know you would like, which in turn may lead you to a career. Going through the motions, so to speak, isn’t a bad thing. That’s part of the journey too. Stay busy and be open to trying new things. I encourage kids to take the vocational school route; get your hands dirty… work with your hands. Don’t get stuck thinking that there is only one road to follow.
M: Sounds like you had much better advice than you led yourself to believe at the beginning of that answer. Alright, so we’ve talked about where you’ve been, but how about where you are going? In ten years from now when we are having this conversation all over again, where do you see yourself?
B: Ten years? I have a five-year plan, but ooh…I don’t know about ten years. Well, so far I’ve expanded my business to doing corporate projects. Lately I’m working more with business owners on creating video assets that save them time and help them grow their business. I want to help businesses grow through video. I see success happening around me: businesses that are pumping life back into Worcester again, the economic boom that I see happening…it’s like the Industrial Revolution 2.0.
I’ve worked on some small-scale independent short film sets, so maybe I’d like to do more work in that area. My oldest son is reaching the age where pretty soon I will be able to teach him to participate in business and video. Potentially I’d like to branch out into real estate and owning/managing properties. I’m hoping that being thoughtful about my financial situation…making sacrifices today…will translate into creating more success for the future.
M: You were right about one thing. You might not have a ten-year plan. You might have a twenty-year plan with all that you just outlined. You sure do not give yourself enough credit most of the time. Looking to the future – and in retrospect – what mistakes did you make that you wouldn’t make again?
B: Again, I think that all of my decisions and experiences led me to where I am today, so I wouldn’t say that I particularly have any regrets. However, it probably would have helped to have more knowledge about running a business prior to opening my first business. But I’ve learned to take calculated risks. You need to know what you can afford to lose in order to make the tough decisions. Don’t be afraid to lose; you don’t want fear to hold you back from trying something new or taking a risk with something you love. Do your research before taking the leap, but take the leap. And again, network and surround yourself with people who can help lift you up. There’s a quote that I firmly believe in, “A rising tide lifts all the boats.”
Ben and I conclude our interview with some more small talk. He is full of quotes, bits of wisdom, and recommendations about books and documentaries, has plenty of advice to offer me about my own business, and makes suggestions about moving forward. After we leave, he even follows up with some resources that he thinks I should check out.
As we grow older and become a part of this seemingly competitive, cut-throat world, we sometimes forget to help each other, to lift each other up. There has been much talk about having “a village” in regards to raising children, but I staunchly believe that adults need a village of their own. From the couple of hours that we spent talking, I simply confirmed what I had already suspected: Ben is someone you want as part of your village. Not only is he talented at what he does, but he also believes in his fellow man (or woman). He doesn’t just want to succeed; he wants to see others succeed all around him. This is what we need more of in this world. This is why if you wanted to be inspired, you read about Ben.
Get to know Ben more by visiting his site and checking out his amazing work!
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