I shot my first gig as a professional photographer in 2005. It’s pretty hard at this point to believe that it’s been four years. In some ways, it seems like just a moment ago. After all, ten years ago I was at Sun working to get Tomcat and Ant released to the Apache Software Foundation. Twenty years ago, I was blundering through my first year of architecture school. In other ways, however, I look back at all that that’s happened since that first gig and I’m amazed it’s only been four years.

Starting a second career takes time and dedication. It takes years to get to the point where you’re not looking over your shoulder and wondering if you might have to fall back again on other skills you have. In the best of times, it takes patience and work. Lots of hard work. Of course, it’s not the best of times. The economic environment of the last year or so—especially the last few months—has kept that worry front and center. I’ve had some gigs cancelled and others scaled back. On top of that, there have been a few things in my personal and family life that haven’t gone so well. Frankly, it’s been kind of a sucky time. And, it seems that there’s more suck to come on a variety of fronts.

Life has to go on, however. The best opportunities show themselves when you least expect it. And they can come from unexpected directions. In my case, one came via an email I read on my iPhone last Monday.

To fully explain, I need to tell you a story from a few years back. After finishing up my first full year of shooting events for O’Reilly Media, I made a short list of things I’d love to do as a professional photographer. Call them goals. Call them wishes. Whatever. I’ve got a short list. And the number one event on that short list was a unique conference that was held every year in Monterrey called TED. If you don’t know about TED, go check out their website and watch some of the videos. I’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to shoot some of the premier technology events from Web 2.0 Summit to Apple’s WWDC. But TED is it’s own kind of event. Special and unique.

That email I got on Monday? It was from the Executive Producer of TED asking if I’d be available to shoot as a second shooter for the event. Asa Mathat will be the lead photographer, but a single photographer can’t be everywhere at once at a big event. So, would I’d be willing to come and add a second viewpoint?

When I read the email, I was speechless for a while. Maybe an hour. I was barely able to order a cappuccino at the cafe I stopped at after reading the email. It’s so incredibly awesome when a wish comes true. Of course, I accepted. Next week, I’ll be in Long Beach at TED2009 with my camera in my hand. The job might be as just a second shooter. But that’s just fine by me. I’ll be there with the job to make images.

Needless to say, this is a big opportunity. It’s an honor, obviously, but there’s more to it. Unlike getting an award, you can’t just accept an opportunity, smile, and stand there. No, it’s not like that at all. Opportunities lead to other opportunities. Doing a great job at the first O’Reilly conference I shot led to another and another. And doing those well led to me working with other companies like Apple. Therefore, I feel a very real obligation to opportunity, and this one is no different. You have to go out and meet the opportunity head on. In the parlance of sport, you have to go out on the field and give it all you have. Leave it all on the field.

I plan on doing just that. Moreover, I suddenly feel a whole lot better about this year. After all, I might still have to fall back on some of the other skills I have to make it through. There may still be some suck to come. But, there is still joy to be had. There is still opportunity to do good work. And the chance to make some good photographs. Really, what more could one want?

Update 1/31: Thanks all for the kind comments! I really appreciate them!