What to Do When the World is Ending
By: Talor Stone February 2nd, 2018
Okay, so you’ve received some bad news. Like… really bad news. What do you do?
First things first, pick up something nearby (preferably something soft). Hold this thing in your hand… and then throw it (again, preferably not at something breakable). Definitely scream. An ugly cry is also waiting for you.
Good. Now that you’ve gotten that part out of the way, it’s time to let go and get to work.
If you have been following along on my Instagram (if not, then why aren’t you following me on Instagram?!) then you already know that I’ve had a pretty rough holiday season this year. Before I get into this story, I want to pause for a moment to explain something. I know that I made mistakes in the story I am about to tell. Trust me… I am living with the consequences of my choices. So please do not provide advice on what I “should have done.” That is not helpful. But, if you have tips for better future data management and can explain them in a way that won’t crush my spirit, then I am open to hearing them.
Back to the story. There’s bad luck, there’s worse luck, and then there’s just plain stupid. Now, I don’t know which of these categories I fall into, but I’m sure by the end of this story you’ll have your own opinion. For years now I, like many other photographers, have been working from external hard drives. My files are very large and when I’m actively shooting there can be thousands of them over a weekend let alone what’s generated during my multi-month trips.
Cloud storage has never really been a reasonable option for me because even with decent internet it would take me a month of constant uploading from my laptop to back up my huge files (over 60,000 of them). This would render my laptop nearly useless during the upload (don’t forget I’m a student, too) and that’s if it isn’t somehow fried in the process. So, instead all my images were spread across two external hard drives. I’ll admit my file management left something to be desired, so there was an attempt at duplication (where each image was stored in two places at once) but it was far from perfect. Regardless, it worked for me and I’ve been operating this way for years without so much of a blip in my workflow.
Cue fall of 2018. I finally, with a generous birthday present from my amazing, wonderful, supportive father, purchased the new laptop I so desperately needed. Running photo processing software is a lot more than the average budget laptop can handle and I was simply suffering every time I tried to process images on my old one. If I wanted to be serious about photography, I needed to invest in new technology.
After a month of deliberations (seriously… the salespeople at Best Buy legitimately knew my name because I came in there so often to ask questions), I finally settled on my dream computer – the Dell XPS 15. I read tons of photographer reviews and truly believed that this was the right laptop for me within my budget. (And no, please don’t give me the “should have gotten a Mac” speech… seriously). This baby had everything I could ever dream of and a 4k color calibrated screen to boot! I was in image editing heaven and so excited that I completely ignored the fact that the moment I first booted it up I instantly got the blue screen of death and it promptly rebooted. Surely this was just because it was the first time it was started, right? Must be part of the set-up procedure, right?
*insert shrug here*
After that, the computer ran like a dream. I purchased it right in the middle of my PhD semester, so it took me a couple weeks to start working on images. It was such an incredible experience to finally see my photos with the color balance and sharpness they deserved. It was like seeing them all over again for the very first time. But, it wasn’t long until I began to have concerns. Periodically my hard drive would make a strange noise or two and I would have trouble finding it in the file browser. Oh yeah… and I forgot to mention that the blue screen of death continued to happen every couple of days with no explanation. I was so enamored with the new laptop that the alarm bells failed to signal, but I did decide it was time to at least try to back up some images in cloud storage “just in case.”
What follows is literally the most perfect sequence of things going wrong that I personally have ever experienced.
First things first, I didn’t want to have duplicates in my cloud storage because of the amount of time it was going to take to upload things. To fix this, I merged ALL of my images onto one hard drive to eliminate the redundant files. Instead of simply copying them, for some ungodly reason I decided to move them entirely. No worry… I’ll have a backup copy as soon as they’re on the cloud, right? Wrong. With all my files on a single hard drive, I plugged it back in and hit upload. A handful of files moved and then the unthinkable happened. The hard drive simply stopped working. It no longer existed as far as my laptop was concerned. You could plug it in all day long and the computer would never find it. Trust me… I tried other computers too. In a panic, I took it to Best Buy and I’ll tell you those Geek Squad guys tried their hearts out. They spent all afternoon trying to help me, to no avail.
And I forgot to mention… this happened the day before I had to board a flight for my winter travel trip to Death Valley and the Sierra Nevadas. Out of options and running out of time, I mailed off the damaged hard drive to data recovery, purchased a new one, and resolved myself to board the plane. I was devastated. Four years of work disappeared in a flash. I know I made mistakes with my data management, but “shoulda, woulda, coulda.” No amount of looking back would change the facts, so I had to let go of my worry and look ahead.
When I boarded that plane I only looked forward. I was determined not to let this ruin my trip and, after all, the data recovery rate is quite high. There was a good chance I would get all the images back even at the expense of quite a lot of money. The following few weeks were amazing. I successfully let go of my concerns and took some phenomenal shots.. All images went from my memory cards onto my new hard drive which stayed in its padded case in the vehicle where no harm could come to it… so I thought.
The day I returned home, I was flipping through my images on Lightroom when I noticed the hard drive make a funny noise and just like that… it was gone. With no warning the exact same thing had happened again! All the emotions I thought I had let go of surged back like a tidal wave. Cue more crying, throwing of a pillow and calling my dad. I ran up to Best Buy again, but my luck was the same. The only possible conclusion was that my new laptop, which had continued to repeatedly give the blue screen of death, was somehow shorting out and frying my hard drives. Both hard drives had shorted out in an identical way in less than 3 weeks of use, and both were new and of different brands. The laptop and it’s sketchy performance was the only common factor.
Now, I have heard some negative feedback about Best Buy, but I can honestly only say the most amazing things. The entire Geek Squad crew on both occasions stopped what they were doing to help me as a team for many hours. I was never charged for their time and I was given the most spectacular customer service. They truly went above and beyond in every way and once it was determined the laptop was the cause they gave me a brand-new laptop of a different brand worth $600 more for free. One of them even found a way to download a zipped file of all my Lightroom thumbnails so even though the real files are gone I can still flip through my low-resolution memories! I can’t explain how much it means to me to be able to have those, plus I can still use the low-res files for blogs like this one!
Despite these positives, this is a real crisis! I know it’s hard to believe, but I actually do make money from my images. This is a business that was just now becoming successful, and I have magically become unemployed. Currently, I have zero images including the thousands that I never had a chance to edit or even see with my own eyes.
Going from bad to worse, today I got the phone call that the data recovery center has deemed the files unrecoverable. So yeah… that stings a little (ahem, a lot). At the moment, the images for sale on my website are the only images available, but even I would have to purchase them from myself to have them! This is completely devastating for my future as a business and, to make matters worse, the morning the second hard drive failed I had ordered nearly $2,000 worth of prints for art shows. So now I have tons of money invested, but the immediate future looks pretty darn bleak.
I may not be able to do much right, but I do know one thing – I know how to let go of the things I can’t control. This is a skill I hope no one else ever has to learn the way I did. I figured out how to let go by surviving an abusive marriage, the sudden loss of a parent, and the traumatic ball-of-fire death of said marriage all within the same year. When life goes this bad you either cease to function or you figure out how to let go of the things you can’t control. I’ve chosen to learn to let go. My recipe for this is simple and comes in four easy steps that (at the risk of sounding like an infomercial) you too can use to let go of the things beyond your control:
One: Freak out, but give yourself a time limit.
- I personally won’t allow myself to have an emotional breakdown or anger-fest for more than 10 minutes, but usually it’s less than 5. Cry, throw something (again, preferably soft), scream loud enough to make the neighbors concerned, and call the right family member or friend who knows how to listen. Just go for it.
Two: Ask yourself, “Can I control this?” Let go of what you can’t.
- If you cannot control the problem, then you have to consciously let go of it. Say it out loud. Tell a friend. Whatever you do, make it a conscious act and let go.
Three: Make a plan.
- I like to write lists personally, but do whatever works for you. I make a plan on how to deal with the fall-out when something has gone horribly wrong. Only consider things you can actually control and remember to let go of the rest. In this situation I had to ask myself whether or not I really wanted to pursue photography. I mean… this was the perfect situation in which to quit. I could walk away fair and square. But, if I wanted to continue then I would have to dig in deeper and commit harder than ever before. I chose to dig.
Four: It’s time to get to work.
- A plan on paper is nice and all, but it means nothing until you take that first step. For me, that meant charging ahead and submitting art show and gallery applications each and every day until there were none left. It meant investing money and time to build art display panels with the confidence that one day I would have images to fill them again. It meant making at least one step forward every single day so I wouldn’t lose momentum.
I hope what happened to me will never happen to you. But, these steps to let go know no genre of tragedy. You can apply this to anything and, if you find a way to let go of the things beyond your control, I promise you will be a happier and healthier person for it. The next time it feels like the world is coming to an end, remember that it’s perfectly okay to freak out. By all means become an ugly crier, smear you mascara and hyperventilate a little. But then take a deep breath, let go, make a plan, and get to work! You can’t follow your dreams if you’re sitting on the sideline!
Here’s to letting go, digging deeper and committing harder. It’s going to be an uphill battle, but I’m ready.
Help me bid farewell to some of my favorite images below! Their memory lives on in my Prints gallery on my website, and don’t worry they’re still available for purchase!