ALL IN.

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ALL IN.

Since being back home, I've had to fight off the doubts and uncertainties of what the future holds. Facing down the demons is inevitable, and there's always something to take it from it when you come out on the other side.

At my low moments, I let the confusion take hold as I succumbed to it. Now, my feelings have shifted, taking a turn for the better, at least for the time being. I realized that I have the power to steer my life in the direction I choose. The only way forward is to take full responsibility of the opportunities that I create for myself. 

                                                          Photo of me in Boston taken by local photographer Chris Conole

                                                          Photo of me in Boston taken by local photographer Chris Conole

I recently decided to try my hand at teaching English online with VIPKID. It was quite stressful taking the time to practice and prepare for the interview and the mock classes that are required to become an online ESL teacher. After the first rounds went smoothly, I was preparing for the second mock class (I would have been hired if it went well) when I had an important chat with my younger sister. I told her I was nervous about taking the leap to actually go through with it. She pointedly said, "Matt, do you really want to do this?" I thought for a moment and replied with a stern "No." And there it was. Why was I putting all this effort into something I didn't even want in the first place? It was liberating to answer that question honestly after being presented in such a direct way. Thanks little sis! 

So, where does this leave me? Broke and jobless? Yeah, sort of. BUT, this really woke me up to what I know I want to do—what I HAVE to do—become a filmmaker/photographer. While I've put tons of hours and hours into honing my skills, I still wasn't giving it my everything 

Since this epiphany, I decided I have to go ALL IN. Now is the time. Not next year or even next month. Today. I'm going to put all my effort into making this a reality. Maybe I'll fall flat on my face. Maybe I'll crush it. Either way, I have to take massive action. It's both empowering and terrifying.

And you know what? Things are actually starting to happen. I have a video gig lined up with a local startup in Boston. I'm paying a lot more attention to who I'm spending my time with. A friend of mine (Alex Iby) started a photography meetup every Wednesday in Boston. It has been incredible to spend time with fellow creators. Just being around these people has improved my photography by leaps and bounds in a few weeks. Also, I'm about to start doing portraits locally for seniors graduating high school.

                                     Photo I shot of my friend captured during one of the weekly photo walks in Boston

                                     Photo I shot of my friend captured during one of the weekly photo walks in Boston

                                  Photo I captured of a local model during a weekly photography meetup in Boston

                                  Photo I captured of a local model during a weekly photography meetup in Boston

I've also started to take my YouTube channel and my Instagram account a lot more seriously. I'm already starting to see results. A lot of doors have opened up for me in a short span of time. It's crazy what can happen when you commit to something and push yourself until you reach the next level. 

Going down this path has brought me to places that I couldn't have predicted. It truly is astounding what is possible with a bit of focus, determination and of course—hard work. To all of you out there, boldly choosing to go your own way with all of your heart, THANK YOU for paving the way for others to do the same. You're fucking rockstars! 

Below is my latest short film. It's less than 90 seconds, so please take a minute to check it out!

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Give Less Fucks

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Give Less Fucks

I recently finished an amazing book given to me by a good friend. The book is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. I know what you're thinking. That sounds a bit too aggressive. I thought the same thing. But honestly, the author hits the nail on the head with this one.

Drawing by Caleigh Collamer

His main point is to give less fucks. In other words, care about less things. He's not saying it in a cynical or apathetic way but in a realistic way. Essentially, if you can train yourself to care about only the things that truly matter, you won't get caught up in all the trivialities that consume so many of us. 

 

"The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it's giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about only what is true and immediate and important." 

 

As you would probably expect, the author attributes many of our problems today to the incessant use of social media and critiques what he calls the feedback loop from hell. He discusses how looking at your Facebook feed, seeing everyone having awesome fucking lives can cause us to feel like our own lives suck even worse than we thought. I'd have to say that Manson is spot on with this thought. All this Internet madness has made us into comparison whores.

 

"Because there’s an infinite amount of things we can now see or know, there are also an infinite number of ways we can discover that we don’t measure up, that we’re not good enough, that things aren’t as great as they could be. And this rips us apart inside."

 

The paradox, as the author says, is that our desire for more positive experiences is actually a negative experience. On the other hand, accepting our perceived negative experiences is actually positive. Gotta love irony. 

Suffering is Inevitable  

Another major point of the book is the fact that all of us will experience some form of pain and suffering. There's no getting around this. With this in mind, the ultimate question becomes not what do you want to enjoy. What pain are you willing to endure? That's the real question. This is what defines us. This question brings us closer to others. Anything that's worth it will cause pain and suffering, but our choice of what we choose to suffer for is everything. 

Values is something else that can be make or break. Here are some shitty values as defined by the author: 

1. Pleasure. Pleasure is great, but it's a horrible value to prioritize your life around. Ask any drug addict.

2. Material success. When people measure themselves by the status symbols they’re able to collect, then not only are they shallow, but they’re probably assholes as well.

3. Always being right. People who base their self-worth on being right about everything prevent themselves from learning from their mistakes.

4. Staying Positive. While there is something to be said for “staying on the sunny side of life,” the truth is, sometimes life sucks, and the healthiest thing you can do is admit it.

All of these are so on point. I can especially relate to number 4. I've always preached (and tried to practice) positivity, but there's a fine line between optimism and delusion. At times, I was just avoiding feeling pain or negative emotions by "staying positive". A real sign of maturity is frankly stating that sometimes life sucks. More signs of maturity include taking responsibility or ownership for your own problems or shortcomings and admitting ignorance. These leave room for real growth and self-development. Being an adult is fun, huh? 

 

Just Do Something

Probably one of the most important takeaways from this book is the idea that you have to something. Anything. Sitting around worrying about your life will never yield results. Avoiding failure won't either. You also can't wait around until you're motivated. You have to motivate yourself by taking action. Such a valuable lesson. 

 

"Action isn't just the effect of motivation; it's also the cause of it."

 

Damn. That statement is too legit. 

 

You're Gonna Die

Perhaps the most impactful topic of this gem of a book is the reminder of your own mortality. We're scared of death, so we try to avoid the thought of it and block it out when we are confronted with it. If we remind ourselves that our days are numbered, we can begin to let go of all the nonsense and superficialities that invade our mind. Instead of focusing on minute details, think about how you're making the world better in some way. What will you leave behind when you're gone? What do you really give a fuck about? 

"...death is the light by which the shadow of all life is measured. Without death, everything would feel so inconsequential, all experience arbitrary, all metrics and values suddenly zero."

There's nothing more to say. 

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Returning to Reality

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Returning to Reality

Journal Entry: June 1, 2017

This is it! Sitting at the airport in Barcelona waiting to head back home for the first time in 15 months. I left February 17, 2016—that was seriously 15 months ago. It's wild that I've been away for that long. Nothing has changed, yet everything has. 

I went out truly on my own for the first time in my life. I leaped into the unknown with Korea and teaching English. I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. I hiked mountains all over the world—in Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Spain. I went backpacking for three months with hardly any plans. I spent time with beautiful foreign girls. I altered my perception on an island in Thailand. I got food poisoning during a hike in central Myanmar as temperatures soared to over 100 degrees. During this ordeal, I was puking and shitting all night. On top of that, it was my 24th birthday! That's something I will surely remember for the rest of my life. I tried stand-up paddleboarding for the first time. I posted a photo about it on Instagram, which led to me being invited to participate in a Bangkok canal cleanup project, where we picked up trash on paddleboards. After that, we went to a local lake to practice more SUP, and then we did yoga on the boards. Quite difficult. Afterwards, I even got a ride to the airport out of it. How cool is that? I also went to a Burmese wedding in Myanmar. That was an interesting experience, to say the least. As the only foreigners, we were treated like royalty, and the bride and groom had no idea who we were. Can you imagine that in America? 

I'm now 47 minutes away from landing at home—flying somewhere over Maine right now.  It has felt like quite a long journey. Planes are gross. So dry and cramped. Yuck. That view that I  just witnessed as we flew over Greenland though. That was epic. Snow-covered peaks surrounded by lakes of pure blue. I was intrigued. I had to whip out the DSLR to snag a photo. So this is it. I'm really back in Massachusetts. This is nuts. The strangeness of it all hasn't fully set in yet. It will probably hit me when I get into the airport. Here we go!

Facing Reality

I've now been back home for two weeks. It's certainly weird settling back into my daily routine. Even though I'm back living at home, I've also felt the weight of adult responsibilities piling on. Before you know it, you've added on multiple monthly bills in addition to student loans. Phone bill + gym membership + insurance + monthly subscriptions—it adds up quick. And this is without paying rent or for most of the food I eat. Thanks mom and dad. Financial pressures are real, but like anything, it's all about your attitude. 

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I've realized that my plan of freelancing might not be enough to pay my bills and to have extra money for things like a car or for saving up for my own place. It all remains to be seen. I still have this (possibly naive) side of me that wants to ignore all of that "grown-up" stuff and just keeping living for today. The part of me that says keep going for the dream regardless of circumstances. The following quote is from a letter I received from a friend and fellow English teacher prior to leaving to backpack Southeast Asia.

"When I first met you, I really admired your drive and child-like fearlessness towards creating what you wanted to create and to design a life that aligned with who you are. It was so refreshing. I obviously came to learn that like me, you were also filled with self-doubts and hesitation, but the fact remains that the sense of trust was (and remains) very heightened in you." 

These profound words are form my dear friend Rocio Cadena— check out all her writing on her site 

In closing, I'm excited to be back home, and now, as always, there are new challenges to confront. I think viewing today as a gift and enjoying where I'm at now is important. We're constantly striving for something else, for more. In reality, the only thing within our control is today. It's the only thing we have. Everything else only exists in our mind. 

Check out the video expanding on this topic on my YouTube channel: 

Break Your Boundaries.

 

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Solo in Southeast Asia

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Solo in Southeast Asia

Enjoy sunset.JPG

Nearly two months into traveling Southeast Asia and finally returning to the blogoshere. It's tough to know where to begin, but here it goes. 

In my previous post ( about two months ago now—woops!), It was obvious that I was highly anticipating this trip, as I prepared to embrace the unknown. Flash forward a few months, and I'm currently spending my days lounging at the beach on a Thai Island called Koh Chang. The living is easy. 

Looking back, it's been quite an interesting time since leaving Korea with a loose plan and adventure on my mind. I guess I've found what I was looking for. From riding on the back of a Kawasaki motorcycle with a local girl to interviewing tribal elders with a Nat Geo photographer/fillmmaker/eco-activist to getting food poisoning during a three-day trek to experiencing a local wedding in Myanmar to getting constantly drenched in water during Thai New Year. 

I've spent the majority of my time in Thailand—most of it in Chiang Mai, a culturally-rich city in the northern part of the country. The city boasts countless temples scattered throughout the "old city", an area enclosed by a square canal, the remnants of a city from a time long past. Foreigners and locals alike can be found sampling the abundance of cheap street food or browsing the open-air markets that seem to be up and running every day of the week. 

Chiang Mai also happens to be a hotbed for digital nomads. With uber cheap living costs (apartments for as little as $100 a month), great food and endless networking opportunities, it's no wonder why online workers are flocking to the city. Basically, it's heaven for location-independent business owners or freelancers. It's one of the main reasons I came. With a trip to Myanmar in between, I ended up spending about a month there. It gave me a sense of community for the expats and the locals.

Buddha!.JPG

After spending a week in the city, I felt like I was ready to leave and then BAM—I met multiple creative, online workers, even a few that make films as well! One of them was a guy named Basil—turned out to be quite an interesting dude indeed. He's a fellow American who has been living in Thailand for years now. He's also photographed for National Geographic and The New York TImes. I met him in a Facebook group for digital nomads, and he quickly invited me to stay at his place in the jungle. I was intrigued and soon learned that he was working on several film projects centered around ecology and protecting the natural environment. He discussed his plans for reforesting the area to promote a richer ecosystem of plants and animals while also creating "nature hubs", where creatives (artists, writers, filmmakers, etc.) can come to get back in touch with nature as well as work on their own individual creative endeavors. I was blown away by this idea, so I spent a few days there learning about the Mae Wang Project

It's been inspiring meeting and talking with people who are out there making shit happen. It's certainly given me motivation to keep pushing for it. The time is now. 

Confronting Challenges

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Working/putting out content while on the road has proven to be a significant challenge. At times, I've felt stagnant with my ability to create. I suppose this is one of the key lessons that this trip is trying to teach me. I've struggled with getting a video started, partly because of my piece of s!#% laptop. I won't bore you with the details, but bottom line—it's time for an upgrade. Technical issues aside, staying at hostels and constantly meeting people has made it difficult to focus and get in deep work. I suppose this isn't really a bad thing. On the opposite side of the spectrum, in Korea I had PLENTY of time to work, but all this alone time wasn't ideal from a mental health standpoint. 

During this trip, I have certainly taken a fair number of videos, so as usual, something is coming soon. Writing has also been quite scarce. I've managed a handful of journal entries, but not nearly as many I would have liked. Instagram has been the one social media platform that I've managed to salvage some sense of consistency. After all, it's only a photo and bit of text. It's ironic because before I made an Instagram account, I had little interest in it and now it's probably my favorite social media app.

On the Horizon

Thai Sunset.JPG

I'm pleased to announce that I'm (possibly) one step closer to location independence. In a few days, I have an interview for teaching English online. If I get the job (knock on wood), I'll be teaching young Chinese students via Skype. I don't want to speak too soon, but this seems like an awesome gig. The job requires a minimum of five hours per week, and each lesson is a 25 minute one-on-one session. The lessons plans are prepared for you, so basically you just have be there in front of the laptop and ready to speak. The pay is also pretty solid ($18-28/hour)! I'm hoping the interview goes well and maybe I'll become that much closer to having a location-independent income stream!

I have about another week left in Thailand—hopefully more island vibin'. Then, I'm off to my last stop before heading back to 'Murica. I'll be flying from Bangkok to Barcelona. This will be my first time in Europe, so the stoke is high! I'll be exploring the Spanish coast and countryside for a month. In mid-May, I'll be meeting up with my cousin (he's currently living in Spain) and my little sister (her first trip abroad). I haven't seen any family in 14 months, so getting some quality time with them will be a refreshing change of pace. 

As always, traveling has brought to places both physically and mentally that I could have never predicted. One of those lessons is to let go and surrender to the journey. Resisting change or perceived negativity is ultimately staying off the path that leads to your truth. Since the start of my time in Asia, my interest in Buddhism and mindfulness has grown immensely. 

The past and the future are merely illusions. The only thing that's real is right now. Let us not fall into the trap of becoming victims of sacrificing the present for a time and place that only exists within our mind. Bask in the power of the present moment as it is and as you are now. 

Break Your Boundaries. 

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Departing Words

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Departing Words

THIS IS IT!

I’ve made it to the final weeks of living in Korea. What a year. I’d be lying if I said it went by fast. Yes, it’s crazy that it has been a year, but I would say it certainly has felt that long, if not longer. There have been countless lessons learned while living abroad, and I am definitely a better person for choosing this as my first full-time job after college. How about that? And now the moment I’ve been waiting for—backpacking Southeast Asia!

This highly-anticipated trip is something I’ve been imagining since I contemplated applying to teach English in Korea all those months ago. While I’ve traveled quite a bit since graduating, I have yet to embark on an extended solo backpacking trip. I heard how beautiful—and cheap—Southeast Asia was to travel, so I knew that was in my future. The excitement level is high, and now the pre-travel nerves have begun to set in.

The journey jitters are a familiar feeling. I got my first taste of them a few years ago prior to departing the States for Australia, where I studied for a semester. Then again in the summer of 2015 before going to Ecuador and California a year ago. Perhaps the feelings that accompanied me during my journey to Korea were the strongest since this time it was for an entire year. Here I am, preparing for my flight to Thailand and the uneasiness is kicking in. I’ve come to almost enjoy the anxiousness that surrounds a trip like this, because I know that I’ve pushing myself in a new direction, which is an accomplishment in itself. Even with that said, the idea of being on the road for three months is a daunting thought. Where will I stay? Who will I meet? How will seeing poverty affect me? Who will I become? All these questions are swirling around in my head.

Doubts are also there. When the devil on my shoulder frightens me with those thoughts, the angel pipes up with all the possibilities and positivity that will surely come from this trip.

You’re discovering unexplored parts of yourself. You’re bravely plunging into the unknown. You’ll meet people that will challenge you and change who you are. You’re fearlessly pursuing your dream.

God, I love when that angel chimes in.

As for the itinerary, it's off to Thailand for a month or so. After that is a mystery. Maybe Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia? At this point, the only thing booked is a one-way flight back to Boston from Barcelona on June 1st. I’ll be visiting my cousin who decided to move from New York to Spain (props to him). 

Japan> Thailand> Myanmar? > Vietnam?> Cambodia?> Spain> Boston
 

Is it strange knowing that I won't have a home for the next three months? Yes, it is, but it fills me with an excitement that I don't know that I've ever felt before. Backpacking is something that has been on my mind for years now, and it's exactly what I envisioned when I began applying to teach English in Korea. 

Is this the biggest step in my life? Aside from the decision to teach in Korea, which led to this new challenge, I would say this is the pinnacle. There's something inside of me that's saying that this is a trip that I have to take. I don't know exactly where this feeling is coming from, but I'm grateful for everything in my life that has brought me to this inflection point. 

Am I nervous? I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't. Embarking on a trip of a lifetime like this is daunting indeed. With that said, I can't help but think that these emotions are occurring because I'm doing something significant and pushing myself to grow. 

Expectations

-      I expect to be inspired by the places I see and the people I meet

-      I expect to be uncomfortable 

-      I expect to take many photos and capture plenty of footage. Hopefully I can continue to create videos while I’m on the road. This remains to be seen, but it’s not my main priority—enjoying the present moment is.

-      I expect to be tired

-      I expect to be transformed by this experience. After all, that's why we travel, isn't it? 

Parting Thoughts

When I landed in Korea last year, I felt like I was truly in pursuit of what I wanted out of life—to follow my passion for filmmaking and travel while always keeping in mind the ultimate goal of having a positive effect on the world and the people around me. I was brimming, overflowing with anticipation. Now, I'm preparing to leave Korea to begin this new journey, and I'm experiencing similar feelings. It's funny how life comes full circle, huh?

There's no way to predict what will happen over the next three months, and that's okay. It's time to embrace the unknown and shed who I am to make room for who I will become.

Break Your Boundaries.  

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Introspection: Year in Review Photo Journal - Part 2

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Introspection: Year in Review Photo Journal - Part 2

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Snapped this photo of my little sister last February after a heavy snowfall in Dracut, Massachusetts. We thought it would be fun to go for a winter walk through the woods.

As I perused my hard drive for photographic memories from the last year, I was first drawn to the scenic landscapes of nature that I've captured through my camera lens, but the images of people always hold a special place in my heart. Seeing this photo of my sister reminds me how much I miss my family. With winter here and Christmas behind us, I'm wishing I could spend some quality time with the fam.

Being away from the familiarity of home is a true test of character. It leaves you sad but also excited to share your crazy adventures with all the special people in your life when you finally do return home.

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Captured this with my long lens at a Korean baseball game back in the summer. I remember being super excited to see how they did baseball (my favorite sport) over here in Asia.

The game was an entertaining one, as it ended with a diving catch by the home team (Samsung Lions) to save the game. Even though I'm 7,000 miles from home, it was nice to see something familiar like baseball. While the level of play isn't as premier, the atmosphere made up for it.

It's incredible to explore new parts of the world and discover how different some things are and then realize how much is similar to what you know and love in your own country.

This photo was taken at the top of Palgong Mountain (팔공산) in Korea. The view may look tranquil but getting to the top was anything but. My friend Tom and I took a cramped bus to the base of the tallest mountain in our area. We began our hike by getting a bit lost, but luckily we were helped by a friendly Korean woman. We got back on track, and we soon arrived at a pristine lookout point boasting gorgeous panoramic views. While there, thinking we were close to the summit, we finished our snacks and nearly all of our water. Big mistake.

We were still quite far from the top, and to our dismay, there were no water refill stations anywhere. As we sweated in the sweltering summer heat, we soon finished our water supply. Dehydrated and mentally beaten, we managed to make our way to the top. We didn't linger long, quickly making our way back down for hydration.

Just like how the trip started, we ended up on the wrong trail and somehow were on the total opposite of the mountain from where we began. After about an hour of finding our bearings, we once again loaded on to the crowded bus. Adventure is not always pretty.

Snapped this photo of Alia Al-Kasimi while filming a cooking video in Indonesia this past summer. Alia is a big inspiration to me. She works her ass off, and she is successfully pursuing something that she's passionate about.

I helped film a handful of Alia's videos in Seoul, and during one of these gigs, we started discussing our summer plans. To my surprise, we both planned to go Indonesia and coincidentally, we were going to be in the same area at the same time. She asked if I'd be willing to assist in filming a cooking video at a villa she was renting. Of course I was down!

One morning while in the quaint town of Ubud in Bali, I hopped on a motorbike and went to meet Alia for the video shoot. I still can't believe the synchronicity of it all.

Sometimes in life, we get handed golden opportunities that perfectly fall in line with our vision and goals. If you're open-minded, doors will open where there were only walls before.

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The date on this photo was March 1st, only a few days after arriving in the city that would be my home for the next year. It was a cold yet clear day at the top of Mount Apsan (앞산).

This was the first of many hikes that I would do in the months that followed. I guess you can say this is where my love for the outdoors continued to grow, as I immersed myself in Korea's nature. Every time I go hiking I forget how hard it can be both physically and mentally. Then, with each upward step, it all comes flooding back.

More than anything else, hiking is the perfect metaphor for life. It has the potential to beat you down and leave your body and mind begging for mercy. The physicality is certainly a factor, but the mental battle with yourself us what it's all about. That's hiking, and that's life.

Found this photo of my friends Tom and Toby on my hard drive. It was taken during a long weekend getaway in Busan. All three of us love being by the ocean, so it was exciting to get to the coast.

It's strange to think that we all met at the orientation for our teaching program back in February. We've done and seen a lot of interesting things in the last year. From our hiking adventures to enjoying Daegu nightlife to the wild vacation to Indonesia. Both Tom and Toby have decided to stay in Korea to teach for additional year, and I'm heading out pretty soon. I'm hoping we can rendezvous in some other part of the world and continue the adventure.

Our friends are such an integral part of who we are. While living abroad, friends take on a role that's similar to family, and it can create a special bond. Here's to my friends all around the world...2017 is gonna be a good one!

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Last month, I was awarded the Silver Prize in the EPIK (English Program in Korea) video contest. The goal was to make a 5-minute video highlighting the teaching and cultural experience that you've had here in Korea. While I was glad to receive some recognition, I was happy to create this video regardless of the prize.

These films are something that I pour my soul into. I'm willing to do it for free. These little creations are born out of passion or a burning desire to express myself. With that said, it does feel good to be recognized and awarded for the hard work.

My dream of becoming a filmmaker and being location independent is slowly falling into place. Stoked to keep pushing for it!

Check out the video on the BYB YouTube channel

Took this long exposure on the 20th floor of an apartment building my friend rented for Christmas. It wasn't my best city photo, but I thought it still came out quite good.

While looking out over the city, I thought about an interview I recently watched about Millennials. The man being interviewed spoke about how this generation of young people are too accustomed to instant gratification, largely as a result of social media. He continued by saying that we need to understand that success and happiness is derived from patience and realizing we must work for what we want, expecting progress to be slow.

Like a city is built one building at a time, our lives are constructed piece by piece. Let's exercise patience and humbleness in 2017.

Decided to try my hand at some more long exposure night photography. As I stood in the January air, I mused about some interesting thoughts I recently heard about discovery and creation as it relates to art.

External success or factors can motivate people to create, but this method is shortsighted and shallow. Art, in its truest form, relies on intuition and a voice deep within ourselves. Following this voice can be difficult, because it's dynamic, so we must adapt, change and grow to keep pace with it.

When we are inspired solely by our own self-expression, we begin to unleash the creativity that dwells inside all of us.

Every day we face the same question: where do I want to go?

We must constantly ask ourselves if we're going in the direction that's taking us closer to our true self. With all the distractions around us, it's inevitable that from time to time, we will stray from our path. The most important thing is acting in the face of the doubt and fear that sidetracks us.

Which direction will you go?

Another year has passed. All we can do is force a smile as we look back on 2016, hoping to apply the lessons learned while striving forward. Amidst our failures, struggles and successes, may we confront 2017 with determination and fearlessness. 

For more photos, head over to the BYB Instagram page 

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