Last month at Imaging USA in Nashville, Helen Yancy received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Professional Photographers of America (PPA). It was a well-deserved salute to someone who has given a lot to the photography industry. Yancy is only the 17th person to receive the award in PPA’s 150 year history.

A little about Helen

Helen has had a most distinguished photography career. In the photography business since she was 14 years old, she was the first person to receive every degree and honor from PPA. The list of her accolades could go on and on. But I want to share with you the essence of Helen as evidenced in her acceptance speech, which moved many to tears, including myself.

Helen Yancy portrait by Foster Yancy

I’m sharing the gist of Helen’s speech below. Below are Helen’s story and her remarks. It’s nine minutes you won’t regret it — I found it enlightening. If you only have four minutes to hear Helen’s speech you can skip ahead to 31:44 on the timeline.

Helen’s words

Wow! It’s hard to know what to say,” Helen began, “I didn’t sleep a wink last night trying to think of what I wanted to say. Mostly, thank you. Thank you to this board of directors. Thank you to the board of directors when I was on the board. Thank you to all the committee members I’ve worked with over the years because you worked so hard and you made me look good.

But I know and you know it’s the work of everybody that makes it happen. My heart is full of gratitude for my God, for my family. My kids are here. I can’t tell you how much that means to me. I’m not going to cry…! (Acknowledges her family members in attendance)

More than anything I want to thank Foster (Helen’s husband). Foster is the wind beneath my wings. Foster is the one. I will tell you. I didn’t volunteer, I was recruited. And every time I got recruited I’d scream, ‘I can’t do that!.’ Every single time Foster would say, ‘Yes, you can. I’ll take care of things.’ And I did, because I worked really hard to prove I could. I’ll tell you what. Everyone needs a Foster. I am eternally grateful to Foster.

I have just a few words to share with you that I want you to take to your heart because they are coming from mine.

The first one is learn. Learn. Learn what people are telling you. Learn what’s the truth and what isn’t. Learn the difference between what’s good and what’s trivial and what’s going to pass away. Set your ego on the shelf and learn your craft. Learn your craft!

The second one is listen. Listen. Listen to your mentors. Listen to your critics. Listen to your judges in competition. And don’t get mad at ’em. Listen to them, because they’re going to help you grow. Listen to what people are not saying. Listen to between the lines.

The next thing is levitate. When something goes wrong, or you make a mistake, or you didn’t do it right or you are disappointed, or somebody got ahead of you, levitate. Rise above it. Rise above it.

And, the last one is love and laugh, because life’s too short if you don’t love and laugh.

Thank you very much.

Thank you

And I say, “Thank you very much Helen for your contributions to the photography industry!”

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob

If you are looking for a bit more inspiration check out five of the most inspiring photography quotes.