“I used to be a swimming coach back home in Sweden, and I was pretty successful. I even had swimmers at the Olympics. Then, a couple of years ago, my dad suddenly died of cancer. A year later, some really bad things happened overnight, and I lost my job. I was in a situation where I had nowhere to go. I felt I had lost everything, and I almost took my own life.
Then one night, I was watching ‘Fight Club’ with my brother, and in the movie they said, ‘It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.’
All of a sudden, I realized that I hadn’t lost anything; it was just in my head. I never had anything in the first place. So I decided to start over but didn’t want to have any plans. I just wanted to see where my inner guidance takes me. On his deathbed, my dad had told me, ‘Live in the moment. Catch the moment.’
So I thought, What’s my dream? If I can do whatever I want, I want to go to America. So I did. I bought a mountain bike, and I started riding it and doing the things I’ve always wanted to do. My dad and I used to sit and look at photo albums, and now I go to the places he used to go. I feel a connection when I do that.
I’ve got a room here and I’m helping out a little bit. I don’t make a lot of money—just a little bit here and there—but I’m enjoying life. I’m enjoying less. I have way less stuff and it feels so good. I had a nice apartment in Sweden, but I sold it and gave away the furniture.
I don’t know where I will be in five years. I only know that I’m going to Vegas later this year. I don’t know even where I’m going to live, but so far it’s worked out perfectly. It’s been a great year, and it’s the opposite of how things used to be. I used to plan everything and be so goal-oriented. But the most depressing time in my life was when I was most successful. I was depressed long before I lost my job. There were times when I was thinking, Is this all there is? Because this sucks. I can’t enjoy it. Now that I gave up on all this goal setting and success, I’m happier than ever. For me, success is just living in the moment. Even this conversation came out of nowhere. I find that when you let go, good things start to happen more and more often.
A year ago, when I almost wanted to take my life, I realized that happiness is not something we have to achieve. It’s here. We don’t have to do anything. Happiness is something we are born with. Somewhere along the line, we start to believe that we have to achieve all these things, and we start to overthink: Oh, I can’t do that because I need a degree first. So you go and get the degree. Then you go and get the job. Then you think, Oh, maybe this job isn’t right for me. You do all these things in your head, and you don’t realize that you can just do things. If it works out—OK. If it doesn’t—you are still happy. Whether I make it or not has nothing to do with my happiness. Before, I was thinking, If I don’t make this, I’m never going to be happy. I was so sad inside because I thought I needed to do all these things and accomplish all that. But it’s not true at all. It’s just years of programming.”
Portraits of Boston is a project of independent photographer Ivan Velinov. He is regularly sharing some of his favorite portraits with WBUR. Visit his website to see the hundreds of portraits he has taken on the streets of Boston.