Jelena Aleksich, founder of The Confetti Project, on getting stuck – and un-stuck
Change is daunting.
Even when you have the best of intentions, it’s easy to fall short.
There are two good reasons for this. Firstly, because meaningful change requires commitment and persistent action, even when it feels impossible. And secondly, because all change involves loss; you have to give something of yourself – time, energy, money, freedom – to achieve your goal.
There’s also the added complication that goals move. Sometimes, what seems like a great idea at the start turns out not to be later on for completely legitimate reasons. There can be good reasons for giving up.
So, amidst all this, it’s hardly surprising that our best intentions for pursuing a new idea, launching a new project or making a career change can fall flat.
Is there a better way?
Enter the three-month project.
A three-month commitment is…
Long enough to create something substantive
Short enough to feel manageable (and this is crucial)
Not long enough to become a burden
Jelena Aleksich is the founder of The Confetti Project, a photography series that profiles people and the things they celebrate in life. After photographing over 200 people, holding shoots in New York, LA and Dubai and amassing an impressive following, The Confetti Project now looks not so much like a ‘project’ and more like an established enterprise.
But originally it was a three-month project that freed its founder from a world of confusion and propelled her in a new direction.
The thing that used to keep Jelena back from finishing projects was fear: “I would brainstorm in circles and go over ideas. I would make pages and pages of infographics on this and that… and I would never actually execute or do anything.”
Jelena’s career path, like so many of us, has not been clear-cut. She started studying medicine, convinced this was a worthy path, but switched to graphic design when she began to be more honest with herself about her interests.
At the time of starting The Confetti Project Jelena had just left a full time job due to burn out. She was freelancing in graphic design, but lacking direction. But what she did have a was keen sense of curiosity and it was this that provided the spark:
“I genuinely wanted to know why people did what they did, especially when they’re outside of the 9 to 5. We all deal with the same universal feelings of frustration and defeat but we still do what we do. We all have this propensity to let everything fall apart, but we don’t…. it’s really interesting to explore why.”
Jelena’s story is a perfect example of how a three-month project can make a big change. What started as a short commitment to exploring a curiosity has given her a clear sense of purpose and evolved into something much bigger.
It began with seemingly random events, late night conversations and a pocket full of confetti and has become a full-time occupation and passion. And, perhaps most importantly, The Confetti Project has given Jelena a way of connecting deeply with others.
Here’s how it happened.
Curiosity… and confetti
For context, Jelena is the kind of person you’ll find at a party talking to someone she’s never met about their deepest life ambitions. She’d not afraid of asking big questions.
When she moved to Brooklyn she was eager to know why people did what they did, especially if they had taken an unconventional path: “What are the motivations, what are the inspirations? Why do we get out of bed in the morning? These are all questions that I’d asked people in different forms.”
The idea for The Confetti Project came on a dark day when she put on her jacket to find pools of confetti in the pockets leftover from the OK Go gig she’d been to days before. It reminded her of the beautiful mess of colour that had covered the floor and the joy she’d felt.
Inspired by the image she started exploring the theme, asking people what they celebrated in their lives. The idea morphed into a three-month photography challenge with confetti-fuelled portrait sessions and intense Q&As (‘How do you want to be remembered?’).
“I think we all come to these crossroads in our lives where we think: ‘There’s something here, I don’t know what it is, but I owe it to myself to explore it.’ ”
- Jelena Aleksich
The whole thing was an experiment, Jelena admits: “I really had no idea what I was doing in the beginning, but it was really fun and I knew that there was something there. I was honing it with each person that came in.”
Her aims were to become a better photographer, connect with people, and - finally - to finish something: “for the first time in my life, from idea to execution”.
When we talk about naivety it’s often in a negative sense: “I was naïve; I should’ve known.” But Jelena points out that, sometimes, naivety is necessary. Without it, so many new projects would never begin. And it’s the starting that counts, even – and especially – when you can’t predict where it will lead.
“Having these visions of the potential, of where it could go, on the highest scale - that inspires me.”
- Jelena Aleksich
Jelena’s ambition had been – in fact, still is – to publish a coffee table book using photos and stories from The Confetti Project.
At the end of her three months she submitted the idea to an editor with great hopes - “I thought it was going to be a bestseller” - and got turned down.
But by that point, it didn’t feel like a failure: “(the editor) gave me this paramount advice, which was to keep going. And so from that point on, years later, I’m still going with it and exploring it”.
“I was so empowered because it was the end of the three month challenge and I finished it... There are a lot of obvious and non-obvious things that come from that.”.
Jelena compares failure to science experiments: you test something out, you observe the results and then you change something, and you do it all again. In this sense ‘failure’ is just an opportunity to learn: “I’ve failed enough that there’s no such thing as failure; either you learn or you fail some more. You do it one way and it doesn’t work, so you try another way.”
The three-month project gave her the chance to follow her curiosity without making an enormous commitment. She says on reflection: “I think we all come to these crossroads in our lives where we think: ‘there’s something here, I don’t know what it is, but I owe it to myself to explore it.’
Check out Jelena’s confetti-strewn photos and interviews at http://theconfettiproject.com/
Is there an idea you’re on the brink of exploring? Or have you ever taken on a short-term project? Share your thoughts in the comments.