How I learned to embrace my quirks

When I turned sixteen, instead of getting my driver's license for a scooter (which was still as simple as taking a 1-hour theoretical test and paying 40 euros at the door), I bought my first computer for about 500 euros. It almost bankrupted me.

Mitchel Lensink
Nov 26, 2023
8 min read

Table of Contents

Dear readers,

I have always made unorthodox choices. And I think that's a good thing. Though it sometimes makes things a little more difficult than they need to be. In the same spirit: this is a photography-focussed newsletter but, for the first time ever, I will share no images this month. If you are new here, I suggest you give my stories from last August and May a try. Last year's September missive is also one that's more representative of what I usually share. Now, let's take a short trip down memory lane to illustrate what I mean by unorthodox choices.

Embracing my quirks

When I turned sixteen, instead of getting my driver's license for a scooter (which was still as simple as taking a 1-hour theoretical test and paying 40 euros at the door), I bought my first computer for about 500 euros. It almost bankrupted me. After saving some more money, I purchased a MIDI keyboard a few months later as well, thinking I could start making music on my own. The keyboard came with a basic version of Ableton that didn't include any of the premium sounds. I figured I should be able to make something with the stock plugins as well, or this music thing might not be for me anyway. Perhaps that was the only sensible thought I had during that process. Nevertheless, I was a driver's license-less kid tapping away on a keyboard in my bedroom in the attic. I made a half-dozen demos and exactly zero finished songs.


I was nineteen years old when I first left my home for longer than either a couple of days with my friends or a few weeks with my parents. I had just finished high school and had no idea what to study. Life was all coming at me a little too fast, and I was not ready to grow up in that way. I felt like I could, I just didn't want to. At all. So I did what any semi-privileged lost teenager would do, I went to South East Asia for a couple of months to 'find myself'. I'm only saying that half-jokingly. It's a cliché that doesn't fully fit me, but then again, it also sort of does. I might just not be ready to admit it to myself yet. However, there is something to be said for exposing yourself to unfamiliar situations, just to find out how you handle yourself. You might be surprised at how resourceful you can be.

That's not to say it was easy. I had to work a full-time job (and then some) for six or seven months at a local grocery store to save up about 5000 euros so I could afford to travel for about five months. Back then, a thousand euros could keep you alive for about a month in that region of the world. Provided you stayed in hostels and ate on the street. So, you know, I was not that privileged, but if I applied myself, I could create the experiences for myself that I found important enough. I left my teenage years behind in India while suffering an ongoing 50-day stomach bug but still loving every moment of life. I lost 15 kilos in those five months (fourteen of those in the last 50 days, probably), but I gained an immeasurable amount of experience that has enriched my worldview immensely. It's safe to say that trip changed me. And not just my physical appearance (which returned to its original state within a few weeks on home turf).

After returning from Asia, I went to university to get my bachelor's degree in social sciences without much of a plan on what to do with that study. I just knew I was interested in the human psyche. Plus, I might've still had some unanswered questions I was hoping to get some resolutions to. So much for finding myself in Asia, right? Years later, I discovered I was not the only one with that motivation to study psychology. In fact, it appears most people studying social sciences have some sort of unresolved internal struggles. Interesting souls we are. United in our insecurities.


After my bachelor's, I took another gap year and traveled again. This time at the other side of the world, Mexico and South America. I was twenty-three. I picked up some Spanish there that I'm still trying to perfect to this day. I couldn't find the motivation to put that desire into practice for a couple of years, but I'm currently on a Duolingo streak that's a little over a year long (I crossed the 365-day mark last Monday). I'm still undecided if I want to keep it up much longer. Duolingo is a cool app, but to learn a language for real, you have to be in a place where everybody speaks it in daily life. Perhaps I'll give Mexico another try someday. Or Colombia. I spent about three months there and never once got sick of it. Colombia was great. Though I'm also really craving a proper taco by now.

I distinctly remember never wanting to travel for as long as that last time. Eight months away from home was just too much for me. Perhaps two or three weeks here and there would be better, I presumed. It was a similar sentiment I had after leaving India a couple of years prior. I felt blessed to have seen the country with my own eyes, but I didn't think I would ever return. It was just too much to take in, too different from what I was used to, too exhausting to adapt to an ever-changing environment.


I'm thirty-one years old right now, and all of that stuff is years in the past. Exactly none of those intentions still stand today. I am absolutely (figuratively) dying to explore again. All these trips to Greece, Spain, Belgium and Germany definitely scratch that itch a little. However, a couple of days, or even a period just short of two weeks, isn't nearly enough to properly embed yourself in a place. It's not enough to truly unplug from life back home. I would happily break that promise to myself and return to India in a heartbeat now. Throw my grown ass back into the turmoil of the world and just see how different the experience is this time. I also have zero issues going away for an extended period again. More so, I think my reasons to do so are better than they've ever been. They're less about searching for something in myself, less selfish, and more about looking for an interesting story to tell. This is all heavily motivated by photography. That camera I always have in my hands these days is the ultimate excuse for me to see the world. In all its glory and obscurity.

The responsibility of a documentary photographer

I've been thinking about the above a lot recently. Especially in combination with my ever-growing fascination with photography. What it means to me and how it has a role in the world. How I have a role in the world. Or, rather, what my role can be. I'm fairly sure that the camera will be an important element for that.

It took some searching and experimenting (looking at you, heavily produced studio shoots), but I keep landing on the documentation aspects of photography. It's where I find the most enjoyment, what my eye is drawn to, and what my style of shooting most clearly facilitates. In my humble opinion, it's also the type of photography that could have the most impact. Providing the stories you tell are told well. With that focus of being a documentary photographer comes a certain responsibility. I still agree with what I wrote about this in August, 2021:

With viewing yourself as a documentarian comes the responsibility to document. Which means going out when it matters, even on days when you don’t necessarily feel like it. It means being present, aware and in tune with the moment and its greater sociological picture.

If I decide that the camera is my tool and documentation my ultimate goal, the next logical step should then be to find interesting stories to tell. And I think you do that by simply doing interesting things. I guess you could argue that, in some regard, it's actually my life that's the subject. Therefore, I have to ensure I insert myself into situations where my camera contributes in a meaningful way. I think you do that by embedding yourself in communities and being part of the stories you want to tell. The more you embed yourself, the deeper your level of understanding becomes, the greater the meaning behind your story ends up being. The way I phrased it in 2021 is as follows:

The responsibility of a documentarian is not just to document what he sees. It is also to be selective in the things he documents. While it’s a goal to be as objective as possible, you will always shine your light in a particular way. That’s why it’s important to focus on things that resonate with you. Things you have sufficient knowledge about that allow you to shine your light in a proper manner. I can’t go to a place that I have no knowledge about and claim to document its essence. I can only do that when I know a little background story.

Exploration isn't a luxury, it's a requirement. It's no coincidence my wanderlust and trade of choice are showing growing levels of synergy. As long as I continue ensuring my daily activities stay aligned with who I truly want to be, the output I'll produce will start getting closer to who I am.

That responsibility requires a certain level of contrarianism that has been prevalent throughout my life so far. It's a reassuring thought that I'm willing to go against the grain as long as the goal I have envisioned seems worth it. I realize this all sounds a little pretentious and certainly lacks a level of humility that I normally try to portray, but I think it's good to speak these words of affirmation in public every once in a while. The world is a strange, strange place that's getting stranger every day, and it's so easy to keep your head down and conform to what the collective is telling you to do, but I think that's exactly why many things are the way they are.

I wrote the bulk of these reflections above late at night in bed, at a time when I should really be sleeping. It's when my mind most freely wanders. Being a wanderer is what got me here, and the realization I'm not wandered out yet is what motivated me to pen this down in the first place. If you share a similar passion for your craft and dream of freeing yourself from the shackles of conventional life, please embrace every bit of quirkiness you have in you. It sets you apart from other people and will ultimately lead you to a life where you can truly be yourself.

Anyway, to put my actions where my mouth is, I'm off to the United States for the next week and a half. Of course I'll make sure to share my experiences at the end of December, together with my yearly review. Also, looking ahead to next year, a month-long trip to Thailand is already planned for January. We're getting out there; now we just need to ensure we're doing the right things along the way.


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