Sarah Lewis is an author, curator and historian based in New York City.
She received her B.A. from Harvard University, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and a Rhodes Scholar finalist. Awarded a Marshall Scholarship for graduate study in England, she received her M.Phil at Oxford University in economic and social history and her M.A. at the Courtauld Institute of Art. In March 2014, she will submit her doctoral dissertation, under contract with Harvard University Press, in completion of her PhD degree in the History of Art at Yale University. Entitled Black Sea, Black Atlantic: Frederick Douglass, The Circassian Beauties, and American Racial Formation in the Wake of the Civil War, the project received support from the Ford Foundation, the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, & Abolition.
My Definition Of Success | I think that what we’re saying when we use the word “success” is that the world has conferred some status on us for meeting some goal. Over time, I’ve become more interested in my own assessment of my actions, and how they measure up vis-à-vis my own goals. What has become more important to me is mastery. It means focusing on a constant pursuit. Success is important, but a focus on mastery is what keeps us going.
I Am Driven By | It sounds simple, but I truly value being alive. I wake up knowing that each moment, each day is a gift a kind of cosmic miracle. I don’t intend to waste it. I had many friends die very young, so I am living this not as a cliché. So, for me, the question becomes, how will I use this precious time on earth well, and with joy? I just want to treat this life as the present that it is.
The Difference Between Good And Great | A few things: an incredible work ethic, willingness to be a vessel for something larger than themselves, and the humility required to extract invaluable lessons from failure.
Principles I Live By | Courage, dedication, and goodness. The other day, the preeminent photographer, Carrie Mae Weems said while directing us in a photography shoot at the Museum of Modern Art, “I want your brightest, clearest focus.” She said it again with long pauses between each word. It occurred to me that she was offering a way of not just getting a great picture, that this was a model for life. Nothing can be achieved without faith, work, and that sharp clarity of focus.
How I Use My Mind | I try to imagine something before it happens, I try to picture my intended goals with as much joy, clarity and focus as I can muster. Athletes do this—visualize their event in their minds going the way they want. I try to do this as well. So far, it has made for smoother travel throughout the world.
Lessons I Have Learnt | The idea that “whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right” has helped me a great deal. I think that Henry Ford said that. I’m not sure. Regardless, we all live it out. We can do nothing without the courage of our own convictions.
Dealing With Doubt | One of the things I once struggled with was indecision. There were so many things I wanted to and all at once. I keep this long quote with me, as it helped me be more resolute:
William H. Murray (from “The Scottish Himalayan Expedition”):
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
Performing At My Peak | How do I ensure that I’m always performing at my peak? By knowing when I am at my peak! Ha. Life is seasonal as is nature. In the creative process, we learn that there are times when we might feel dry. But like winter, we must know that spring is on the way. It means that I honor the process. I am constantly working. I am dogged. But I take care to write, for example, when I’m sharpest – usually in the mornings and after a good run. I am better at visioning work later at night.
Resources I Use To Stay Inspired | For inspiration, I love Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars (a stellar book of poetry) and John Jeremiah’s PulpHead. Lately, I’ve also been listening to Part 4: Psalm of John Coltrane’s album A Love Supreme on repeat. A brilliant talk by Ingrid Monson here at Harvard opened me up to new ways of hearing the entire work. I’m always looking at the work that photo historian Deborah Willis is doing. I keep up with the work of many artists and architects—Carrie Mae Weems, David Adjaye, Shirin Neshat and more.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | The struggle to honor the dignity of all human beings cannot be waged without culture—music, the arts, literature. In my writing, my exhibitions, my advocacy and my teaching, I hope to be known as a person who dedicated their life to this truth.
*Photo credit – Annie Leibovitz
Useful Links |
Watch Sarah here –