Meet Steve Donovan

Steve and I met on a subway. He was sitting across from me and looked just like my childhood playmate grown up. So, when he got off, I followed him and started a conversation. It turned out Steve and I were kindred spirits: both loving to travel, both open to adventures, both consciously trying to learn and grow, both wandering souls, if you will.

Despite our twenty-year age difference, we got along well, so I did some wheeling and dealing to get him a part-time job at my college. That way we could meet several times a week and talk to our hearts’ content. Of course, our friendship deepened.

Steve is the kind of person who pushes himself to his limits and beyond. He sees what people do and says, “I’m going to do better.” He will stay up all night working on a project or lesson plans and then swill cup after cup of coffee the next day to keep operating at optimum level.

I asked him about his intense drive. He told me about his role model: Lance Armstrong. The next day Steve made sure I had a book about that amazing athlete so I could better understand what he, Steve, was about, and where he got his inspiration and motivation. And maybe I would be inspired, too. Of course, I was.

Later I learned more about what Steve had done in his youth. When he was in the eleventh grade he bicycled alone across most of Canada. He enjoyed it so much that several years later he did it again with his brother, taking a different route, naturally. No repeats with Steve. Life is too full of wonderful things to explore and challenge, making new avenues a must.

Likewise Steve loved climbing. It was a passion for him. So, he did rock and sport climbs in the Banff area, and also managed a few mixed Alpine routes. This was all self-taught. Steve prefers it that way. He can learn from his mistakes and feel he really accomplished something when he does everything himself.

Years later at the college where we worked together Steve’s lessons were clear, interesting, and well taught. The students adored him. The faculty appreciated him. But his life was much, much larger than that. During that time he was working two jobs and doing a Master’s degree. He also got married and had a child. But soon his hunger for challenge led him to photography. He connected with The New York School of Photography and did their correspondence course, in which he got top accolades.

My friend hoped to get full-time work at the college where I was, but with the huge changes afoot there, he soon realized that would not be an option. Instead of falling flat on his face, as I later did, he found a lucrative job in the UK working for the sub-prime loan lender Simple Payday and set off to that very different culture with his easy-going Japanese wife and daughter in tow.

Steve loved the challenge of the new place and soon he and I had our students doing cultural exchange projects. It was a mind-opening experience for us all. The ongoing inner questions continued, though, and Steve pushed himself to come to terms with the mind and values of his young, wealthy, indulged male students; and to better understand and love them in the process.

In the meantime, Steve’s photography was becoming more and more refined. A few years before, while still in Japan, a five-year-old girl asked him to her ballet presentation. Steve was so taken by that show that he decided to specialize in performance photography, particularly dance, especially ballet. Typically, he worked and struggled, played and experimented, and now his photos are magnificently artistic and breathtakingly attuned to the essence of each performance.

Because of his persistence and because he knocked on a lot of doors, Steve has had the privilege of shooting for (I got this list from him) The Russian Festival Ballet, The Moscow Ballet, The Mongolian State Ballet, The Mongolian National Ensemble, The Mongolian Circus, The Dali Lama, Iron Maiden, Robert Plant, Mastadon, Incubus, Stone Sour, Prodigy, to name a few.

These tasks under his belt, he then decided to stretch a bit further. He decided he wanted to teach at Harvard. So, he went in that direction with his usual intensely focused attention. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, he now attends virtual classes and seminars and keeps in close touch with his professors He is not yet teaching there, but he has earned himself a few certificates from the Worldwide Division of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Also he is currently acting as a coach in his university in the UAE for their online professional development programs. His focus is on “Differentiated Instruction” and “Teaching for Understanding”.

Recently he started an intensive course at Columbia in New York. I am sure he will graduate with top honors when the time comes. But will he take the plunge and accept a low paying job at Harvard (if one is offered, of course) (or Columbia?) when he in the UAE has fabulous material rewards at his current post? How much of the adventurer, traveller is still there now that he has a wife, a child, and a high-paying job? Time will tell. But knowing Steve, he will most probably opt for his soul’s growth, take a chance, and move on. Lucky for him, his wife just smiles and says, “How can I help you?”

Curiously, another side of Steve is how he deflects everything away from himself. When talking about his achievements, for example, he will say, “It wasn’t me. It was you.”

Or when I wrote asking for more input for this article, specifics on his current studies and photo projects, for example, he wrote back and told me about his new addiction to golf. (I pushed a bit and got some needed specifics. Not an easy task!)

So, here is an amazing mix of a man. He loves travel, adventure, being on the edge, but he cannot be away from his six-year-old daughter for more than a week. He demands the very best of himself and pushes himself harder and harder, yet, he is happy hanging out with friends and being one of the guys. He is very deep and understanding, but absolutely refuses to see anything but the bright, hopeful side of life.

It is fun knowing Steve. I no longer have the drive or sense of competition he has, but I do enjoy hearing about his new projects and far reaching plans.

“Why say, ‘I can’t do that’ before you have even tried?” he always says. And since he follows his own advice, doors have flown open for Steve. And he takes full advantage of that. So, he will definitely be an explorer and an achiever (and a “really great guy”) for the rest of his life — and well beyond, I am sure.