Founder of Humans of New York Visits TCNJ

Brandon Stanton, the mastermind behind Humans of New York (or HONY), visited The College of New Jersey on Tuesday, Nov. 18, to discuss his mechanisms of success. Stanton is a photojournalist who has over 16 million followers on Facebook and a large following on Instagram as well. He began his journey in 2010, on a mission to take a street portrait of 10,000 ordinary people living and working primarily in New York. His plan changed and evolved significantly over the last 5 years. He is now the best-selling author of two novels.

Stanton’s lecture covered everything from professional life to following your dreams, here's some of what he instilled:

1.  Value of time.

Stanton expressed that time should not be thoughtlessly filled. Working as a Bond Trader in Chicago, Stanton looked back and said that job was just thoughtlessly filling his time. He obsessed over the job, and wherever he was, all he could think about was when the markets would open next. “After I got fired, I realized that I spent two years working as a Bond Trader in Chicago, obsessing over my money, and I have nothing to show for it,” Stanton said. “Time is so valuable, fill it with what you love,” Stanton preached to the crowd.

2. Get past your fears.

One day, while on a subway in Chicago, Brandon saw these two boys standing with their mothers, looking up in the same direction. This was his most pivotal moment, he explained, because he made the uncomfortable yet grand decision to lift up his camera and capture the moment. “To photograph a stranger is awkward, let alone, you know, photographing children,” Stanton said with a chuckle. He explained that he then realized he could photograph strangers as long as he had the ability to get over his fears.

3. Commitment.

“Commit yourself to what you want to do like it’s your job,” Stanton said. He explained that planning out your dreams is too safe – you must take action. “Plans don’t always work out,” he said, “instead of writing the character profiles and plot outlines of a story, just jump into writing page 1.” The HONY creator revealed to the audience, “If I had waited for the idea of HONY to come to me, HONY would have never happened.” You must just commit yourself to a dream and let the sparks fly.

4. You have to be comfortable with failure.

“I had f***ed up so much in my life, I wasn’t afraid of failing,” Stanton told the audience. He explained his mess-ups in college, dropping out and then going back. He also explained how he got distracted a lot from his life with teenage distractions that we all face. However, Stanton explained that we are all living in a time-period of our life where we shouldn’t be afraid to mess up. “You guys are at a prime spot right now to fail,” he advised, “College is the easiest place to learn how to fail.” He explained that our lives now aren’t going to crumble if we fail. “I have a poster on the door of my dressing room that says ‘Risk. Fail. Risk again,’” Stanton said. He explained that risks can’t happen without being unafraid to fail.

5. Natural progression.

Stanton explained how his idea for HONY evolved over the years. At first, he just wanted the Facebook Page and Blog to be portraits. Then one day, he took a photo of a woman who was dressed entirely in green – from the head to the toe. Stanton took her photograph. Brandon asked her “So do you do a different color every day?” out of pure suspicion. She said to him, “No, I used to go through different stages. But then I found that I was happiest when I was green, so I’ve been green for 15 years.” He wrote this down. He decided, however, he didn’t like the photograph. It was too “plain” for him. But one day, he realized he needed to post content. So, he decided he would post this woman, along with what she had said to him. “It was the most engaged with photograph I had ever posted,” he said, “and that’s what sparked the evolution of Humans of New York.”

6. Be honest with yourself if you want to follow your dreams.

You have to hold yourself accountable,” Stanton said. His way of doing so was creating a Facebook page, and allowing for all viewers to see how many likes and followers he had. He explained that at first it was embarrassing, with only a few hundred. However, he worked every day to make sure that number increased and increased – that was his way of holding himself accountable in the beginning of his journey. “I’ve seen so many people who say they are following their dreams, but they’re not constantly working for it,” Stanton said. “If you want your dreams to unfold, you must work every day for them,” he explained.

7. It takes a lot of practice to be comfortable with yourself.

This was something Stanton repeated multiple times on stage. As Brandon set foot on the stage Tuesday evening, he explained that he always liked starting off his lectures with a joke. He wanted to break the ice to begin with, because he’s aware of the attention being all on him and how that is uncomfortable. But, by the end of the show, Stanton was lounging on the floor of the stage, sitting next to a student, and having a conversation with her – as if she was a random person on the street of New York City. Brandon’s journey of comfortability from the beginning of the show to the end was evident, and his advice of being comfortable with yourself was one he continued to take that very day, with his presence on stage.

Thank you, Brandon Stanton, for coming to The College of New Jersey and sharing your advice to the crowd, inspiring the next generation of scholars and creators and innovators to never give up on their dreams.