What is your life’s purpose?
With eyes and ears wide open, life’s path before me is dedicated as a conduit for unique voices—both mine and others’—to emerge.
How are you living your purpose?
Through the nonprofit I co-founded, World Bicycle Relief (WBR), I have a beautiful opportunity to meet bicycle recipients where they live, hear their voices, photograph their stories, and share what they have to tell. Serving people whose basic transportation options are limited to mostly walking with The Power of Bicycles alongside an amazingly talented global team is wonderful work.
At WBR we have a motto, “All answers lie in the field.” Through these relational experiences while interviewing people about the impact a bicycle has on their lives, I also learn what makes them tic, who their influences are, what challenges are transcended. In pairing their words with their photos, compelling essays are brought to light. This privilege with the human side of trust is a gift of a lifetime.
While working within WBR’s marketing and development teams, program co-ordination or measuring and evaluation efforts, I try to bring this same sensibility into our communications. I seek the words unsaid, find stories yet to be told, dance with the elephant in the room, and explore the “what ifs.”
How did you find your purpose?
Through trial and error, sprinkled with some generous magic, my purpose to give voice is a work in process. As a young adult, I worked freelance for ten years doing wardrobe styling in the TV commercial industry. Making mini-movies was a blast. We glorified the hero. Gaining the confidence to appreciate my career success while recognizing there were far more effective heroes in this world came as a turning point.
Humbling as it was to return to school as a grown-up, it was also liberating to make work that said something I cared about. Having freelance experience, I was able to transition quickly into earning a living as a photographer. What’s not to love about weddings, parties, and babies? However, with my personal projects, I was longing for the images I was making to move others in the way they were starting to move me.
Outreach to the predictable venues and influencers in the art world was gaining traction but not catching fire. At the same time, I was beginning to photograph for World Bicycle Relief. My husband FK Day and I founded the organization in 2005 after the Indian Ocean tsunami. Our goal was to provide bicycles to those who had lost so much.
Today, FK continues to improve the design of the bicycle and the supply chain as we get more bicycles on the ground every year. I photographed the disaster, shot images of our process as we grew, made portraits of the bicycle recipients to make it real for our supporters. We worked closely with our implementing partners and together searched for donor support.
Working with FK was a dream come true. Since the day I fell in love with him, I also knew we were destined to work together. The dream did not exactly look like flying into a disaster zone to document relief efforts, but that’s just detail. We were helping people rebuild their lives. This was, and still is by far, more fulfilling than anything I have ever done.
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
As a late bloomer, it took me a long while to believe that my voice added real value. Or if I did brave a question, pose an idea, or challenge others, I did not always have the confidence to follow through and see this contribution to fruition. Today, before offering my thoughts, I check in with myself and ask, are you willing to go the distance to see this through? If the answer is yes, I pursue while trusting I can handle the consequences. If the answer is no, my time can better be spent elsewhere. If I bonk, I seek guidance.
My advice? Trust yourself to know where you add value and discipline yourself to follow through. If you feel challenged, keep going, you may be on to something.
What resources do you recommend?
Read everything and read nothing. The more we watch, read, and ask questions the more we learn. The more we get quiet and listen, the more room we have for clarity.
Connect with Leah Missbach Day
Instagram World Bicycle Relief
Instagram Leah Missbach Day
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Facebook Leah Missbach Day
Seeing Brave Documentary Trailer
Leah Missbach Day is a documentary photographer based in Chicago whose work has been exhibited widely. In 2005, Day co-founded World Bicycle Relief, a global non-profit that has provided over 350,000 bicycles to students seeking an education, caregivers combating disease and entrepreneurs building their businesses through access to reliable transportation. Her images and storytelling often serve World Bicycle Relief’s campaigns and illustrate the power of bicycles to transform lives.
Day’s artistry extends to the written word including the forward to National Geographic’s book Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) by Sue Macy. She frequently speaks publicly on behalf of World Bicycle Relief. Her MFA in Photography is from Columbia College Chicago, where she taught for eight years. Day also serves on the boards of ecoAmerica and Art Works Projects for Human Rights. At the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, she sits on the Women and Global Health Advisory Committee.
Additionally, Leah is profiled in the upcoming Seeing Brave, a documentary that shares the stories of three women trailblazers inspiring the next generation of female leaders.