I still remember this conversation from several years back. A fellow photographer was about as stuck as you can get. He worked perpetual fourteen (or more) hour days, never got much of a day off and was struggling hard with a record-setting case of burn out. He was making good money, but it wasn't enough to justify the time being put in...and this had been the same story for years. From the outside he was a very successful photographer, but on the inside life was a dark and frustrating place.
We talked at length over the course of what must have been a year. Most of the time my input was for him to either raise his prices, or transition into a commercial market with a higher standard rate per hour (if you started on the books I recommended last time, you'll recognize that as a pivot). Both suggestions really were the same thing. Charge more. If you've ever faced this decision then you know what the scariest consequence could be. What if I lose my clients?
Fears is, more often than not, the most powerful motivator we have. It can drive us to incredible feats, or convince us not to move. In fact, I can't think of anything more deserving of the term "double-edged sword." Earlier I posed this question online: "What fear is holding you back?"
I challenge you to answer the same question. What is it in your business that you are most afraid of. Maybe it's something you're afraid of doing, or maybe it's something you're afraid of having happen. Answer it honestly because where we are going with this is very important.
Got it? Good.
Unless you're Zach Sutton, who responded with "Owls, mostly" you likely have one of these things listed:
- Getting hurt
- Letting someone down
- Not being good enough
Does one of those resonate with you? Read the list again and listen for that voice inside saying "yeah, that's you buddy."
Personally I think the last one is the root of all the others. Everything starts with the fear that you aren't really good enough to do whatever it is. Do you ever have that thought? I do, and I have for most of my life. Some days I don't even want to write because I wonder if what I have to say is good enough to give to you. How odd is that? I am blessed to advise multi-millionaires on a regular basis (and actually have them use what I say), yet I think that for some reason I may not know what I'm talking about. When you look at it objectively it just doesn't make sense!
Having fears is a natural thing. It keeps us alive. Letting fears stop you from achieving your dreams is a problem.
When I started photography I wasn't afraid of going broke. I'd already been poor most of my life. I knew how to survive on nothing so that wasn't a big deal. The fear that surfaced though later in my career was one I'd never expected. The idea of success terrified me. Some days it still does. Think about it, I knew how to be broke...I had been my entire life. What I didn't know how to deal with was having excess. I was afraid that the money and attention would roll in and I wouldn't be able to handle it. At the core I was afraid that I wasn't good enough to deserve to succeed.
See, the core issue of my colleague's story was that he knew he needed to charge more but he was afraid of being rejected for doing so. He thought that it might be possible that his clients would abandon him. He thought maybe, just maybe he wasn't really good enough to charge a higher rate despite being sought after in his field! For a year or more these fears crippled him into inaction. He kept slaving away.
Until one day someone else said to him "do what you fear."
It was an eloquent and life changing way to say what he had been hearing all along. What are you afraid of most in your business? Losing clients? Good, you've got too many clients to handle...Raise your prices. He didn't want to see that losing clients wasn't really a problem, he was already overworked. He actually needed to lose a few. How do you weed out the chaff? By charging more. The people that stick around are the ones that value you!
There is no step-by-step solution for finding and defeating your fears. That is not to say that it can't be done, it's just rarely a cookie-cuttter process. Here's what I've found that works for me:
1.) You have to realize and admit to what the problem is. What is the fear that is holding you back?
Human beings are masters of rationalization and justification. We excel on placing blame on "it," meaning anything that isn't ourselves. Admiting that we are the issue ourselves is a monumental step because it forces us to look in the mirror. You can't address your issues if you aren't willing to see them.
2.) Inkus Vomitus
Get a sheet of paper or several and start writing. Start by acknowledging what you're afraid of and let the rest flow. The actual term for this is free-form writing, and it essentially means to write at length via stream of consciousness. Whatever comes to mind goes on the page...even if it's about how you love beef jerky. You see by doing this we are allowing our inner voice to come out. This is a great thing because it is usually a lot more honest than we are. We need to be honest with ourselves and we need to get that truth out where we can't ignore it.
3.) What's the worst that could happen?
Consider this at length, and write it down too if you need to. More often than not we build up the consequences to be much greater than they really are. What's the worst that can happen if I make a bunch of money and don't know how to handle it? Well, I blow it all and eventually make more. Then the next time around I hire a financial advisor. What's the worst that could happen if I raise my prices and lose all my clients? I put my prices back to where they were and come up with something else. Not really a big deal. Not matter what happens, you'll be fine. We didn't get to the top of the food chain by not knowing how to survive.
4.) Feel the fear and do it anyway
The hardest part of all. Once you identify and accept your fear, you have to take action. You have to bear down on that fear and move past it. Pursue those bigger clients, raise your rates a bit, write that first sentence. Celebrate every little win against fear that you have. If you stumble, and you will, get back up and start again! No matter how long it takes, commit to beating this thing. Every time we choose safety we allow fear to rule.
You aren't going to breeze through this, it's not going to be easy. True success is marked by a willingness to do what others won't. You can beat the fears that hold you back, you just have to be willing to fight them.
What do I fear? Owls mostly...
It's better than fear of diarrhea! :)
My dream is rubbing a wild tiger.
I feel the stakes are a bit higher for those like myself that have families to support but the point of the article is well taken and appreciated. I regularly kick myself for not taking more risks earlier on in an effort to reach lofty goals.
The man I referenced has 3 kids, and a grandchild they are also responsible for. Risks are risks because of the potential fallout. You can always pivot and try something different. Yes, at different stages different strategic moves have to be made. However you still have to find the courage to make them. The beautiful thing about families is that we have a support system to lean on when we need to make those changes.
Point taken again...I'm humbled :)
I agree with you. For those of us who have day jobs with benefits and children to support, it's a totally different ballgame. If it was just me and couch surfing was an option if I failed, I'd go for it. I've run various businesses over the last decade and there are some industries I will jump into with no back up plan and some I won't. Photography is one that I won't because I've done the analysis and if the consequence of failure is not feeding my kid, the risk is too high.
Great article David. This series is a winner!
Thank you Reggie. Plenty more to come!
Every time I do a shoot a feel a certain amount of fear. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get great shots. One of my fears is coming home after a shoot and not having anything good to edit. Nowadays it's not as bad as it was in the beginning; I guess it's because I've made friends with it.
Thanks for this great article, that dares to write what we often think in a dark corner of our mind but care to leave it there cautiously.
I feel like one of the reasons we fear, is it implies changes and therefore the notion of risks: we know what we have, whether good or bad, usually not good enough, but it's hard to be confident in what we would get, even when we know what it will be at 90%. This is the sort of risks that we, as humans, have troubles to accept (of course, some people are more confortable than others at that).
Risks are even more difficult to overcome when our core family is dependent on us or will be affected by our choice (ie: moving to a different country).
Even written down as well as you did, it won't make it much easier to go for it.
Everyday I fear diving head first into photography. I am currently enrolled in computer networking at my local college and honestly... I hate it... One side of me fights and says it's a more secure line of work. I'd have a better chance of living a comfortable life... But I would not be happy. Then the other half of me yells back that doing what you love and working for yourself would be way more fulfilling... A constant battle. Failure is definitely my fear..
O god, how did we get seperated at birth??? I am doing the exact same thing as you. I like computers but I love cameras and shooting...
Well I would say get the degree, but look into doing photography full time if its what you love. Give a year or two and see what happens. A lot of pros have built a business in 2-3 years time.
I am in computer while i don't dislike it, I would rather be doing photography full time. My issue now is that its very hard to transition over because I make too much money in my day job and there is fear in jumping into photography, not being able to build a client base and have zero money and be out a good solid job.
Since you are just starting out (which i wish i was at that point). My advice would be to look into it and do what you love. If you fail or can't do it, you are still young enough to jump back into the computer networking stuff to at least have a job and a career.
Good luck in all you do...
My fear is that I will get too big to do this as a hobby and have to quit my stable day job (which I also love).
I made an account to reply to this. I'm so glad you're writing about stuff that actually matters. I couldn't care less about the new BLAH BLAH BLAH f/1.2 MKII out now!
I've let my photography business run stagnate because out partially laziness but mostly fear. What if I put in all this time and effort? But just get rejected? The fear itself (and sometimes the rejetions and endless follow ups) are what's most demoralizing for me.