Today, I’d like to talk about one easy concept that will help you break out of your ruts and grow your business.
It is currently 9:09 am and I am sitting at a common table in a Starbucks about a three-minute walk from my house. Sitting next to me, an attractive woman whose level of interest I’m struggling to gauge. Sitting in the back corner, a rather burly and unkempt gentleman who periodically decides to wander aimlessly across the store floor mumbling incoherently to himself before returning to his perch. Mixed in among these notable souls are an assortment of students, writers, baristas/actors, and others on the way to or avoiding work.
There’s nothing particularly notable about this situation. Nothing seemingly dynamic. But, for me, it’s something of a major shakeup.
On a typical morning at 9:09 am, you will find me one of two places. On a particularly good day, you will find me on set, hastily arranging lights, gently cajoling models, and pressing down on rubberized shutter release buttons repeatedly until I achieve the desired result. But on other days (the majority of days), you will find me at home in my office, clad in comfortable if not camera-ready sweatpants, working diligently to procure more of those aforementioned shooting days, begrudgingly processing paperwork and billing related to past or future shooting days, or, more often than I care to admit, allowing a random clip on YouTube to capture my attention in the fashion of a wily dog catching sight of an errant squirrel.
Much of this likely seems familiar to you. It’s familiar to me as well since these patterns recur enough as to be habit-forming. Which is why I am here today, in a coffee shop, despite the fact that I don’t drink coffee, actually wearing pants that require a belt, hammering this essay out on the narrow keyboard of my laptop when I have a far more comfortable desk just three blocks away, and definitely starting to wonder if this roaming burly man is, in fact, just moments away from achieving that extra level of crazy that would require me to hastily search for the emergency exit.
I’m not here because it’s convenient. I’m not here out of habit. I’m here to break my habit. And, this is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a photographer and entrepreneur.
When we work a standard day job, our routines are what keep us sane. The only way I got through all those years sitting in a cubicle at a job I hated, trapped in a life I hated while I was building up to a career in photography, was by adhering to routines. My life may have been depressing, but the less I thought about it, the more bearable it was. Routines help you go through life like a hamster on a wheel, going through the motions without the requirement of actual thought. That can be soothing when the motions you are required to take are less than pleasant.
But being a photographer and an entrepreneur is the exact opposite. You are not there just to follow company procedure and try to blend into the muted gray tones of the office walls. You are there to stand out. As an artist, you have no choice but to stand out or you quickly find yourself being outpaced by the competition and returning unwillingly to the hamster wheel of corporate life.
But standing out means constant reinvention. I don’t mean that in the sense of changing who you are as a person or changing your brand of photography. What I mean is that every day, every shoot, every moment is an opportunity to improve. Once you’ve been in business for a while, it is easy to get comfortable and confident in your approach. But this overconfidence can lead to complacency and stifle innovation. You have to shake things up, in both good times and bad times. Each new move you make can improve your business and your artistry.
You can’t improve your position in the marathon of life by walking in place. You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. You have to, as any good fitness instructor will tell you, get comfortable being uncomfortable.
There’s nothing inefficient about my regular routine. If anything, it’s too efficient and has become something I can do without much thought. And that’s the problem. Innovation requires being constantly switched on mentally. And living life in neutral can have detrimental effects.
So today, I am taking a small step to shake up my complacency, remove some crutches provided by my routine, and spur creativity. For my next shoot, I will break the routine as well and push myself to try a new lighting style or expand my subject matter. The next time I reach out to a potential client, I will alter my approach to make sure that I am innovating in business as well as creatively.
Breaking out of your hamster wheel will mean different things to different people. You may be beholden to a completely different set of habits than myself. And my field trip today is merely one minor example of ways in which you can make breaking your routine as important as developing one in the first place. But, whatever your business model, it is important to continue to re-evaluate it, grow it, and, if necessary, shake it up.