Photography is a challenging career. So, what pulls us through when it all gets so overwhelming?
There’s a certain safety in giving up. There’s a certain calm in knowing that this is as far as you’re ever going to go. A feeling of peace.
There’ll be no more late nights striving to get ahead. You’ll no longer have to worry about getting your hopes up that you’re going to land that dream assignment only to lose out and find yourself heartbroken.
You see it’s impossible to be let down if you never get up in the first place. It’s impossible to be disappointed if you never assign yourself high expectations. It’s impossible to die when one lacks the courage to really live.
You could go through life indulging yourself in thoughts like those I’ve just laid out. There’s a confidence that comes from failing on your own terms. It’s a false confidence, but it can be comforting in the way a piece of candy can sometimes momentarily distract us from a bad day or a broken promise. Being able to say to your friends that you came up short of your goal not because you didn’t have the goods, but because you chose to opt out of an uneven playing field has a way of protecting our pride. Whatever that’s worth. Similar to the way I have very often found myself engaged in conversation with a beautiful woman and chosen not to ask her on a date. I tell myself it’s because I’m honorable and don’t want to come off as creepy. Truth be told, it far more likely that I’m just afraid she’ll say no.
But what if she did say no? Would I suddenly cease to exist? Would I suddenly dissolve into sand and blow away with the next mild breeze? No, I’d still be there. I’d still be standing on my feet, perhaps with a bit of tarnish added to my self-esteem, but hardly out of the game.
And what should happen should you choose to proceed in your career despite the inevitability of potential failure? Despite the odds being stacked against you, the changing technology, the glut of competition, the falling rates, what would happen if, instead of cutting and running, you choose to stand tall? What would happen if you choose to make one last stand? Then another last stand after that?
You may just find yourself living the dream you’ve always wanted. You may just find yourself being paid off for all those long hours and sleepless nights you’ve spent not just talking about it, but being about it.
Sure, you may fail. As a matter of fact, I’ll go one further and say that you absolutely will fail. A few times actually. Not that those words are any reflection of your abilities. The truth is that no one, absolutely no one, goes through life undefeated. The people who achieve success in the end are those willing to get back up when they are knocked down, not the ones who live life afraid to be knocked down in the first place. The only way you can truly fail is to lack the courage to try.
It is often said that if you believe you can do something, you’re right. If you believe you can’t do something, you’re also right. People rarely exceed the level of their own expectations. I don't mean what others expect of us, but what we deep down expect of ourselves. If you want to be the best at your chosen field, you need to set a level of expectation that you not only can, but will be the best. Once you’ve set that level of expectation, you will have no choice but to assume the other expectations that come along with that desired goal.
You expect to work harder than everyone else. That’s what the best have to do. You expect to put in more hours, more days, more years, to reach the top. That’s what the best have to do. You don’t stop working once you hit a setback. You don’t stop working at the first sight of failure. You don’t stop working just because things are a bit tougher than you expected. No, instead you double your efforts and work through the valleys to reach the next peak. That’s what the best do.
So, next time you find yourself tempted towards the false serenity of surrender, next time you find yourself trying to convince yourself that you’ve gone as far as you can go, know that you can always go one step further. It may not be an easy step. It may not happen overnight. Every now and then, you may hit a step so wicked that it will send you tumbling all the way back down to where you started.
But you can’t reach the top by lowering the bar. You have to keep your expectations high. Put in the work to reach them. And never, ever be afraid to try.