Why You Should Work Dispassionately

Why You Should Work Dispassionately

Passion: I was raised in a generation that was spoon-fed it three square meals a day. My parents' generation, who were raised by the survivors of World War II, had a more tempered outlook. Then came my generation. We were systematically told we could be anything we wanted. The phrases, "live passionately" and "follow your passion" summoned us out of bed with ardor and launch full force into our dreams. My generation flocks by the millions to Burning Man and Tony Robins' conferences hoping to get another hit of zeal to keep going.

Portrait I took for Latin Grammy Nominee Guitarist/Producer Homero Gallardo

What happens, however, when our bright bold future isn't delivered? The emails aren't turned back with "no", they aren't even dignified with a response. We are ignored, we are dismissed, and all our zeal for this bright future we had been spoon-fed fades into disheartenment.  We grow up and realize that all those passion-filled sentences were just part of the elementary school curriculum and now it's time to join the ranks of the real world. Or so it feels that way.

Self portrait

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

49.7% of businesses fail by year 5, 

53.6% of businesses fail by year 6

56.8% of businesses fail by year 7

60.5% of businesses fail by year 8

So, what are we doing wrong? I believe part of what we are doing wrong is that we are working from a base of passion. Passion is an emotion. Oxford defines passion as, " A strong and barely controllable emotion." If we dig into the word emotion, we find this definition, " A state of mind deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others." Emotion based on circumstances is not a solid foundation on which to build, run, or sustain a business.

Portrait of family photographer Hannah Lopez

In his book, Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday, he calls us to work "dispassionately". I remember when I heard that phrase in my audio book the first time. I stopped editing and paused to listen. Dispassionately? Work without passion? It was the exact antithesis of everything I had always been taught or believed. But then, as Holiday always does, he said that phrase that created a fundamental shift in my thinking.

"Don't work from a place of passion, work from a place of purpose."

Webster defines purpose as, "Something set up as an end to be attained. An intention. A resolution. A determination." 

Passion is an emotion. Purpose is a dedication to something. The word purpose itself carries the connotation that achievement will require dedication; it expects difficulty, it requires strategy. Passion is like a pouring of gasoline on a flame: it flares up and burns off quickly. Purpose is like coal: it is a quiet ember that burns steadily. 

Baker portrait for Spuntino

I read many years ago about the 10% rule. I can't recall exactly where I read it, but the book stated that we get 10% of what we try for. Since I've heard that, every time I get a "no", or more annoyingly, I am simply ignored, I remind myself of it. "That's another 10% down towards my 'yes'." That is operating from a base of purpose. It's a resolution towards a goal that is not based on emotion. 

My father once told me a story that marked him as a young adult. He asked his uncle Russell, a farmer who spent arduous days in the sun earning a living by the sweat on his brow,

"Did you like being a farmer? Was it fulfilling?" 

His uncle replied, "That's not a question we asked ever asked ourselves. We simply got up and did the things we had to do."

I'm grateful that I was raised in a generation where self-fulfillment was spoon-fed to me. Those indoctrinations are what got me where I am today. Sometimes though, I do feel like our generation lacks a little Uncle Russell. 

Work for Villa Azur

Am I saying that we don't need passion to be successful? Most certainly not. Passion is still what wakes me up in the morning. I love photography. I mean, I love it. I can't not do it. I am energized by creating images. I am driven by the satisfaction of blowing my clients away. I love seeing my work on the shelves of ULTA beauty. I am extremely passionate about my work. I do believe that we need passion to be successful photographers. What I am saying though, is that passion is not enough. Passion cannot carry us without the base of purpose. Passion must be paired with dedication. Passion must be married with tenacity. Passion must be coupled with strategy. Passion cannot sustain a business without purpose. We need a little Uncle Russell when our passion gets a reality check.

As you know, my favorite part of being a writer is hearing your feedback. What do you think of this concept of passion versus purpose? Have you been a photographer, or a business owner for over seven years? (Congratulations! You beat the odds.) If you have been, what are some of the strategies that have sustained you? Leave a comment below and I'm wishing everyone a great week of working purposefully. 

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19 Comments
Tom Reichner's picture

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Great article, Michelle!

I value any article like this that causes me to do some deep introspection. And the introspection that you have triggered in me today has led me to some harsh conclusions:

I basically run on passion. Not just my photography, but my life as a whole, is run on enthusiasm and excitement for things. This excitement, of course, usually burns very brightly and very quickly, as the fuel is consumed quickly.

I have very little work ethic or discipline in my character. I don't really do anything unless I feel like doing it and it is fun. Hence my failure to turn my photography into a viable career. I actually haven't been able to turn ANYTHING into a viable career, because I only do what I feel like doing, and the things I feel like doing almost never lead to any source of income.

Case in point:

Today I could have spent the morning compiling a photo submission to a magazine that I have submitted to for years. But they changed the way image files are to be submitted. I am now required to "zip the images into a folder". I have no idea what that means or how to do it. And I really didn't feel like forcing my brain to focus and concentrate on learning what "zipping into a folder" is all about. It actually hurts my head when I force myself to think and concentrate and focus on learning something.

So instead of forcing myself to learn a new skill and complete that submission, I just surfed the internet looking at stuff I was passionate about - particularly bird photo opportunities in the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota. But of course a photo trip to Minnesota will cost me a good deal of money, whereas buckling down to hard work and making that photo submission could have earned me some money.

This morning was typical of my life as a whole. When there is a chance to do something that could earn me some money, but is not very pleasant, then I just don't do it, or I keep putting it off until it is too late. But when there is something I am passionate about, even if it isn't going to earn me a penny, I get right to it and keep with it until the wave of positive emotion for the task wanes.

This, I am certain, is why my annual income has danced slightly below and slightly above the official poverty line for the past 16 years.

So, your article has helped me to see myself and my struggles more clearly and objectively. I don't like what I see ..... but I feel hopeless to change. Work ethic is something that one either has, or doesn't have. Ditto for "character" and "discipline" and all that stuff. I simply do not have those qualities. They are not a part of my being.

I can't even force myself to clean my house, even though it is the most filthy, cluttered home I have seen in years. Even 5 minutes just washing a few dirty plates or spoons is something I loathe to do. How, then, could I ever work dispassionately as a photographer and spend hours each day doing things I don't like doing and that I am not excited about? The fibre that your Uncle Russell was made of ... I just don't have any of that in me. Not one wee bit of it. Wish I had it, but it just isn't there inside of me, no matter how hard I search for it.

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Michelle VanTine's picture

Tom, thank you for your vulnerable response. I greatly applaud your willingness to share traits of your personality publicly which you wish your different. I know that it will resonate with many people as this is a very common struggle. It's EXTREMELY tedious to do things we don't like all the time. A phrase I repeat constantly as I rip myself from my studio (where I have fun creating images), up the stairs to my office (where I do things I hate: contracts, billing, emails... and even writing is very hard for me) I indoctrinate myself, "You gotta do what you gotta do to do what you want to do". It was a line that stayed with me from a movie. Right now, I'm working for over 3 weeks on an application to be a photographer for commercial contracts for the city. I swear it is designed to suck all life out of people's soul. I've even spiraled into feelings of depression if I work on it for too many hours! I can completely relate to your account above and I know that many people will say the same. My first thought is that you don't *have to* make money with photography. Photography is an art form. If the end purpose of it in your life is to bring joy to your days- that is an excellent function for it. Art is a gift to us. The end of it can merely be to enrich our lives and bring us happiness. If, however, you do have to goal of increasing the Uncle Russell in your life one strategy I use for myself is a timer. When I know I have to do something I hate like work on like this soul-crushing application, or proofreading my article for the 16th time (and still finding mistakes) I set a timer for 20 minutes or for an hour and decide before I start what my reward will be. "Okay Michelle, it's 2:30 now. You're going to turn off the notifications on your phone and do this until 3:30. At 3:30 you can have that trader Joes coffee muffin and see how your shots from this morning look in Lightroom". If I think about something as a whole "I have to write this review" or "I have to finish this application" or "I have to learn what in the world a zip folder is" it can be a bit overwhelming and cause me to not even start. If you phrase it differently in your mind "Ok Tom, you're a smart man, you can figure this out in 10 minutes. Then, you can ...." and put the timer on for 10 minutes you may find that your distain towards the task diminishes, and it feels more palatable. Try those strategies and let me know what you think! I looked at your work and I like it very much. I love your use of framing, and repetition. Your work makes me want to go on outdoor adventures and leave my city life in the rear-view mirror. Whatever purpose photography serves in your life: bringing you happiness or bringing you money- I think you have a very interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing! (P.S. Right click on the image to submit and a menu will pop up. Select "Compress to zip" :) It will create it for you next to your original image.)

Tom Reichner's picture

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Michelle,

Thank you so much for your understanding response ("understanding" used as an adjective here).

I like your timer idea a ton! I may not be up for 10 or 20 minutes straight at a task I dislike, but I think I can do anything for 5 minutes, so that is where I'll start.

Also, because I told you and anyone else who is reading about that submission that I have put off, I feel that I am now accountable to you guys for my actions, or lack thereof, in that task. So now I feel a little extra pressure to actually do it before the deadline. The deadline is Wednesday, the 19th. Pressure from other people, and feeling accountable to them, motivates me, so I will use that to try to get myself to do what needs to be done.

I just need like 2% of me to be like your Uncle Russell. If just 2% of my time could be used in a hard-working, disciplined, focused way, that would make such a huge improvement in my life. That's just 30 minutes a day. But that seems like sooo loooooong to do something unpleasant. So breaking it down into 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there will be the only way I can accomplish it.

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Michelle VanTine's picture

You can 100% do it!!!! We are rooting for you! Let me know when you accomplish it. Uncle Russell will be smiling from his resting place knowing his simple farmer life gave us all a little push.

Stvart Klœ's picture

Great article. Indeed, excitement can’t take you the entire distance. Most people who have attained some level of success have done so with some non-trivial amount of determination.
Not all, perhaps, but I would wager it’s the rule more than the exception.

Not to say that hard work and determination are magic, after all as the saying goes: something something success springs from the intersection of luck and effort.

But the odds are better if you pursue an opportunity also with determination (a decision) rather than merely excitement (as you mentioned, an emotion).

Michelle VanTine's picture

I've never heard that saying. That's a great one and I agree! Thanks for commenting

Yordan Placeres's picture

When I saw the title of your article I was just driving home from my current job, I thought... I'll read it as soon as I get home but the curiosity was so great that my head kept thinking about what it was behind that profound title. Curiosity led me to break some traffic laws and I don't remember how I got home. Your words have made me sit in the car thinking deeply. I think I will not be the only one who will make a stop to analyze and understand the meaning and difference of the title of this great and profound article.

Michelle VanTine's picture

Ah how kind! Thank you Yordan. I'm learning as a writer that titles make or break articles. It's an art form and I'm glad that I wrote one that was peaking your interest. I'm really glad you enjoyed the article and thank you for your comment

Pete Coco's picture

This is such a great article, Michelle! I needed to hear this reminder.

"Purpose is like coal: it is a quiet ember that burns steadily."

This is so well said. Purpose will keep you going when your passion runs dry. Thank you!

Michelle VanTine's picture

That's very humbling coming from you. Thank you Pete Coco

Klaus .'s picture

One of the better articles here on stoppers. Special the aspect of the 10% rule. I can fully confirm that.

Michelle VanTine's picture

How humbling of a comment. Im grateful that it was a positive contribution to the space

Fristen Lasten's picture

I really like the portrait of the Latin Grammy nominee. Assuming you did the lighting and backdrop, did he just show up like that, or did you have a hand in wardrobe, styling, bling, etc?

Michelle VanTine's picture

Thank you Fristen Lasten I'm glad you like it- especially since I work very little in portraiture- it always feels like a big challenge for me when I'm asked to do one. A rising fashion designer asked the guitarist to wear her clothes as a celeb kind of promo collaboration and they hired me to shoot it. (Gulp). The patterns on the vest made me think of this Gustav Klimt painting so I found a fabric with the color scheme of the vest. I lit it using 2 strobes w gels on one. Then in Photoshop I added layers of pattern to mimic the Klimt feeling. I'm glad you like it! I'll be posting more on my IG this week from the shoot @michellevantinephotography if you're curious. Thanks for commenting!

Michelle VanTine's picture

Oh that sounds like a good one! I think the fluffy stuff makes you inspired to go for it- but then you need the Uncle Russell to actually suceed

S M's picture

My reading comprehension isn't always the best and often times the intention behind the article is lost on me, but this article was incredible to read.

Prior to photography I was a graphic designer. I enjoyed the creativity of graphic design, but I was too young and naive to bring my passion for graphic design to purpose. In fact, any career I had prior to pursuing photography often ended up this way. It wasn't until I started pursuing web design that I lost control of myself and found that there was no purpose to me pursuing graphic design anymore. It wasn't in my heart at all. And I never saw myself being better than average... or just good enough to keep a meaningless job.

Around the same time I took a Lightroom class as I always had an interest in photography but was limited in my ability to do anything with the files. It was soon that I was overwhelming passionate about photography, and outside of my wife, I was thinking about taking photos every day. However, my passion was for travel and landscape but I was still too young and naive to manage a business out of either of these genres.

At this point I was scrambling. I knew I loved photography, but I had no idea how to make something of it. I had managed to make some money shooting real estate, but there was no attachment too it as shoots were rushed and quality was inconsistent.

I started dabbling with video as a colleague had mentioned to me that his business took off as soon as he was offering video. At that point I didn't know much about video, but with a child on the way, a move out of my city and the need to get something going with my business I was desperate.

I learned early that with an a7iii in the real estate world, if you're not shooting with good light you might as well not be shooting anything. The dynamic range on that camera was not forgiving mid-day, and I was just not happy with the rushed feel of a gimbal flying through a home.

After a move out of the city I took the time to establish the look I wanted with video (and in turn photo as well) that was leaning on dramatic light, cinematic slider movements, paired with ambient music. The real estate world had more of a fast paced club feel to it and I felt I was allowing my shots to breathe a little more and thus the client could take in a shot a little longer...

I mention all this because before the pandemic I was just searching for meaning. I couldn't land on that "thing" that drove me until photography and when I did, nothing was going to stop me from turning it into a career. But the thing missing was purpose and I found that when stepping outside the world of stills and into the world motion. In turn it caused me to think more critically about my photography work, but I knew I could build a cohesive look to both photo and video. I just needed to be able to sell that work enough that eventually that look would snowball to something more. And that's where my passion for talking (sales) has really helped move the needle lol!

Here's one of my recent videos: https://vimeo.com/739403841

Michelle VanTine's picture

This is beautiful! You found your *** point of differentiation*** you know what that means? Impending (or already achieved) success. I was inspired many years ago by a quote by Warhol. It was something close to "Make art, and while everyone decides whether they like it or not, make more art". An artist that has found his part, paired with a little of Uncle Russell's discipline is bound for wild success. Thank you for the shot out on insta and for sharing this account. I know it will inspire many

Tom Reichner's picture

I especially love the nature scene at 0:37 ... only manmade thing in the frame is the road and it isn't large in the frame, so not very distracting at all. Really beautiful image with those foggy conditions!