As tempting as it might be to allow the current work stoppage to push you off track, now is the time to focus even more on reaching your goals.
As I write this, it is currently 6 AM on a Monday morning. The sunrise has made its way around the blackout shades that adorn my bedroom windows and interrupted a perfectly good dream, albeit one infused with what now seems to be a regular dose of quarantine weirdness. I always have to roll over slightly to cross my queen sized bed in order to see the official timestamp on the alarm clock resting on my nightstand. Why not just put it in a place that’s easier to see? Well, I guess sometimes I just like things difficult. But this daily bit of gymnastic ritual always seems to return the same result.
I’m an early riser. That’s not something that started when I became a professional photographer. But it is one of the many personal rituals that stayed in place once I left behind the comfort of a day job and the requirement to leave the house in order to start work. In practical terms, my early bird nature provides certain tangible benefits. While I live in Los Angeles, many of my clients are located around the globe in various cities and timezones. So, while my local clients are no doubt still enjoying their slumber when I vault from the bed onto the cold hardwood floors, my clients in New York are just arriving at the office, while my clients in Europe and Asia are either well into their day or preparing to leave. Whether I will actually send or receive correspondence from either on this particular morning is beside the point. But if I do, I’ll be ready to respond promptly.
Yet, more than simply a business advantage, like many aspects of my daily routines, my waking up early is only half about practicality. Continuing to pop out of the bed, and launching into my work, is a metaphor. More than just a responsibility, it’s a daily reminder that if you want to get the reward, you have to put in the work. To be clear, I would love nothing more than to crawl right back into bed, covering my eyes with what is left of the disheveled blankets and not awaken again until the clock strikes noon. At that point, maybe I could spend the afternoon itself siphoning off the best that Netflix has to offer before swiping my way through TikTok until it's time for dinner. Maybe shoot a photograph here and there. But mostly spent the vast majority of my time talking about photography, gear, and why I should have more clients, rather than actually waking up at the crack of dawn to make the new contacts necessary to actually run a successful business.
I’m not trying to call anyone out. Everyone has their own routines and working practices. Mine simply start with the basic premise that while I cannot control the number of photographers who may be better than me, more connected than me, or simply more established, what I can control is whether I let the competition outwork me. One of my favorite quotes is from Les Brown who says “You must be willing to do the things today that others don’t, so you can achieve the goals tomorrow that others won’t.”
Waking up early is just one of the many rituals I do everyday, often against my will, such as my daily workout, cold calling potential clients, and daily practice to improve my craft. And, I only use waking up early as an example of one of my own personal rituals. Others might sleep all day and work all night and be even more efficient. Others might awaken at 4 AM and look upon me as a nightowl. The time itself isn’t the point of the story. The point is that you can achieve any goal in life that you set for yourself. But you have to be willing to not always do what you want to do, but to do what needs to be done.
These words are more important than ever. You see, when we all woke up this morning, we were not only waking up into a world where our best was required. We were also waking up into a world in the midst of a pandemic and one that presents an uncertain future. I talked earlier about how one of the upsides to early rising is the ability to reach out to clients. But, as I pen this letter, many of those clients are being laid off, furloughed, or struggling just to stay in business. So in many cases, I am literally left without someone to reach out to in the first place. Large scale photo and video production has largely hit the pause button for the bulk of our industry. The faucet will eventually resume its flow, but right now the streets are quiet.
In other words, now would be the perfect time to rollover and go back to bed. Now, would be the perfect time to let down one’s guard. Now would be the perfect time to let your own personal rituals fall by the wayside and indulge in the comforts of lack of expectation. We’ve all been simultaneously given an ironclad get out of jail free card and legitimate excuse to slack off. But while, without a doubt, giving yourself a moment to decompress and recharge your batteries can sometimes be just as important as working hard, maintaining our rituals and our standards gives us more benefits than just immediate gain.
It is the hard work you put in during times of famine that establish the roots that will strengthen your base when it is time to feast. Keeping up with our daily rituals helps to preserve our sanity and give us a daily reminder of our purpose. These daily processes that we established prior to the epidemic are even more important now. If the game was hard before, it’s only about to get significantly harder, and we will need every bit of mental focus and sharpness that we can muster. Now is when we form that strength, even if we might not reap an immediate reward.
So whatever your own rituals may be, stick with them. Put in the work and stay mentally prepared. Take the time to enjoy life, but also take this time to prepare yourself for the life you want when the lights come back on. Today is the day to build for success.