Guest writer Julia Kuzmenko McKim is an Internationally published Beauty, Fashion & Portrait photographer, digital artist, retoucher and educator. An International College of Professional Photography (Melbourne, Australia) graduate represented by Aston Models Agency, Beverly Hills, CA. You can find more of her work on her website, Facebook, or blog.
I used to think that the first two inevitably led to the ever-desired success because, as we all know, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration" and "The harder I work, the luckier I become". So, I thought, if you really love what you do and you work hard you will be successful in your creative professional career no matter what.But the longer I am on this journey, the clearer I see that there are more obstacles and hidden enemies than I thought there were. And because I was unprepared for many things I had to face as a full-time professional artist, I often struggled. It is true that we're our own worst enemies, and in order to succeed and conquer those endless external obstacles, we first have to conquer our internal "demons". Allow me to share my experiences with you, chances are you've already stumbled upon one of them, or even all.
Problem #1 Wasting precious time being busy with reactive work
I once happened to find myself running in circles, spinning my wheels and not progressing in a slightest bit. And it was a sudden realization, as if a lightning stroke me: many months of hard work, I would take on every assignment and booking that was coming my way, I was constantly super busy, but nothing I did was getting me closer to where I wanted to be. I had a few great big projects in mind, but I could never get to them because of ordinary jobs, emails and customer service that was taking up all of my most productive time.
Solutions I found:
1. One of the biggest challenges I had to face was learning to say "No" to some client assignments. Those that were not paying as much as I wished, those that were not adding value to my portfolio and, most importantly, those that were not helping me to improve my skills either. Since I started turning down such jobs, I have HUGELY progressed in my career. Saying "No" to cheap, time-wasting assignments and projects freed me up and allowed me to focus on the projects that advanced my skills, gave me more exposure and publications. I finally got a chance to spend my time on creative work, not reactive. It wasn't easy, because I needed the money those cheap jobs were offering, but I made up my mind and stuck with my decision, and I never regretted it! I now know that it was one of the best things I've ever learnt to do as a self-employed creative professional - choose the jobs I am offered wisely! They have to have a lot of value for me, which would be either great pay, a great addition to my portfolio or it must be the type of job that takes me closer to the type of photography I really enjoy working on, and want to do more of in the future. Otherwise - I am not interested.
2. Eat That Frog! You may have heard this saying before, or maybe even read the book by Brian Tracy (Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time book or audiobook). If so, you already know that it is highly recommended to start your working day by tackling the most difficult, time- and energy- consuming task first. And what most of us usually do? Yep, start our days by checking emails. This is still my weak area and I am trying to force myself to learn to apply my most productive time (early morning) to the highly valuable creative projects, not wasting it on emails and simple tasks until I run out of my creative juices. Mark McGuinness, a London-based coach for creative professionals says: "The trouble with this approach [emails first] is it means spending the best time of the day on other people's priorities." He also suggests that we focus on the most important creative work at the beginning of our day "otherwise you're sacrificing your potential for the illusion of professionalism… and surrender your dreams for an empty inbox". With that said, we're all different and while for some their most productive time is in the morning, you might be one of those night owls and do your best work after midnight. If so, turn off the mail agent on your computer and your phone (not because someone may call you in the middle of the night, but to avoid getting distracted by your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram notifications). Stay proactive, not reactive! Let people wait for a little bit, while you turn the world off and focus on what matters to you the most!
Problem #2 Lack of inspiration & Self-doubt
When I was in high school I wanted to become an artist, but the fear of not being able to create on demand drove me away and I became an Accountant. Many years later, I realized that I shouldn't have fought my passion because removing Art from my life had made me an unhappy human being. I watched my life passing by while I was slaving away in an office, giving away my best years making someone else richer.
Solutions I found:
1. I've learned the craft and practiced until my eyes and hands could perform and deliver great results without the inspiration that comes and goes. It's possible, doable and it shouldn't be stopping anyone from following his or her dreams. I am not saying it's easy, but when you have the passion and you have the drive, you will get there sooner or later. If your creative work does require a boost of inspiration, you can learn to get it under your control - build an environment and a routine that tells your brain: "It's time to get creative". Most highly successful and productive artists and businessmen have/had a spot-on daily routine in place. And while for a CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation it can be a morning cup of coffee and a newspaper that gets them ready for a long day of important business decisions ahead, for writers and artists if can be a 15-minute meditation and their favorite music that sets the mood and prepares their brain for creative work. Human beings are creatures of habit, and to get a new good habit that triggers your creative mood stick, you need to actively make yourself perform the actions you're trying to turn into a habit for 21 days (if you're interested in mind hacks and how to be in control of your own mind, check out this great book by Dr Joe Dispenza, "Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind"). After that they become your second nature and you will probably have a hard time if you don't get to perform those activities. From my own experience, only the first 5-7 days are difficult, after that, seeing the great outcome and results of my new habit is so reassuring and inspiring that further changes come easy. Seth Godin, an American entrepreneur, best selling author and public speaker says: "...Lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don't feel like it. And that emotional waiver is why this is your work and not your hobby." So train yourself to produce great art when you need to by creating a daily routine, and not when the inspiration knocks on your door.
2. Self-doubt is a toxic feeling that many artists have to deal with. I've learnt that thorough preparation and a lot of practice help me to overcome self-doubt and second-guessing about my own abilities very well. If you're a beginner photographer, nothing will help cure your self-doubt better than doing a few dozens of photo shoots in a row. Don't have a team of creatives to work with? Just sit a doll or a mannequin in the middle of your living room and setup the lights around it. Experiment with lighting setups (the internet is full or suggestions and lighting diagrams), move them around, adjust their power, throw in reflectors and color gels - don't aim to get perfect lighting, but aim to understand how light behaves and how the distance and its direction affect the final picture. Don't stop at that, and extend your learning process to analyzing what you've photographed - images often look very different on a computer screen than they did on your camera monitor. If you do 5 of such shoots within a couple of weeks, working on improving your exposure, composition, lighting, I promise you, you will feel so much more confident about your skills and will be ready to invite a friend or a model to help you work on directing and posing as the next step of your photography self-education.
Problem #3 Negativity that weighs you down
Eliminate negative people, relationships and distractions from your life. Remove any negativity from your surroundings as well as from within. Focus on the beautiful in your life, dream big, surround yourself with successful people and you will see how powerful your positive thoughts and attitude can be.
I consider myself a strong and confident person, but it's crazy how sensitive I can get when it comes down to my art, the work that I've created. I am trying to learn to grow thick skin, but it takes time. I know there are a lot of beginners who are just about to quit their photography when they receive ill-natured comments on their social media or photography sites. I myself wanted to quit many times when I was just starting out. I'm sure glad I didn't, but a few more spiteful comments could have easily ended my creative career should they hit me in the moment of weakness. And while I am in for constructive criticism, I am very much against a bunch of self-proclaimed pros virtually "beating up" a beginner who's trying to get better but still can't get a skin color right or something in those lines. And here's what I discovered that helped me to not waste my energy and time on baseless critiques.
Solutions I found:
If someone really got on my case and is trying to tell me how my photo could have been improved, I go and look at what kind of work they are producing, given I have a minute for it. If what they do is similar or on a higher level with the work of the photographers whom I aspire to be like at the time - I have a good reason to listen to this person's opinion. That's free education right there and that's what helps me to refine my work - I am super thankful for the feedback and, if possible, I will pick the critic's brain for more invaluable advice. If their work is far from where I want to be - there's no reason for me to even pay attention. I can thank for their feedback, if they are nice, if they are aggressive or offensive, I don't need to respond at all. And I strongly suggest to not allow negativity into your world by getting into pointless bickering online. Remember, art is subjective, and the internet if full of trolls. Disregard BS and keep working on getting better.
Allow yourself to be an artist. You are here to create - that's how you got into this field, isn't it? You can tell a story. You can tell your story. Allow yourself! Figure out what is it that you want to be when you grow up as a creative professional, and don't allow any distractions to get into your daily progress. Be proactive and don't just keep busy with fruitless assignments. Try to avoid projects that have no value for you other than a little extra cash - invest your time into something that will move your creative career forward, be it self-education or working on a personal project. Musicians influence millions of souls all over the world by telling their stories with beautiful lyrics and melodies. Moviemakers invite us in the worlds they create by engaging our senses, and you can do it too. Just allow yourself and don't let others to dissuade you from moving towards success. Aim for the moon, even if you miss you will land among the stars.