Early on in our photographic career, it seemed as though every photo we took was a new masterpiece. It was clear that I was meant to be a photographer by the awe-inspiring photos I was taking of the streets of New York. Fast-forward a few years, and you couldn't pay me to admit those photos were mine, much less show them.
Now, to be clear, those early photos are not in any way special to the casual viewer. How many artistic black and white shots of a New York mailbox are mesmerizing? But they were my first photos using something other than my phone or a simple point a shoot, so, to me, they were on par with Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, or Vivian Maier.
I think we’ve all been there when the newness of something is so profoundly different from what we’ve experienced before that the final result is just breathtaking. New parents can relate to this when the first of many clay ashtrays made in arts and crafts comes home. This little noodle made something with their own tiny hands, when just a couple of years ago, they were drooling monsters!
Now, when the middle child does the same, not so much. Why? Parents love all their kids (for the most part), but the newness and awe of this milestone are long gone. Those of us that fall in the middle know this reaction and heartache well. It’s not that there’s less love to go around, it just means the newness is long gone and the reality that this is hard work is in full effect. I think anyone that has turned their passion or hobby into a business can relate heavily to this.
The challenge over time for many photographers and parents is maintaining a passion for the craft over time. Especially while dealing with small business challenges, there are constant distractions, like new gear and the occasional apocalyptic level pandemic, saying nothing of naysayers and trolls. In my journey, this has been an incredible mountain to climb for a few reasons, but here are a few ways that have been life-saving for me as a creative.
Find Work That Inspires
If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants. - Isaac Newton
This one is at the top because it’s one that never fails to snap me out of a funk, whether it’s creative or emotional. One way is to visit the Met and just look at what the masters in paint and sculpture have done over time. The Dutch masters still blow me away with their portraits and still life. As creatives, we need constant input and raw material so there's fuel for the process, and this also serves the most basic purpose: to stir our humanity beyond our own understanding. To wonder is what separates us from the animals. And Star Wars.
Work to Help Others
Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value. - Albert Einstein
Almost every time I’m in the dumps about the business or frustrated with a client, it’s because I’ve become too absorbed in my own little world. Travel can be a big help with this, but there’s a new wrinkle in that these days, so I’ve turned more to volunteering and teaching. I don’t advocate looking at how bad it is for others to make yourself feel better, but rather, giving to others in need is incredibly rewarding and humbling. One of the best ways to stay sharp is to teach others what you know and act as a guide. Anyone new to a craft will ask questions and challenge your knowledge, which just forces growth.
Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it. - Henry David Thoreau
Granted, this quote is in direct contradiction to the previous one, but I view the use of success here in terms of a successful person, rather than just in business. There are so many avenues to create in the digital world now, it’s almost criminal not to participate. It doesn’t do me a lot of good in the long run to commit to tons of random projects, but being active on multiple fronts online has been key to staying sane this last year. From new types of photography, to making videos, to writing, there’s always something new to try.
Learn to Adapt
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. - Charles Darwin
This one is a bit less obvious or easy to implement, but it goes hand in hand with the previous idea. Just because something worked before and for a long time doesn’t mean it will indefinitely. This is especially true in our current world, so it’s important to be aware of how effective my current tactics are, but maybe more importantly, be open to changing them, maybe even abandoning something altogether if need be. If I'm barely surviving as a business after doing the same things for a year, it's time to shake things up. That could be cold-calling, starting or changing my advertising, or maybe even adding a new type of service to the repertoire. The goal should never be about surviving or operating from a place of fear. As Robert Iger states: "Innovate or die, and there’s no innovation if you operate out of fear of the new or untested."
We live in a world that’s more connected and in constant motion than ever before, but that doesn’t mean we feel more together. One of the main reasons I wanted to write here was to contribute to an art form and community that’s given me so much, but also to plant a flag firmly in the “Joe was here!” category. Maybe that’s a fifth option: be seen.
Obviously, this is a small list and just a snowflake on the tip of the iceberg of options. Got something that works for you?