How an Old Phrase Fuels and Enriches My Photography, and It Might for You Too

How an Old Phrase Fuels and Enriches My Photography, and It Might for You Too

An old phrase too often associated with dreamers and the work-shy became a foundational philosophy behind my photography, once I fully understood it.

"Do what you love, or love what you do" is the quote I hold dear, but it gets conflated with the Confucius quote about doing a job you love meaning you will never have to work a day in your life. With the conflation, comes the baggage of negativity. That is, being averse to "work" in some way. I've always stood resolute in the belief that everyone should at least try to do something they love. With work taking up the lion's share of your time on this planet, being miserable for it — with that misery inevitably bleeding into your leisure time — is a gratuitous waste. I know that because for four year I worked a job I hated. It wasn't a bad job, it just wasn't something I could ever enjoy and as a result I ground my teeth for 8 hours per day, Monday to Friday.

But while my optimistic self clung with bloodied fingertips to loving what you do being more valuable than money, the pragmatic realist struggled to burst through my chest like Ridley Scott directed it. Not everyone has the luxury of being able be selective in how they make money, and I was fortunate to have enough of a support network around me to allow me to grow into a life I chose. Ever apologetic for that good fortune, I always balked at Confucius's wisdom of never working a day in your life. I did and do work hard, and I wouldn't want friends — or indeed strangers — to think otherwise. Where once lurked a lazy teenager, now stands a feverishly driven adult. But I can't deny that I love what I do and very few days feel like the dog-work and drudgery of old, where I obediently exchanged my time for someone else's money, with the transaction coming to an abrupt halt at exactly those two elements and no more.

However, I still have days I enjoy significantly less than others. Prospecting for clients, admin, accounts, and so on — the staples of small business management — and some months are weighed down more with the dull tasks than the exciting ones. However, a few years ago I started to understand the second half of the quote of which I clearly valued the sentiment: Do what you love, or love what you do. Doing what one loves is obvious; find a hobby or interest and monetize it. In the internet era, where grown humans playing with toy trains on YouTube consistently get millions of views (I know this as my little nephew watches them religiously,) it is possible to extract an income from previously untenable sources. But what does "or love what you do" mean?

A test shoot I forced myself to do to acclimatize to lots of new equipment resulted in one of my favorite shots so far this year.

Where perhaps I skim read the quote, I always saw it as a poetic mirroring of the first half. In fact, I think I would even recite it with a misnomer built in: "Do what you love and love what you do." Such an innocuous mistake has tremendous consequences for the little quote that could, and renders the second half mostly redundant. However, with "or" instead of "and", it's a prescription to act differently, no matter what your circumstance. Whether you're in a career you're no longer satisfied with, or are falling out of love with what you once did passionately pursue (as photographers are often warned of pre-jump into professional life), the second half of the quote has real value.

This Yang encourages you to find ways of enjoying whatever it is you do, even when — no, especially when — you don't. It's a realization I could have done with in the years I worked jobs I thoroughly disliked, but I've got it now and it's still important. On those days I have to do the work I don't look forward to, I have instead worked out ways to get the most out of it. For example, if I have to do enormous amounts of editing of images that don't excite me (i.e corporate events etc.,) I will listen to a podcast or an audiobook while I do it. No, it's more than that; I get to listen to a podcast or audiobook while I earn money. If I need do some commercial photography with a less than creative brief, I will do the same or I'll listen to some great music, grab a drink I like, and make the experience enjoyable.

It's so simple that it borders the embarrassing, but I truly didn't get the power in "or love what you do". I was already doing what I loved, and a sizable portion of that being unenjoyable was just par for the course, but it needn't be. For everything I have to do that I don't enjoy, I now work in bonuses to thoroughly ensure that I love what I do. The second half of the quote maintains the first, and I just wish I'd taken the time to understand that earlier. I doubt there's any vocation that has distilled pleasure mainlined into your veins every second you're doing it, but it doesn't have to be a dichotomy of good and bad.

While this has benefited me in the sense of running a business effectively and efficiently, it has also yielded results in my photography itself. Through my diligence and maintenance of my craft and career, I have been afforded more opportunities and got to create more interesting imagery. By learning to love practicing lighting techniques and theory, I have steadily improved as an artist which in turn has helped me progress professionally. I, like most, will avoid the things I don't like in favor of those that I do, which can be detrimental. If you lean only on willpower to get you through necessary (albeit avoidable) parts of your photography and career, you will eventually falter (you can read about this in a book called The New Psycho-Cybernetics). So work out how to improve them and make them more palatable.

Do you do what you love? Have you been able to learn to love what you do?

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