Let me preface this article by saying that I LOVE Billy and the rest of the team at Resource. I’ve shared quite a few hung-over mornings with you guys at misc. photo conferences and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I would also like to note that I disagree with much of the article that they just ran.
With that out of the way, I’m going to say this candidly – being a photographer isn’t f*cking easy. You’re absolutely right! There are days where I wonder, "What in the hell am I doing?!" and "Who am I kidding? I should probably quit while I’m ahead." See… Those are the days that I put on a suit, get up at 6:00am, make the commute to midtown Manhattan, and stare at my old office building and remind myself why I’m doing it. Proof of my trips to my old job (sans suit and NSFW language).
Here’s a little story for all of you: At the age of 22, I worked as a contractor for a Private Equity company. I made great money for my age and I had enough disposable income to purchase “toys.” I was interested in buying a motorcycle around that time and the receptionist at the front desk recommended that I speak with this young 27-year-old guy who rode his Ducati into the office. His name was Ronan.
At 27, this young man was the Vice President of the Real-estate division for a 27-Billion Dollar private equity company. He was a also a Penn State graduate with top honors and three degrees. Now, if you’ve ever worked around people in finance, (unless you’re watching the movie Wall Street), motorcycles are kind of frowned upon because they’re not “professional.” Riding into work with a helmet was a big "FU." This guy didn’t care about what people thought because he loved riding that much.
None the less – Ronan and I spent about fifteen minutes chatting about bikes on a Friday. When I came in for work the following Monday, I was informed that Ronan was killed while riding his Motorcycle for a short ride around the city (RIP Ronan).
Why is that important to know? Because that was the day that I learned this little life lesson: NOTHING IN LIFE IS GUARANTEED. It doesn't matter how many degrees are on your wall or how much money is in your bank account - NOTHING IN LIFE IS GUARANTEED.
That's the ONE thing that EVERYONE seems to forget.
Shortly after that incident, my contract for that assignment ended and I started a full-time job as a regional sales manager for a company. Two years later, I was laid off, yet again.
That was the day that I decided to commit to making photography a full-time career. That was July 2012. Work relating to photography (both shooting and teaching) has been my sole income for the last 4 years.
WHAT IT ACTUALLY TAKES...
In order to make it possible, I’ve learned to sacrifice and also to cut my expenses. I sold three cars, which may not mean anything to “non-car” people, but it was a sacrifice to me. One of those cars was a classic that I restored from the ground-up with my grandfather.
Let me also be clear: I don't have kids and my only expenses at this point are business related expenses, and the cost of my feeding my dog. I don't have many liabilities to my name because I chose to focus on my business. I've been fortunate enough that my grandfather has been kind enough to care for my dog, while I travel.
EVERYTHING that I've been able to accomplish in the last four years: Shoot for major publications, write a book, fly around the world... all of it, has been ONE HUGE SACRIFICE. I'm honestly to a point, where it's pointless to quit, because of how much I've sacrificed up to this point. I'm passed the point of no return.
IS IT WORTH IT?
Abso-F*cking-lutely. Why? Because I look back at that conversation with Ronan and I ask myself every single day: "Would he have given up doing something he loved for something that was 'guaranteed.'" If I had a corporate job, could I look at my face in the mirror every single morning and slump my way to work and be happy because it was "Guaranteed?"
NOTHING in life is guaranteed Billy.
Thinking otherwise is why people who are willing to sacrifice make it ahead of everyone else. Because they're willing to survive and have tremendous amounts of heart to make it happen. When people start realizing that, they can start making a conscious decision on whether or not, they REALLY have the balls to commit to this lifestyle. And you're right, it's not easy - It's hard work.
Hell, I've even mentioned that in the past: 3 Reasons Why You're Failing as a Photographer.
If you can't tell already, I'm in love with what I do. It's ingrained in my head and in my heart. I don't feel the same exhaustion that I did working that 9 - 5 job, all of those years ago. I've remained sane because of that.
IF YOU WANT TO MAKE IT WORK...
While everyone's circumstances will be different, there are many things that people can do to plan for a successful career.
Would I recommend someone who is the sole provider of their family to quit their full-time salary and focus solely on photography? Absolutely not. Would I tell the single guy who has some money to fall back on to quit his job and try and make it happen? Absolutely. What do you have to lose at that point? Money? Time?
At this point in my life, I have many photography students who want to quit their full-time professions to focus on photography full-time. I've had lawyers, doctors, police officers, and other professionals all tell me the same thing. Here's my real world advice, if you can afford to keep up the lifestyle you're happy with and make ends meet while doing it... go for it.
Your post is written on the premise that the person who wants to quit, doesn't have any business acumen whatsoever. Here's some basic math for those of you who want to quit your full time career to pursue photography.
Say you currently make $60K at your current job. That's a $5,000 per month salary. Minus taxes, you're left with about $3,500 a month. With that you're able to pay bills and feed yourself. Now, as a photographer, you're your own boss. You have to find a way to make $5,000 after your expenses in order to make the same amount of money. So, let's say business related expenses are $2,000 per month. That means you need to come up with $7,000 per month to stay afloat. If you're currently only booking two jobs a month... that means they better be for $3,500 a piece or you're going out of business. Now, If you reasonable believe that you can book one job a week at $1,750, then you're able to maintain your lifestyle and stay in business.
The point of this is that you don't need to be a genius to be a photographer. ANYONE with a small bit of business acumen, realistic expectations, and who is willing to work their ass off can make it happen. The problem is that you need to be willing to put fourth the effort.
Nothing, I've mentioned is outside of the norm, especially if you start thinking like an entrepreneur.
REAL WORLD EVIDENCE
Here's a little food for thought... the private equity company I worked for? The two founders left LF Rothchild in 1988 and converted an initial $500M investment into $23 Billion by 2010. It's now worth 27 Billion in 2016. One of the founders passed away, January 1st of this year. His advice? “In life you have to keep moving to stay ahead. Don’t stand still.”
The first company I worked for in New York City? A data recovery company owned by a retired 30-year old IDF soldier, who took his earnings and turned it into a multi-million dollar business.
These aren't gurus. They're not fakes. These are REAL WORLD examples of people willing to make things happen.
TO THOSE OF YOU WHO WANT TO DO THIS FULL-TIME
Let me be VERY clear...
ENTREPRENEURSHIP ISN'T FOR EVERYONE, but when you know that it's in your blood - you can't help but make things happen. You have to be honest with yourself, DO I HAVE THE TENACITY TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN? The truth is that most people don't and that's okay. Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur.
Remember, that you're not a failure if this isn't for you. However, if you REALLY WANT THIS, then it's time to HUSTLE and get Sh*t Done.