We remember the first time we held cameras in our hands and had clients on the other end. Do you? The exhilaration of it. The sheer terror of it. The I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing of it. The I’m-scared-out-of-my-mind-but-putting-on-a-brave-face of it. It’s not easy what we do. Us, photographers. Us, smaller business owners. Going against the grain and striking out on our own. To change our stars. To change our life. To do something we’ve never done before, so we don’t have to do the thing we’ve always done. Taking a risk. With our time. With our money. And, most scarily, with our hearts. It’s the beaten path for sure.
And if there’s one thing we’ve said from the start and will keep saying until we’re blue in the face (because we needed to hear it, and so do you) it’s that no one — no one — is born a photographer. No one leaves the womb knowing how to use a professional camera, or start a successful business. Yet, when we waded into these waters years ago, we (falsely) assumed everyone else did. That they had some innate talent that we didn’t. “An eye for it” so to speak. Some superpower or secret skill that made the camera feel second nature to them, as natural as breathing. When, for us, it felt more foreign than any language we’d ever heard in our life.
We’d see other photographers at all different stages of business and think, That’ll never be us! because their success seemed like a birthright instead of what is was: a labor of love. And, of course, like we all do from time to time, we let comparison steal our joy. If that’s you, congratulations. You’re normal. We’ve all been part of this club.
We’d hear others talk about how many weddings they’d shot the previous season, or portrait sessions they were booking during the fall. How “easy” it was. How they were “turning people away” and “just couldn’t keep up” with all the inquiries they were getting. All the while, we were desperate for our inbox to ding and it not be a Kohl’s coupon. When we did book a few, we really had to fight for them. With everything we had. Then, when we should’ve been celebrating, because we’d just finished a session for a paying client (not just a friend) and done our best work ever, we’d get home, open up social media, or look at someone else’s blog from the same location… and see how far we still had to go.
We let comparison steal our joy
We let comparison steal our joy. We allowed someone else’s tenth year in business make our first year feel small. And, if we’re all being honest with each other, we all struggle with this. We spend too much time comparing our beginning to someone else’s middle, our middle to someone else’s end, or our middle to someone else’s beginning — and we shouldn’t — because apples aren’t oranges and oranges aren’t apples, and the minute we start comparing ourselves to others is the moment we stop celebrating both of us — and serving the clients right in front of us, who really need us.
Isn’t that so true?
Let’s use the people ahead of us as lighthouses so we don’t hit the same rocks they did, and as horizons so we know the direction of our course, while always remembering that neither are the finish line. Because there is no such thing as a finish line. Growth never stops. It never ends. It’s never finished. You’ve never “made it” because there’s not a final destination. “Made it” is just a mirage. We’re all in a constant season of refining.
It’s a process. You gotta learn to love it.
In the classroom, when we taught elementary school, we never measured one student against another. How could we? Each child walked into our classroom as a unique individual with a distinct set of life experiences and circumstances (some within their control, but most outside of their control) that made them who they were in that moment. The best thing we could do, for them — and for us — was to measure their success based on their growth from the beginning of the school year to the end, taking into consideration their capabilities or disabilities, their obstacles or opportunities, their life advantages or disadvantages.
As adults, looking at children, that makes sense. We know that. It’s easy to understand. So why don’t we believe that the same idea applies to adults? To photographers? To us? The single mom is not in the same position as the husband and wife team without kids, right? We can all agree on that. At the same time, we’d never disrespect that single mom by placing lower expectations on her potential. Because one of our favorite students was a single mom who was commuting 100 miles to work every day to a job she hated as a landlord, missing out on time she couldn’t get back with her young son. So, rolled up her sleeves and got to work. The nights were long. The weekends were longer. Working two full-time jobs at once while raising a little one, was, in a word, hard. We’ll never know what it’s like to go through what she went through. But you know what? She did it. She took everything we teach in our courses and she changed her stars. She changed her life. Today, she’s a full-time photographer who gets paid to do what she loves… and she never misses a school function.
There are thousands of other factors that affect where you are and what you’ve done up until this moment in your life, and although those shouldn’t be used as excuses or crutches to avoid the hustle it takes to make it in this business (because it takes hustle… a lot of it), give yourself permission stop every now and then to celebrate what you have achieved, and get excited about what you still can… and will. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned in this business. In any business. Heck! In life. It’s that there’s not a finite amount of compliments or encouragement in this world. There’s an unlimited amount, and we all need it, but it starts with giving it.
So, we’ve got a challenge for you today, friend, whether you’re a photographer or not, and here it is: choose two people, one who’s where you were and one who’s where you want to be, and send them an encouraging message. Tell the first that you admire them and what they’ve accomplished, and you hope to be there one day, too. Tell the second that, even though they may not know you, that you recognize them. That you see them. That they’re doing a great job, and they should keep it up. You never know how much it could mean.
We can all run farther when people are cheering for us.
p.s. While you’re at it, go back to your first ever shoot, spend a few minutes looking at your first images, be proud of how far you’ve come and get excited about where you want to go next. We’ll be here to help you get there.