I’m not a Buddhist, but I’ve always been drawn to the idea of zen. I know that many people have different interpretations of this idea, but my preferred meaning is the state of mind where all outside distraction is dispelled and you are able to focus on things as they really are as opposed to how we perceive them to be. When we enter into this state of mind, we are able to act in a way that allows us to reach our fullest potential.
One thing central to the concept of zen is the meditation practice. This is important because it has a tendency to put your mind and body into a calm and receptive state. Those who engage in this type of activity will tell you that the difficulty comes in maintaining this mindset in times not specifically dedicated to meditation, but through practice it becomes an interwoven part of your everyday life. I’m not trying to convince you to meditate, but running a business can easily make life unmanageable. One way to compensate is by finding your photography zen.
Finding Your Photography Zen
Photography zen might seem redundant. Most of us are initially drawn to photography because it’s meditative in nature. Photography requires us to remove ourselves from our surroundings so that we can understand the subject and capture it in an authentic and unique way. It’s a very different action than participating in that scene. You take yourself away from the subjective reality and become an objective observer. When you review the images later, you rethink the shots and determine what photographs capture the essence of what you observed.
The reason photography zen is necessary for our purposes is in the specific context of business. A transformation occurs when you decide to make your living with photography. Suddenly, photography is no longer the escape and release it once was. The reality of the business environment quickly sets into the mind, especially while shooting. Will my client like these images? Did I take every shot on my list? Am I killing my shutter? All these questions cloud the mind and make your photography zen more difficult, if not impossible to realize.
What Are You Doing?
This might seem like an obvious question, but what are you doing? More importantly are you fully aware of what you are doing and how it is affection your business? You would be surprised how easy it is to slip into a routine of mindlessness, which is the opposite of zen. If you become stressed, your mind will start to try and put as many things as possible on autopilot as a coping mechanicsm. Some things are fine to put into this category — taking a shower, brushing your teeth — I’m perfectly happy for you to put those essential daily tasks on auto pilot. When you’re making decisions for your business your mind needs to be alert and on the job.
One of the worst things that can happen to any photographer is to get too busy. I know most of you think I’m crazy for saying that. Most of you would love to be in that predicament. Being too busy is invariably a bad thing for business. Firstly, it’s not sustainable. Regardless of how invincible you think you are, you have a breaking point like everyone else. Secondly, you have limits particularly when it comes to performing at a high level. If you’re spread too thin, the quality of your work will suffer. You will work twice as hard for half the returns. If you find yourself with too much on your plate, take some time and figure out how to make the situation manageable before it eats you alive.
Your Most Valuable Tool
Despite how much photographers like to talk about their gear, your most valuable tool is your mind. Without a highly functioning, observant and creative mind, you don’t have much of anything. Ironically, taking care of yourself tends to come far too low on the list of priorities for entrepreneurs. The opposite tends to be true. New business owners tend to wear self deprivation as a badge of honor. Look at me, I never eat, I never sleep, I’m busy all the time and I’m awesome. If by awesome, you mean crazy, then yes, yes you are.
In the past several decades the eccentricity of Steve Jobs caused many folks to rethink what success looked like. Steve was brash, obsessive and mean. The business world is very keen on the latest trends in success, and far too many entrepreneurs idolized Jobs and his aura. The takeaway for many of his followers was that in order to be freakishly successful, you had to be a jerk and not care what anyone else has to say. I know at least one person who fired several highly talented individuals due to this phenomena. Apparently these folks didn’t realize that those attributes caused them to be a pox to their employer’s house.
The business world is obsessed with simplifying (and monetizing) the path to success. If Jobs is a jerk, you have to be a jerk to be successful. I don’t know if he was a jerk or not. If he was, he succeeded in spite of that fact, not because of it. Walking and talking like someone does not make you that person, or bestow upon you their acomplishments. You are your most valuable commodity and unless you are true to who you really are, you may be in danger of killing the golden goose.
To Thine Own Self…
There is no one path to success, but there are numerous paths to failure. If you want to be successful, take good care of yourself. Be in the business of being your best self. Put your best self into your business and you will find your own unique path to success.
photo credit: Isabell Winter