Regardless of where you live in the world or what culture you come from, there are, without exception, rituals designed to recognize accomplishment. It’s in our nature to take some time to look back on a journey completed and prepare physically and emotionally for the trek ahead.
One such occasion happened for me when I graduated from high school. I was 17 years old and had honestly not given much thought to what lied ahead. I knew I was expected to go to college somewhere, but that was just more school, I had always done reasonably well with my education so I wasn’t worried about it. What I didn’t realize was that everything around me was in a state of flux. Many of my classmates and friends were already headed their separate ways. Most of the structured ways that I spent my days no longer existed and it was up to me to fill that void with something worthwhile. For me, graduation felt less like a relief and more like a venture into the unknown. So it is with photography graduation.
If you’re anything like me or the myriad other photographers that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, you’ve likely not had any formal photography schooling. Yes, there are a good bunch of you who went to art school and have taken a more structured approach to your craft (my hat is off to you!), but most of you have made your way the best you can on your own. You have probably not considered photography graduation. While you may never wear a cap and gown, you will have a photography graduation. You will have a moment when you arrive at a crossroads and have to decide what path to pursue next.
Without the structured curriculum of education it’s hard to know when you’ve graduated. This is one of the problems with the education system. You spend a great deal of time following a well-trodden path that you can forget what it’s like to forge a new trail and embrace uncertainty. While you will likely have many photography graduations in your life, the one we will discuss here is the moment when your business ceases to be something you do in your free time to a professional goal. The moment you decide that being one of many isn’t enough and commit yourself to becoming more.
A Fond Farewell
A photography graduation would not be complete without bidding adieu to certain aspects of your previous life. As you move forward with your photography business, you will have different priorities and a much different schedule. Your casual photography buddies probably won’t see you as often as they once did. Your mentors will find you’re not quite as ‘clingy’ as you once were. You simply don’t have the time. The up side to this is that your photography world will start to expand. People who once looked at you as a protégé or underling will begin to see you as a colleague. Similarly you will start to garner the attention of budding photographers — people who would like to follow in your footsteps. It’s not always easy saying goodbye, but it is essential to realizing your photography goals.
Laying your Groundwork
Did you ever notice there’s lots of movies made about high school and college? Animal House, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Dead Poet’s Society, Napoleon Dynamite! These movies are a lot of fun, but most of the stories end before the real struggle begins. Most of the popular storylines revolve around social acceptance and fitting in. The trouble is fitting in is typically not the hardest part about being a photography. The problem most photographers face when they start their business is laying a groundwork for success. The daily habits required to build a successful business typically get left on the cutting room floor. A good, healthy routine might not be entertaining, but it is crucial if you want to be successful.
So how do you lay groundwork for your success? The details will vary depending on your situation, but here are a few things that will help you find your path.
1. Anything can be a habit, so make your habits count.
People tend to talk about habits like they are a bad thing. Everyone has habits. Habit is just the word we’ve chosen to use to describe how we spend out time. What I want you to do is spend your time in the most productive way possible. If you’re spending all your time binge watching TV on Netflix, your business, as well as other things, will likely suffer. The problem many of us have is that we let the world dictate our habits to us. Your task is to find out the actions are most valuable to your business and make them part of your routine and something that you enjoy.
2. Urgency, you don’t have as much time as you think
I remember having a conversation with with a friend of mine in graduate school about how long it takes most of us to complete our education. She evoked the sentiment that education should be savored and not rushed. Just to put this in context, we were both getting pretty close to thirty at that time. The problem is that as a species we have started to put off entering the workforce until much later in life. Learning is a lifelong endeavor and I suggest you always continue your education. Your career on the other hand is a bit more finite.
The vast majority of your income will be earned between the ages of 20–60. If you don’t start your business until you’re thirty, you’ve just cut your lifelong income by 25%. In addition, your business needs time to really get rolling. You’re peak income years will typically come from the ages of 40–55. You need to be a well-oiled machine or you may miss out on that harvest.
3. You’re closer to your dreams than you realize
I was listening to the radio one day and the host said something that I will never forget. He said that there’s no original ideas anymore. I about ran my fist through my dash. I couldn’t believe the arrogance to say something like that. Let me tell you, there’s infinite growth in ideas and no fatalist is going to tell me otherwise. Humanity isn’t capable of exhausting all invention, that’s part of what’s great about being human, we’re always learning and growing. You have something to contribute. Now get in the business of building it.
Get To It
I don’t know if it was always so, but one of the most discouraging things I faced after graduation is how little the world thought of me. The world of business can is hierarchical in nature and getting a let up in that world is a difficult feat. It’s tempting to succumb to the discouragement and think that you’ll never reach your destination. I’m okay with you being discouraged, as long as while you’re doing that you put one foot in front of the other. The game is on — get to it!
photo credit: Baim Hanif