I’ve been photographing professionally since 1999, and I wish I could tell you that with time it gets easier.
In fact, if you find yourself thinking photography is easy or without any challenges, many of us would tell you to start looking for another creative outlet.
Photography isn’t supposed to get easier over time, even as we grow and become better at it. The prize of the next best photograph dangles just ahead of us, out of reach, always. It’s incredibly frustrating, isn’t it? It’s enough to make us want to quit.
On my journey I’ve had a lot of obstacles get in my way, from professors who deemed my career doomed before I even started because I was getting married, to my first jobs at the newspapers where seasoned veterans barely acknowledged me, and when they did it was only to tell me that I would never last. Oh yes, I’ve been beaten down by many external forces while simply trying to start my career.
And then none of these outsiders were ever as hard on me as my own drive to make worthwhile photographs; to combine my skill with my voice and in turn make images that mattered. I got past the negative comments and co-workers (not easy), but I never could reach full satisfaction with my work. Quitting was always this small whisper in my ear, and it often sounded like relief.
So I quit photography for a few years. I left it all behind and remade myself into someone else. And for sometime it was a relief.
But that didn’t last because it wasn’t what was truly best for me. Photography, as hard and challenging and lonely as it can be, also has given me some of my greatest joys and connected me to the world in ways that almost no other activity I know of can. So I joined up again, understanding that if I only participated when life was easy, I wasn’t really living honestly.
None of this makes the fact that photography is still a challenge that beats us down more often than lifts us up. Just this week alone I have shed tears of worry and stress over client work I’m sending out. I have lost sleep over how to manage the start of the school year for my children and the ramp up to another busy fall for my business. And never mind the fact that I’m coming off a summer where my personal photography work underwhelmed me.
So I’m giving myself permission to quit.
Not photography, no, as you saw, I tried to quit it and failed. Instead I am giving myself and anyone else who needs it permission to quit the self-destructive habits that accompany us in the photographic journey, in an effort to regain the joy that makes this all so sweet.
You have permission to quit comparing yourself to others.
In a visual world, and as visual people, we love to look at what is being made around us. But if this poisons our well-being and drive, we have to find healthier ways to look at other people’s work. Understand that what you see everyday (and the magnitude of how much you see), is generally people’s finest work. They have omitted the mistakes and poorly executed ideas. They have chosen to show you the super-human instead of the human, but they are, we all are, human and we can’t possibly be great all the time. Remember that.
You have permission to take a break from social networks.
For all the great connectivity placed in social networks, the constant bombardment of images and messages that seem to conflict with how you feel can only serve to pull us down further. Quietly, slip away for a bit. Limit how much screen time you have and rededicate that time to just making more work for your self. It’s called a cleanse, and it is good.
You have permission to quit expecting perfection (or fame or instant recognition).
The overnight success story is always incredible to witness and even to wish for, but they are unicorns. In the grand scheme the most successful photographer has been slugging away at it for years and years, and might walk away from it all in the end having never even been known. Even the brightest rising star is far from perfect, no matter what facade is presented publicly. We all suffer fear, doubt, and insecurities. All of us. Even the industry superstars. No one is perfect and making perfection a goal will only hurt you.
You have permission to quit saying yes.
Isn’t getting offers and opportunities a large part of why we do this work? We get paid and get our work out to larger audiences. But at what price to our overall well-being and that of our family’s? Only you know what is the best balance between work and life and art. Saying yes to everything that comes along certainly can’t be healthy and can push us to the extreme of too much, which feels just as bad as not enough. Listen to your intuition; your gut, and pass on the things that just don’t sit right. You’re guaranteed to last longer that way.
You have permission to quit pretending.
Once upon a time, I found relief in quitting the whole practice of photography, but it was short lived. Now I find relief in quitting the act of pretending to be anyone other than myself.
As I embraced my honest voice and mission in my work, as scary as that can be, I felt lighter and happier, with less stress to please anyone other than myself and the clients who get me and my work for exactly what it is. When we start out, we might try on lots of different voices, and I encourage that. There is a lot to be gained from exploring genres and styles within photography. But never lose sight of the real spark inside that lights up when you touch upon work that makes your soul sing.
That’s the real you, and you can’t quit on that, no matter what you do.
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