This is a hopeful message for photographers, or really, any creative entrepreneurial types trying to get through the mental, emotional, and financial struggles that we all deal with once in a while.
Let’s talk about those struggles for a moment. We all have them. Money is tight. Clients are few. Bills are many. And that’s just the start. This leads to an emotional disconnect with your business that starts you down the road to self doubt, envy of others, jealousy, feeling like you’re not enough, and questioning if you are even good enough to continue the work you’ve poured yourself into for however long you’ve been at it. It’s maddening, and it nags at you in every quiet moment, eventually spilling over into different aspects of your life. You become a version of yourself that you don’t like and desperately seek to change. Then you start thinking about compromising and doing what your competition is doing, because it looks like they’re doing okay and you’d rather be them than you in that moment. You start debating taking on work that is not in your creative wheelhouse, and is not fulfilling for the sake of keeping busy, and out of desperation for the next few dollar bills. This moment right here is important. This is the time when you can discover everything you truly believe about yourself and your work. This moment can be transformative, but it depends on your willingness to be fully honest with yourself.
I have an intimate understanding of this spiraling process. I, myself, have struggled with these issues and have tiptoed the lines of depression battling these feelings. I am also witness to the struggles of my wife, an extremely talented creative artist with a knack for perfectionism and tearing herself down. She and I have talked for hours and hours about these feelings, and have both had to be the re-builders of one another on several occasions. This happens most often when business is slow. People who own their own business, or are creatives who constantly put their work out into the world to be viewed, criticized, picked apart, whatever, attach their full sense of pride to the success of their business. We are totally guilty of this. When business is bad, our pride and self worth are damaged. We wonder if we aren’t good enough, both in our work and in every aspect of our lives that we can think of. We keep playing scenarios in our head wondering where we went wrong, and then we play the “if we had done this instead” game. That has to stop.
But how do we get past this? Well, there’s no single or simple answer. But there are ways to work towards it.
Everything is about perspective. We have to remember that being a small business owner has roller coaster like peaks and valleys in every aspect of the business. It’s something we had to prepare for when we first set out on this journey and left the 9-5 grind in the regular working world. It’s feast or famine, and rarely can you accurately gauge what’s coming even as soon as next month. It can be easy to forget, when you have a streak of really good months. You might think the days of struggling are behind you. But the nature of the business, especially a client based creative one, is uncertain. You have to discipline yourself from early on to plan for the hard months. Put some short term pleasures on the back burner to have some extra on hand in case of a slow month, or a burst of slow months. They happen. But back to what I was saying about perspective. Is money the driving force behind your business and your art? I can guarantee your answer is no. That’s not what got any of us into this business. If money was your driver, there are LOTS of better options for going out and making a ton of money. So then, it has to be something else. Was it the artistic expression? Was it the opportunity to be your own boss? Was it so you could control your schedule and be present for your family? Was it because you enjoyed it and could make a couple extra bucks? You have to be able to honestly answer what drove you to take on your work, your passion. This realization alone can have the effect of making you appreciate what you do again, even if just a little bit. For me, I remember that I knew I was leaving a comfortable living and a steady paycheck in a job that I absolutely hated. The work was unfulfilling. My talents were being wasted, and my bosses were miserable, and made me even more so. I traded that compromising comfort and money for time with my family, and the opportunity to use my talents in a manner that I determined were both useful and fulfilling. I’d make that trade 10 times out of 10. Even in the tough times, that realization can bring me back.
So what is it that YOU value about your business? Is it that sense of freedom? Do you enjoy the positive feedback you get regularly about the work you put out? Have you established some notoriety in your home town that you have come to enjoy? There is definitely something you love about your business. Revisit that idea whenever times get tough, and remind yourself that money isn’t everything, and that you can persevere. Like I said, peaks and valleys. If you’re in a valley, all you need to do is re-center and get hungry so you can return yourself to the peak. When you reach that peak, don’t lose that hunger. Complacency and poor habits will see you back down to that low. Live below your means for a while. Stop all frivolous spending, and don’t let desperation drive your business decisions. Take a moment and think about the successes you’ve had to this point. For me, I can sit in my house, and look at what we’ve built from nothing. I remember the feelings I had at any time I made an “upgrade” in my life. Even the simple things like getting my work space exactly how I wanted it, from how it was before. Taking inventory of the small triumphs will change the direction of your mind and turn your negative feelings back into optimism. You’ve survived every day of your life so far, even the hardest ones you’ve ever faced. So count every small blessing and convince yourself that more are coming, and your biggest successes still lie ahead. With that mindset, it’s time to get back to work. Start with a project that is something that you want to do. Let yourself get excited about it and stretch out creatively. Do not start back at any client based work that is not exciting to you. Your first foray back into your work shouldn’t feel like drudgery. It should reset you back to the beginning of your business, when it was fun and didn’t feel like only a job. Try these steps out, and hopefully you’ll see your passion return, your creative juices flowing again, and you’ll be ready to take on your business once more with your new found hunger. Best of luck to you. If you’re reading this and feel like you need a jumping off point, or just some direction, feel free to reach out. No judgement.