As I promised in my last post, it’s been my goal to return to blogging about things other than just my weddings. Some of you come only for the pretty photos, and I love that, but I know many of my readers initially began following me because I was sharing my experiences and the knowledge I was gaining while growing as a photographer, and I didn’t realize until recently how much I enjoyed and felt fulfilled by that teaching and mentoring and the relationships I had developed because of it. So with that in mind, and knowing realistically that I probably won’t ever be able to go back to doing weekly FAQ posts, I decided to do a mini-series looking back on what I learned in 2012 and what I hope to change in 2013. I’m focusing on three major topics: confidence, creativity, and productivity. These are the areas I feel that I most struggled with, and in the process, discovered a lot about myself and how to take steps to improve them. I also feel like they’re incredibly intertwined and dependent on each other, so I think there will be a lot of overlap in the things I have to say. My hope is that even though I’m describing my specific experiences and observations, my words will resonate with you on a more universal level, whether you’re a photographer or another kind of creative professional or small business owner.
(Disclaimer: I’m kind of long-winded. Sorry in advance. :) Second disclaimer: If you’re here because you’re a client or you want to look through my weddings, please feel free to browse through my galleries using the menu at the top of the page, or click on some of my favorite posts via the buttons to the right. So glad you’re here!)
Today I want to talk about confidence: how I’ve battled self-depecration and self-sabotage, jealousy, and general negativity, and the methods I’ve used to get control over these emotions and focus on the GOOD so that I can be a better photographer and a better human being.
How many times have you found yourself scrolling through your Facebook news feed in a zombie-like trance, refreshing the page over and over without even realizing what you’re doing, and discovering that within minutes you feel zapped of energy, depressed, unmotivated, and lacking any hope for the future of the human race? How often have you visited another photographer’s blog just to torture yourself by looking through their stunning photographs and seeing all the magazines that they’ve been published in and thinking that you’ll nevereverever be that good or that successful and also it’s-so-not-fair-that-they’re-drop-dead-gorgeous-and-live-in-an-awesome-Southern-California-house-on-top-of-everything-else? Have you ever forced yourself to edit your photos a certain way, or experiment with a different kind of composition, or advertise with a particular wedding blog, or wear an outfit straight out of an Urban Outfitters catalog, or buy a lens or a camera body, or establish a different pricing structure, just because someone else did it, even though you KNOW it has nothing to do with your style or the way you shoot or your personality? Even though you know you don’t need it/won’t use it/will look silly wearing it?
Or is that just me?
. . . Nope, I didn’t think so. :)
But the danger in this kind of behavior is the damage it inevitably will do to our confidence, which is crucial to our performance as creatives and as business owners. If I’m going into a wedding thinking that I’m a terrible photographer, is that in any way going to help me be at the top of my game? No ma’am. Don’t get me wrong– I think we should also have a healthy dose of humility and realize that there is always room for growth and improvement, but if we don’t start out with a fundamental, unshakable belief that we can do this, then we’re doomed to fail.
The good news is that there plenty of very basic, doable actions that any of us can take to keep our doubts and worries at bay and our focus on what we have accomplished, what we are capable of, and what gives us value and makes us unique. Here are just a few that have really helped me this past year:
1. UNSUBSCRIBE, UNSUBSCRIBE, UNSUBSCRIBE
About six or so months ago, I had a revelation. Every time I was getting on Facebook or perusing other photographers’ blogs for “inspiration,” I would close my computer feeling depressed and suddenly very insecure about my work and my life and what I had (or rather, hadn’t) accomplished. I would lose motivation to keep editing the photos from my last wedding that I had just been so excited about, thinking, I’m just no good, so what’s the point? We’ve all heard again and again that comparison is the thief of joy, and we know that in our heads, so why do we make it so easy for ourselves to fall into the trap? Why are we purposefully sabotaging ourselves and our happiness?
So I decided to just start getting rid of the sources of these completely pointless pity parties. I made myself a new rule: Unless a photographer was someone I was personally friends with or someone I had mentored in the past (because I still wanted to be able to encourage these friends), I hid them all from my news feed. I realized there was absolutely no need for me to be bombarding myself with everyone else’s “best of the best” photos just so I could compare mine to theirs. As photographers, we often tell ourselves that we’re using blog stalking and Facebook following for “inspiration,” but more often than not, it simply isn’t true. We’re either keeping tabs on the competition as a way of measuring our own successes and failures, or we’re looking for ideas to copy (not “be inspired by”). We tell ourselves that it’s a community, and we’re following these photographers to encourage them, but I think if we’re honest with ourselves, unless it’s someone we’re friends with in real life, we’re not really that happy when they take a gorgeous photo or win a prestigious award or get an amazing styled shoot featured on a top 10 wedding blog. Instead, we’re thinking, why isn’t that ME? It’s a dangerous rabbit hole to fall down, especially when the truth is that all of these super “successful” photographers are only posting their greatest achievements and hiding their weaknesses and struggles. The game is unfair before it even begins.
Other ways I’ve rid myself of the temptation to compare? I stopped using Twitter altogether, since it is mostly used only by other industry professionals, not my friends, family, or clients (the people I actually want and need to be connecting with). I haven’t opened Google Reader in over a year. And when I do come across a photographer whose work I admire, I look through their site for a bit, and then I write them an email to let them know that I love their work and encourage them to keep it up. But I don’t keep going back regularly to check in on what they’re doing, because I know how dangerous that kind of behavior is for me.
Something else I’m trying to work on is being more honest and transparent in my OWN online presence, because I don’t want anyone else to get the impression that my life is all lovely photos and fun trips and happy times. There is a LOT of hard work involved in this business, and some failures, and definitely a fair share of discouraging days. And every time I’ve just come right out and admitted that to a friend, or even occasionally on social media, I’m met with nothing but a lot of “ME, TOO”s and sighs of relief. I absolutely understand the importance of keeping a spirit of positivity present online, because that’s your first impression with most potential clients and you don’t want it to be tarnished by a bunch of complaining. (Besides, no one likes a Negative Nancy.) BUT, I think if we don’t take an opportunity now and then to reach out and say “Hey, guess what, I’m not perfect,” whether it’s to our friends or our Facebook followers, then we’re missing out on the chance to connect in a real, authentic way with everyone else who’s facing struggles (which is ALL OF US).
So I’m challenging YOU to take inventory of the causes of your self-doubt and take action to eradicate them. If it means ruthlessly cleaning out your news feed? Do it. If it means being more honest and authentic in your posts so that you’re not someone who other people feel like they should unfollow? Do it.
2. FOCUS ON THE GOOD
I promise not to get too Oprah on you, but I do feel there is a lot to be said for controlling your thoughts and your attitude. It’s easy to zero in on the negative: your failures, your lack of resources, your daily struggles, your fears. It’s a heck of a lot harder to dwell on the GOOD and tune all the rest of the noise out. But it can do wonders for your self esteem!
My best friend Kelly and I recently did an exercise that had a profound impact on both of us. (Kelly’s become somewhat of a self-help guru after attending Making Things Happen and starting The Happiness Project last year– both of which she will highly recommend to anyone she meets– so she sometimes forces me kicking and screaming into these activities that seem hokey and I of course end up loving them.) We started our own secret Facebook group (I know, what are we, twelve years old?! The answer is YES) where we could have an ongoing record of sharing what’s going on personally and in our businesses, as well as encourage each other, hold each other accountable, sometimes vent (we all need that now and then!), and celebrate each other’s victories, no matter how big or small. We started a specific thread (pinned to the top to always remind us) entitled “Achievements We Should Be Proud Of (To Lift Us Up When We’re Down on Ourselves).” In it, we started making a list of each other’s strengths, accomplishments, and good qualities. The night we started it, I think we had a total of 65+ comments in that one thread, going back and forth as we thought of new things to be proud of, from Kelly getting published in Southern Living Weddings to my “get it done” attitude to all sorts of things in between. That night, I felt SO happy and SO confident, like I had the capability of taking on the world, just because a good friend who knows me well had taken the time to put in writing what she admires about me.
Now I know not everyone has a close friend who also happens to share the same career and understand every single up and down (I definitely consider myself lucky!), but I encourage you to find someone to develop this type of relationship with. Someone who has a positive influence on you, who can hold you accountable in a non-destructive way, who is willing to be open and honest and, most importantly, encouraging. We all need someone to have our backs and pull us out of the rut when we’ve convinced ourselves we’re just no good. We need someone to speak truth to us and snap us back to reality and give us perspective. The reason I met Kelly in the first place was because I took a risk and put myself out there by sending her an email when we first moved to Birmingham two and a half years ago, asking if she wanted to meet up for lunch. That’s how most friendships are born… by taking a chance. So take a chance! Reach out! I think you’ll be surprised how many people you find who are also yearning for that kind of a friendship.
I’ve learned that it’s also important to develop relationships outside of the photography and wedding world. Talk about getting a reality check! When I’m acting like it’s the end of the world if Style Me Pretty rejected one of my weddings, my “real world” friends look at me like I am absolutely nuts and remind me that no matter how worked up getting over it, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. As long as I’m able to keep booking clients and making a living doing what I do, then why am I focusing all of my energy on a tiny little bump in the road? Again, we need those people in our lives to give us perspective when we’ve been locked up in an office alone all day with no contact with the outside world.
So I would challenge you to work on developing these relationships, and the next time you’re curled up in a fetal position thinking that your career is simply OVER because you didn’t book that wedding you really wanted, call or text or go out for coffee with these friends and allow them to draw you back to rationality and remind you of all the things you HAVE done. Also, make a “Things I Should Be Proud Of” list and keep it in a place where you’ll see it often, especially when you’re having moments of weakness and your confidence is feeling shaky. I bet you’ll surprise yourself at how long that list ends up being. ;)
3. EMBRACE WHO YOU ARE
I’ve been reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (because Kelly forced me to, ha), and one of the biggest takeaways I’ve gotten so far is Gretchen’s list of “rules for adulthood.” At the top of that list? 1. BE GRETCHEN. It seems so fundamental, right? Like, why would someone really have that much of a problem being themselves? But the truth is, don’t we all force ourselves into doing things every now and then just because we feel like we should, or because that’s what our friends and peers are doing? Gretchen points out that we all have this idea of who we think we are, and we often make choices based on this “ideal” version of ourselves. But then we end up not actually enjoying these things, and as a result, we’re wasting away precious hours of our lives being unhappy. For example, when I was in high school, I desperately wanted to fit in with the cool indie kids who were in bands and went to shows all the time. So I signed up for guitar lessons, started scouring the used CD stores for obscure titles, and bought a bunch of band T-shirts. Well GUESS WHAT. I hated playing guitar. It didn’t come naturally to me and I really struggled with it. And it just wasn’t fun. I also hated a lot of the music I was forcing myself to listen to. Why were these bands so whiny and loud and why couldn’t I understand what they were even singing? And my fashion choices… Well, we just won’t go there. The point is that I just wasn’t this person that I thought I was. I was a total nerd who loved reading, watched a ridiculous amount of HGTV and painted my room turquoise (much to my mom’s dismay), was obsessed with the 50′s and 60′s and shows like I Love Lucy and The Wonder Years, and what I really loved listening to was Styx. Ha!
But even after those dreadful high school growing pains we all go through, I still to this day struggle with embracing exactly who I am and letting that determine my path in this business. Any of you who have followed me from the beginning already know that by the amount of logos and color schemes I’ve gone through. ;) I’ll see Jose Villa’s soft, muted film images and think, “Oh wow, I should REALLY take up shooting film.” Or I’ll think someone’s neutral, minimalist website is gorgeous and I should get something like it. Or someone advises me to change my pricing structure so that I can up-sell more products and make more money off of every wedding. But guess what? Those things aren’t ME! The truth is, I love bright colors… in my photographs, in my branding, in my wardrobe, and in my LIFE. I’m a little crazy and rough around the edges and I can’t pretend to be anything but. I’m NOT a salesperson and I’m not in this business to make a huge salary. So once I decided to stop following everyone else’s lead based on what was working for THEM, and start forging my own path instead, I noticed a major difference in my happiness with my brand and felt much more confident about my decisions, knowing they were rooted deeply in who I was as a person and what I ultimately wanted out of my career and out of my life. When I look at my website, I feel really happy because IT’S SO MORGAN. When I look back through my 2012 weddings and view them as a body of work, I feel happy because IT’S SO MORGAN. And simply by being myself and no one else, I’ve managed to carve out a niche and stand out and attract exactly the kinds of clients I want to work with. Again, it’s such a simple premise: “Be Morgan.” But it’s also one of the most difficult and most important decisions I’ve made so far.
So I would encourage you to REALLY examine who you are: your likes and dislikes, your style, your approach to business, etc. Make lists if you need to in order to narrow your focus! And every time you are faced with a decision (how to design your website, what products to offer your clients, how to respond to an inquiry that doesn’t seem like a good fit, what to say on social media, even what outfit you’re going to put on that morning), remind yourself to be yourself. And I guarantee you you’ll feel 100% more confident about the decision you made.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you about my long-windedness. ;) But in all seriousness, I do hope you found a little nugget of inspiration or advice to take away from this to help you in your own battle against self-doubt and increase your confidence. I truly do feel that confidence is incredibly fundamental to being a successful creative business owner, so if you find yourself questioning your every move, it’s time to make some changes.
I love hearing from my readers, so if you want to share any of your own experiences or advice in the comments below, that would be wonderful! And if you found this helpful at all, I’d love for you to share it with your friends. Be sure to come back for the posts on creativity and productivity, too! :)