At the starting point of our creative journey, we make choices that will either drive us toward what we want or drive us away from it. At the time, we might not even realize what’s driving us. We think outside forces play a bigger role than internal determination and intuition, which in the end is the reason we arrive anywhere.
Norton Zanini is a Florida-based photographer and creative entrepreneur who left his home in Brazil at the age of 17 to come to the US to pursue his passion in photography and film. With no money, education, experience, or prospects, he shares how he turned his dream into a reality.
What he did, got him noticed and an opportunity he needed to break-in. But it was not easy, and it certainly wasn’t overnight. Norton started at my photography studio as an intern over a dozen years ago and has been working with me ever since. He grew his career from intern, to production assistant, to studio manager, to content creator.
If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I’m a huge advocate of doing the work. Well, Norton leads with that. From the moment he got the spark of an idea to explore a creative life in the US, he’s been showing up and putting in the hard work. If you’ve ever wondered if you could be doing more in your creative pursuits, listen in to this inspiring and motivational episode that’s got a kick to it.
Put It Out There, See if It Sticks
As a teenager, Norton told his Mom about his dream to come to the US in pursuit of creative education and a career. What else did he need, he had blessings from his family and ambition in his heart. He quickly realized he needed a bit more than that. The creative schools were very expensive and he didn’t speak the language. His approach to learning English is a good example of how Norton put it all on the line to see what would stick. A theme that carried him through the next few years.
Norton tells us how he watched a lot of TV shows to learn English. With the subtitles on and a notebook in hand, he studied all of the American favorites that were on cable television. He knew the only way to get confident with speaking English was to put it out there. So he did, and he’d see if what he said would stick, or if people looked confused or raised their brows. When it was the latter, he knew he needed to course correct.
It’s a good analogy for an approach that works for creative work. Sometimes we just have to see if it lands. We create, we bring it to life and when we put it out there, maybe it sticks. If it doesn’t, we keep going. Creativity is like that.
No Shortcuts, Do The Work
How is it that so many people out there want to have the end results without putting in the work? It’s a huge problem we’re faced with. A desire to arrive at the endpoint, before showing up and doing the work required. Creative fulfillment requires something else from us. No shortcuts permitted.
Norton got involved with my photography studio back in the day because he showed up. First, he showed up to stand out, and as a result, he started as an intern. From that point forward he showed up to whatever was asked of him. He showed up for tasks from mundane day-to-day stuff to things that supported his creative growth and development. He showed up full of heart and hard work. Norton tells the story so well on this podcast, when you listen to him, you hear the passion and drive that kept him showing up, no shortcuts, he did the work.
He went from intern to contractor to a long-term career. In the first two years, he wasn’t able to show his true strengths. Instead, he developed new skills that were more behind the scenes of the creative process. There’s an underlying trait to the success Norton created that we all can learn from. He took no shortcuts and he did the work.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized the extent of this. Norton shared a story with me about what it really took to get to his first day as an intern. I had no idea, and it blew me away. Getting the intern job required determination and a whole lot of drive. Specifically, it required Norton to drive. As an intern and production assistant, you’re often required to run errands. Norton of course landed the spot, on the condition he’d show up ready to drive if needed. The fact that he didn’t have a car was not going to be a deciding factor for the rest of his creative career. If there was a shortcut out of this one, he didn’t take it.
When Norton got the news that the job was his, he immediately set out to find the wheels. He had no money so he also had to sell some of his belongings to make that happen. Within days, he managed to find a car. It of course would require him to do the work too. He spent the weekend learning to drive a stick shift, and through his determination, he showed up on Monday, ready to go.
The early years were difficult for Norton and imposter syndrome was one of the bigger struggles he faced. He was hard on himself. Regardless of encouraging words and support from the people he looked up to, his voice was loudest. In the creative community, we all experience imposter syndrome at some point. Norton says in those years of self-doubt if he would have listened to the negative mindset he would have dropped it all and missed many opportunities.
Showing up early ready to do the work, and then doing the work is how we overcome imposter syndrome. Maybe this is a right of passage to our creative leadership. We’re tested with feelings of self-doubt and imposter syndrome.
We understand this and speak openly about it now, but at the time Norton was in his own container. He leaned on his passion for what he was doing and why he was doing it. He would practice tapping into his sensory skills to bring him into reality. As artists and creatives, we’re constantly battling our physiology, our brains are wired to keep us out of harm’s way, and to be creative is to step into risk over and over again.
What are we amplifying? The good or the bad comments that come our way. It’s in our nature to amplify the negativity that comes our way, so focusing on the good helps to deflate imposter syndrome. Being grateful for the opportunity and believing the good people say was key for Norton.
Hard Work Beats Talent
We could be the best at our craft but if we don’t do the work, no one would ever know. Norton had no language skills or money, he got his foot in the door and sure he was talented but it was his hard work and determination that got him there.
The journey is hard. Here we’re pursuing a creative life. We’ve got to use our own will. It’s hard to beat someone who never quits. When your pursuit is relentless, you’ll reach your destination. Be grateful and trust the hard work will pay off. Imagine if Norton quit. If he listened to the negative thoughts he would have materialized his biggest fear. The trick is to keep going so you grant yourself the opportunity to rise.
There’s the moment we look around and realize the opportunity we once dreamed of is the reality before our eyes. That only happens when we don’t give up, we keep going.
Having a supportive community helps us through any challenges that come our way. Creative people need that connection, sometimes it’s nice to have, and sometimes it’s a lifeline. It’s a give-and-take thing, sometimes we’re offering support for others and sometimes we need it, and that’s ok.
As a creative community, we’re not in a bubble of working solo. Our work may be solo, but all it takes is to reach out. Like Norton has done time and time again, put it out there and see what sticks.
In the beginning, Norton leaned on the support of his family and friends. He then built up his community through involvement in creative projects. Everywhere we look we can see people who lift us up and who allow us to lean on them when we need them most.
Especially these days, we’re all recognizing how important a great community is for our creativity and careers. We learn from each other and we see the greatness in one another. This goes a long way when we’re in a place of self-doubt or imposter syndrome. It’s a key thread throughout this podcast. I hope you enjoy this one where Norton and I talk about old times, and what it took for him. He was a new immigrant, living in a country where he couldn’t speak the language and he had no money. His drive and determination are what led him to where he is today.
Now, by all accounts, he’s living his creative dream. We can learn from his story. Norton is now freelancing and is available for projects all over the world from his home base in Florida, US. Reach out to him via his website nortonzanini.com