There is an unavoidable hump along any creative path, a big, steep, muddy hill to climb between the exciting start and the point where you’ve become a proficient creator. You’re going to hit rough patches. There’s no thinking your way over this hump. Once you get to it, the time for planning is at an end. Only action will suffice.
Once I’d quit graduate school and started to make decent money as a photographer, I couldn’t help but feel as though I had everything figured out. I was self-taught, I didn’t know anybody in the industry, and here I was doing the same thing any other pro photographer did: taking pictures and selling them for money. Mission accomplished, right? Then the honeymoon period ended, and I encountered the dreaded slog. The grind. I realized how far I still had to go and how much work and struggle lay ahead. In reality, I was a total outsider. Nobody knew who I was. I wasn’t part of the photography community at all. Sure, I seemed to have the necessary combination of skill and talent to land paying gigs, but it was still really hard. It wasn’t the success I’d imagined while daydreaming and eating ramen years before. I wanted more: To work with the best clients. To approach each project with complete creative control. To charge top-of-the-market rates. Access, autonomy, abundance. Sure, I was making some money, but if work had been about a paycheck, I’d have stuck with medical school. The problem was, I didn’t see how to get from point A to point B.
This is where so many of us plateau or—worse—quit. We make headway scrambling up a cliff, only to realize we’re still at the foot of the mountain. Many times, I’ve found myself thinking “That mountain is a lot bigger than it looked in the picture.” We stand alone and stare upward, trying to think of some shortcut, some way to avoid having to take all those steps to the top. But there they remain.
There is no thinking our way over the hump. Instead, the only way we’re gonna get over the mountain is putting one foot in front of the other. Showing up, over and over, no matter what our heart and our intuition tell us—even if our brain is telling us we have no business being there. Take a thousand tiny, imperfect actions. Each action will create momentum, new opportunities, and new experiences. Put in the work. Remember, pros don’t way until they are pros to act like pros. The work you do when no one is watching is the work that matters most. Make it until you make it.
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