Early on in my career, I had to make an important distinction between what it means to be a photographer, and what it means to be a professional. Yes, a photographer takes photos and a professional photographer sells photos. You know what else a professional does? They show up every day, even when the inspiration isn’t hitting them.
Do the Verb to Be The Noun
There’s a point when starting in a new direction that you need to stop thinking so damn much and start doing. We already know the negative voice in our head is not very useful. We’re not going to be able to think our way the next level. If you want to be a professional, you might as well act like one.
At least that’s what I told myself when I started my career in photography. I traveled to ski slopes across the country to meet would-be subjects for my portfolio, all at my own expense. It was years before I was granted the industry-standard credentials to stand in the “right” place to get the “right” kinds of photos without having to sneak in ahead of time. None of that mattered. If I’d waited for permission from the gatekeepers, I’d still be waiting.
So I leveraged credit card offers for airline miles, slept in rental cars or on friends’ couches, and bought film in bulk or even expired film to get discounts. I did whatever it took to put myself as close to my dreams as possible.
I wanted to be a professional photographer. I took photos and submitted them to magazines over and over again: at the World Extreme Skiing Championship, Olympic qualifying events, Red Bull contests, anything on the competition calendar that I could get to.
Suddenly—or maybe not so suddenly, as I think back—my work began to appear alongside photos by established pros with big budgets, press credentials, and swagger. Their photos were on the cover and mine were thumbnails on page 78, but my name was next to each one. It slowly started to work.
An Underrated Key to Success: Momentum
Here’s the secret of why it started to work: I was working.
Momentum is the most underrated value in chasing your dreams. Momentum comes from taking action.
There was no thinking my way over the hump. I never just sat at my desk and architected a crafty, gee-whiz plan to get myself to the next level. What changed everything for me was showing up, over and over, wherever my heart and my intuition told me to be—even if my brain was telling me I had no business being there.
Taking a thousand tiny, imperfect actions was the only thing that got me from wondering what was possible to experiencing it. Each action created momentum for more.
I embedded myself in action sports, attending meetups, professional conferences, and parties. I shot pics on spec for anyone in the field who asked. All along the way, I asked questions, learning how to get in as I was getting in. I put in the work. I hustled. Then one day I looked up from all that effort and realized that I had somehow made my way over, or perhaps through, the hump.
Keep Showing Up
The work you do when no one is watching is the work that matters most. Pros don’t wait until they are pros to act like pros. The people who make it—whatever your definition of success might be—are the ones who are willing to show up and do the work without approval, permission, or praise. Remember – Don’t fake it till you make it. Make it till you make it.
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