Last night I was hanging out with a few friends at a concert. We went outside to take a break from the noise, and I struck up a conversation with one of the guys. He asked me how I’d been, how business was going, and what I had on the horizon. I’m not one to brush off questions like that with a simple “I’m good, things are fine” so I gave him the truth. It’s been a hard summer. In a time where business is usually booming, I’ve had a slow couple of months. Several big shoots fell through or got pushed back to the fall, I moved into a more expensive house, I had to replace an expensive lens… It just hasn’t been an ideal summer. Then something came out of my mouth that really stuck with me.
“I’m very attached to my work. It’s not a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. When I’m not working, my well being suffers.” Damn. Two months of slump summed up in three short sentences.
Now, I’m not going to be overly melodramatic here. Things are actually great over here. My work is getting some great attention, I’ve picked up a few new clients this summer, and I’m actually really happy with the quality of work I’m producing. That said, it HAS been a boring summer. I’ve spent more time seeking out new work than I’ve spent actually working. And that sucks, but it’s part of being a freelancer. Half the job is finding more work. Slow seasons happen, and it’s in these seasons that I tend to grow the most as an artist.
So what’s the problem? Why do I feel like I’m in such a slump?
What I’ve learned this summer is that I live in a constant state of fear. I think we all do. Fear of not knowing where the next paycheck is coming from, the fear of hoping a client likes the work you just sent their way, the fear of cold calling client after client trying to get a meeting, and even the fear of succeeding. I think fear dictates most of our decisions, and influences us way more than it should.
Think of it this way. How many projects or ideas have you dreamt up and just never done anything about? Why? Why don’t we pursue our passions, even the rabbit hole-y ones with more determination? I’m a big culprit of this. I have ideas for cool shoots almost daily but rarely act on them because I fear that they won’t be well received, or I won’t be able to live up to the image I have in my head. I’m fearful to pursue the clients I really want because I’m afraid my work isn’t good enough yet. I’m afraid of taking the big risks. The risks that in reality, would probably set me up for success.
All too often we settle for the status quo. We stay in our safe lanes, and do the work that requires little or no risk. We play it safe and mimic our peers and regurgitate the same stuff over and over again because we’re afraid to make waves.
Sometimes, we’re even too debilitated by fear to pick up the phone. We sit and wait by the line and hope against hope that someone calls us.
So what’s the call to action here? Surely I have some life changing and inspiring advice to help you turn into a bullet proof, risk taking, fearless creative tidal wave, ready to take over the world with megalomaniacal force. Well, this isn’t one of those times. I don’t have a top five list or a step by step method. All I have for you is what I tell myself daily: Say yes, more.
I say no to almost everything that comes my way. It’s a bad habit of mine. Friends wanna go out to the bar? Nah. Cool new idea pops into my head for a shoot? Nope, I don’t have the time to pursue personal work. We have to stop doing this. Say yes, more. I’ve decided that I’m going to say yes to everything, EVERYTHING in my life for a week. I encourage you to do the same.
We all live with a certain amount of fear. It’s human, but I think it’s exacerbated by being a creative. We’re so tied to our work that we’re afraid to take risks, so we don’t damage ourselves. Lets agree to live fearlessly, say yes to more things, and take the risks we’re afraid to take. Lets kick some ass together, friends. None of us are bullet proof. Not one of us lives without doubt. We’re all in this together, and it’s up to us to encourage each other to become better, more capable artists. You are the only person holding you back.
Matthew is a commercial portrait photographer specializing in music/entertainment and editorial photography based in Nashville, Tennessee