“Human beings are made up of flesh and blood, and a miracle fiber called courage” – George Patton
A marathon is 26.2 miles. To some people that may sound horrifying, plodding along for that distance – why would anyone want to do that? To others, it is a challenge they deem worthy; an epic battle of mind, body and discipline. It is a challenge that from day one requires that steady and unbreakable miracle fiber – courage. What can running a marathon teach you about reaching your goals as a photographer?
26.2 miles of courage.
Success does not happen overnight. Whether you are in the midst of realizing your vision of becoming a successful photographer or reaching the finish line in a marathon, you must put in the behind-the-scenes work to get there.
Maybe you have a dream of putting your nine-to-five (and your boss) in the rearview mirror and making photography your full time job. Some of you might want to open your own gallery someday with your prints gleaming proudly upon the walls. Whatever your goal is, it is achievable. Believe that you can do anything, believe that whatever happens along the way that you will persevere. With that mentality, you will surely reach the finish line with your hands in the air and your head held high in victory.
In distance running, it is essential to break down big mileage numbers into more manageable pieces. It is easier to stomach ‘the next 2 miles’ versus trying to focus on the distant end goal (the finish line). Your road to success as a photographer must also be broken down into manageable goals and tasks. If you are trying to go full time, do not fixate solely on having to profit X amount before you can quit your current job; instead tell yourself that you are going to get your website tuned up, network as if you are full time and start increasing the amount of jobs that you are quoting and actually booking. That will build your base and prepare you for the rigors of the harder parts of the ‘race.’ Think of this period as your training. If you do not put in the training, when race day comes, your chances of success will be greatly diminished.
After some time, you have finished your training and you are ready to toe the line. It might be a scary moment, but most good things involve some fear. When the gun goes off, stick to your plan and don’t let what others are doing influence you at this point in the run. If the person next to you tears off at a screaming sprint, just relax and know that at some point they will fizzle (the running term is ‘bonk’). Run the pace you know you can sustain until the goal is met.
What does that mean? Don’t feel pressure to achieve all of your smaller goals right away; do not be pressured into spending significant amounts of cash on advertising and promotion. Now is the time to get into a rhythm and start ticking away the miles towards the big goal at the end of the road.
The message of the tortoise versus the hare does have a downside – if you move too slowly, your path to becoming a successful photographer will never have a chance to grow to a healthy point. If you stop at every aid station and sit down, you will be losing that time to your competitors and some goals will have to be restructured due to the time you may have wasted. Being a professional photographer is like distance running – it is not something you can dabble in, you do it or you do not.
Your competitors and colleagues are going the same place as you are; work with them. Now I am not suggesting that you give away trade secrets or spend large amounts of time helping them along the course (unless it is a mutually beneficial relationship). What you can do is accomplish what tired runners turn to in the latter stages of a marathon – feed off of other’s positive energy, ask directions from people that have been where you want to go, offer encouragement to an ailing competitor so when you need that same push it will be returned. Just make sure you choose the right group to run with. Your finishing time (and your entire race for that matter) could be in jeopardy if you are associating with negative people. When you are down and out, you are only as good as the people around you.
Whatever you do, don’t stop. Just. Keep. Going. I have had low points in both my professional photography career and my time running big distances. Know that at some point you will hit a bad patch. It is what you do at that moment, and how you handle that bad patch that will make you what you are. Also know that every bad patch you can push through will make the next one seem easier to manage; you have been here before and persevered. Maybe your phone stopped ringing, maybe you see your competition booking jobs and you start to doubt your current setup and start asking ‘are my prices too high?’
Fear and doubt are elements of risk and they are coming at you like a freight train. Meet them head on, with your feet firmly planted, steady and calm, knowing you have the courage to handle it. Whatever you do, just keep going. One foot in front of the other, take a deep breath and have a drink of Gatorade. One foot in front of the other, one small goal realized on your way to the big goal – success as a photographer.