We remember the first time we held cameras in our hands and had clients on the other end. Do you? The exhilaration of it. The sheer terror of it. The I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing of it. The I’m-scared-out-of-my-mind-but-putting-on-a-brave-face of it. It’s not easy what we do. It’s the beaten path for sure. And if there’s one thing we’ve maintained from the beginning, it’s that no one — no one — comes out of the womb as a photographer. Yet, when we waded into these waters years ago, we assumed everyone else did. We’d see other photographers at all different stages of business and think, That’ll never be us! because their success seemed like a birthright instead of what is was: a labor of love. And, of course, like we all do, we let comparison steal our joy. We’d purchase a new lens… and then feel jealous of the photographer we followed who had one more. We’d hear others talk about how many weddings they’d shot the previous season… when we’d only booked a few. We’d finish a session knowing we’d done our best work yet, only to get home, open our laptops, look at someone else’s blog, and see how far we still had to go.
We let comparison steal our joy. We allowed someone else’s tenth year in business make our first year feel small. And, if we’re all being honest with each other, we all still do. We spend too much time comparing our beginning to someone else’s middle, our middle to someone else’s end, or our middle to someone else’s beginning — and we shouldn’t — because apples aren’t oranges and oranges aren’t apples, and the minute we start comparing ourselves to others is the moment we stop celebrating both of us. Isn’t that so true? Let’s use the people ahead of us as lighthouses so we don’t hit the same rocks they did, and as horizons so we know the direction of our course, while always remembering that neither are the finish line. Because there isn’t a finish line, because growth never stops. It never ends. It’s never finished. You’ve never “made it” because there’s not a final destination. “Made it” is just a mirage. We’re all in a constant season of refining.
In the classroom, we never measured one student against another. How could we? Each child walked into our classroom as a unique individual with a distinct set of life experiences and circumstances (some within their control, but most outside of their control) that made them who they were in that moment. The best thing we could do, for them — and for us — was to measure their success based on their growth from the beginning of the school year to the end, taking into consideration their capabilities, obstacles, and life challenges (or even life advantages).
As adults, looking at children, that makes sense. We know that. It’s easy to understand. So why don’t we believe that the same idea applies to adults. To photographers. To us. The single mom’s not in the same position as the husband and wife team without kids, right? We can all agree on that. There are thousands of other factors that affect where you are and what you’ve done up until this moment in your life, and although those shouldn’t be used as excuses or crutches to avoid the hustle it takes to make it in this business (because it takes hustle… a lot of it), give yourself permission to use them to celebrate what you have achieved… and what you still can. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned in this business, in any business, (heck!) in life, it’s that there’s not a finite amount of compliments, happiness or encouragement in this world. There’s an unlimited amount, and it’s ours for the taking. But as important as it is for us to take some for ourselves, it’s more potent and powerful when we share it with others.
So, we’ve got a challenge for you today, friends, whether you’re a photographer or not, and here it is: choose two people, one who’s where you were and one who’s where you want to be, and send them an encouraging message. You never know how much it could mean. And, while you’re at it, go back to your first ever shoot and spend a few minutes looking at your first images. Feel proud of how far you’ve come, but never forget how your felt then, because someone who’s there now might need you to be their lighthouse to guide them to where you are today. Cheers to you and cheers to joy!
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