September 30/2014

It’s Saturday morning.

Your stomach churns, your guts twist up in knots, and thoughts of what’s ahead pour into your mind. You stammer out of bed and screw up your courage, ready to put it all on the line.

weddingphotographylife

You’ve followed Accuweather all week, you’ve got Dark Sky loaded, and your bag pulls like a ton of bricks with more gear than Batman and more cards than Vegas, because you’re ready to roll if the shit hits the fan, and you know what’s coming down the pipes.

It’s hard, it’s bruising, it takes everything you’ve got.

And you surely do know what’s coming, because you’ve cut out swaths of your life just to think about every single thing that could go wrong each step of the way. So much so, it sifts into your dreams and drifts into your head in the middle your days like a bolt from the blue. From the focus that won’t hit to the camera that could die. From filling your card right as the bride steps into the aisle to a flash running out of juice as the first dance kicks into gear. And despite that, something new goes wrong. Every. Single. Time.

Aimee Mann said it right:

It’s not what you thought
When you first began it
You got what you want
Now you can hardly stand it, though
By now you know
It’s not going to stop
It’s not going to stop

Your world spins in perpetual motion, steady and ready on the outside, at the edge of control within, and in every moment of the day and every second that passes by, you’re forced to make the call. The information is a torrent, hitting your senses without a break. When’s the kiss happening? Are the place cards in place? And how much darker can it possibly get? A mom tells you not to miss this, your gut tells you not to miss that, and no matter what you decide and where you point and shoot, there will always be more to think about, more to consider, and more you’ll miss than you can possibly get.

It’s true. It doesn’t stop. But if you’re in it and at it, you have to decide whether you’re really going to do it, because there are only two ways out. Either quit early and cut your losses, or you make your way through to the other side. Just don’t stand in the middle of the road, where traffic will plow you down.

And it’s not just the shot that’s on the line, but your reputation, your livelihood, and every ounce of integrity you have. And integrity is no exaggeration, because it can bleed out faster than you can ask a bridal party to jump in the air.

Who are you, what do you say, and where are going? There’s nothing but nothing that won’t define who you are, as you constantly search the depths of your soul. Are you going to play it safe? Are you going all out? There’s every reason not to do anything and no reason not to do everything. It’s all in your hands.

It’s the middle of the road where you sell yourself short. The middle of the road, where you can’t do more than fight to survive. And there’s nothing wrong with survival, but you’re built for more than taking the hits. When you find what you have to say, every moment is an opportunity, and every act is a chance for self-expression.

Every weekend you pit you against you against you in a match to the death, and only one person makes it out of the ring. It’s a high wire act with an empty stomach, a full head, and a once in a lifetime day every single week, where only one missed shot can send you into a tailspin.

This is a world where everything’s a pitch. Five tips for this. Ten ways to do that. A single secret to conquer them all. You’ll learn how to spend more time avoiding work than doing it, which is the surest way never to get anything done, because the more you run, the more you feel the hurt, and the more you feel the hurt, the more you run. You create a cycle of detachment that exchanges the brilliance and clarity of the possible for a duller, more lifeless version of the now. Temptation will tell you to check your vision at the door for the promise of heaps of cash and unending ease, but muting your voice so you can just suck up the pain is too much to give. 

And it only gets harder when the week comes along. After 8 hours of standing and ten miles of walking, your feet are a wreck, your body is in shambles, and you still have the rest of your business to run. A slave to little, red notifications and emails received, you have blogs to follow, people to read, and the unending keep of your manicured digital front.

It’s never what you thought. It’s never what you’d hoped. Like love, reality is at its best and fullest when you take it for all that it is. It’s at its worst, when you can only wish it were something else. It’s never what anyone thinks, and that’s the beauty of it all. Only when you feel the texture of your life for good and for bad do you see how far you can go.

You blow through a day and get nothing done. A week passes by, and you forget what took place. You clean out your gear and sync up your clocks. You sort, you tone, and Friday comes around. You sneak out for some drinks, but you know just what’s in store. You pull out your phone and take a peek at the weather, and you brace yourself, so you can do it again.

Do it different. Do it fully. Dive right into the heart of it all, living and breathing every part of your life. Don’t focus on making more and doing less. Don’t think about just making it through. Steer into the skid, learn to love, and learn to find. Take problems out, leaving them down for the count, and don’t look for the answers you need. Answers curtail your options and limit your channels. Ask better questions, instead. Questions explode the possible, making the static, alive. If you’re chasing the dragon, the true high is never going to hit, but when you see the unlimited, you touch your purpose and feel your worth. Fun and fulfillment are the byproducts of a life fully lived. Live it all wholly and fully, and your Saturdays will never be the same.

 

September 09/2014

Man, that is one bad thumbnail. I’m not sure if I look more like I’m about to sneeze or pass out, but check out the video below to get past that thing, and find out my favorite sales technique. It’s dirt simple. It comes up time and again. And you can use it almost anytime someone asks you a question, no matter how hard the question is. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

When it comes down to it, great sales doesn’t mean selling well. It’s connecting, and the best way to connect is questions, questions, and more questions. What sales techniques have worked for you? Share your experiences in the comments below.

 

September 01/2014

I love beginnings. Shiny and new and oh-so-enticing, before an edge frays or the varnish peels, beginnings offer the promise of the perfect. And while old can have its own special charm – a well-worn, comforting companion with the battle scars of achievements hard-earned, how often do we really get there? How often do we stick it out and push past all the starts, through the hard and the hurt and finally make it to the other side?

koolaid

My life is closet packed with dreams that never came and hopes that didn’t happen. Brush aside the cobwebs, blow off the dust, and you’ll find this business here, that career there. A rebrand for a rebrand that never took hold, a world forever 3 simple steps away from success. Potent and seductive, chasing the chase, I inhabit a world of constant beginnings.

But this is the question we have to ask: Are you getting it done? Or are you just surfing the Kool Aid?

We think of disillusionment as a loss. Crestfallen from our once great heights, we hit the skids, as we pick up the pieces and come to terms with a life that ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

This is a world that loves the Kool Aid. That feeling of endless power and infinite hope that comes at the cusp of the possible right before you step into the soup. It feels so good. Why would you want to ruin it with reality? Sometimes, it’s easier to live in the dream than to live the dream.

But dreams end and reality doesn’t, and if you care to make good on all the promises you make to yourself, you’ve gotta take the dive and plow headlong into the real, because infinity lives in the the belly of the beast.

After all, isn’t disillusionment what we really want?

In the simplest sense, it’s not betrayal or burnout or the end of the road. It’s the moment the air clears and the illusion lifts. But the exact meaning of disillusionment is being free of illusion, so it’s also the moment you can truly see what’s really been in front of your eyes all along, and if at that point, you want the dream and you want the blue pill and you want to go back, the problem isn’t the loss of the dream. It’s that you had the wrong dream to start.

As Steven Pressfield would say, artists do the work. It’s not the hope that fills the void. It’s doing. It’s getting down and dirty, wrapping your hands around your life, and racking your brain each and every step of the way. It’s clarity and making it past the courtship, and keeping at it until the dream is gone, reality is there, and it is better than your dream. Not so much that dreams must die, but that to live, they must become more.

Photography isn’t going to make your problems go away. Business won’t. Neither will a new USB drive with a custom logo, a new website, or the right film filter. In fact, most things create as many problems as they solve. But they’re also an opportunity to do the best thing the world is going to give you. To feel the texture of your life, to engage with your true potential, and to find open doors you never saw. Don’t run away from these things. See how far you can go.

I love the getting and the going, and I love fresh new starts. But you can only hop from hope to hope so many times. You can only go so far on borrowed promises and the illusions we let ourselves believe in the face of the new. At some point, you need to break out, and instead of looking for the next big thing, learn to love the small things along the way. Because as wonderful as beginnings are, nothing beats being in the middle of it all.

 

August 25/2014
The Jackpot Economy by Spencer Lum
5

I’ve had days where getting out of bed was its own special challenge. Where nothing sounded better than hiding under the covers, paralyzed by a fear of failure that wouldn’t let go, and the only way I could cope was not to cope at all. I’d  let the time pass, until darkness came, another day gone. And so often, I’d furrow deep into my mind and wonder where it all went. Where the hope went. Where the certainty went. What happened to the me of yesterday? 

jackpot

It used to be you had security. Drinks at lunch, a bar in the office, and a 9-to-5 job with a career ahead. You paid your dues, you got in, and you rode the slipstream right into your sunny retirement with the gold watch and Mai Tais on the beach. But those are days long gone in a new economy that’s becoming well worn.

Now we’ve got the age of reinvention. A carrot on a stick and a constant chase. You go at it. You go hard. If you don’t make it, you take a breath, and do it all over again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. And if you do make it? You ride it, then you take a breath, and you do it all over again. Whatever you do, you can’t coast. Not now. Not when it’s only you. Not when constant concern and an endless fight defines the day. Go big or go home has never been more true. As Andrew Ross says in Nice Work if You Can Get It, it’s a Jackpot Economy.

Uncertainty is the new normal, and braving it is more than just brave. It’s essential and necessary, and as gutsy it gets – risking failure for every small success. Something works, so what? The slipstream is gone, so all you can do is double down and go on.

But here’s something to think about. In the face of this constant reinvention, where you up the stakes every single step of the way – where even retreat offers barely a pause and hardly a rest – consider this:

Harvard Psychologist Daniel Gilbert found lottery winners returned back to previous levels of happiness after only 3 years. We simply adjust. Which we all know, because you get something new – the fast new computer, the shiny car, or the big contract – and it takes no time at all before the dissatisfaction returns, and we’re right back at it, looking to the next thing.

But if it’s true that we adjust no matter what happens, because that’s how we are, then here’s the corollary: when you lose something, you’ll normalize too. Your body takes care of itself. It feels like you’re risking the world every time you take a step forward. And maybe it’s always been that way, but the tension has been ratcheted up more than a few notches as we live at the speed of data. But know if you slip and fall, you’ll bounce back just the same. Which Daniel Gilbert also confirmed. Like lottery winners, amputees returned to their normal level of happiness, as well.

For all the glory of living your way, there’s also a gnawing fear when so much is on the line. Even the smallest of things can feel monumental. So much so that it can be easier to cradle yourself tight and let the time pass than to take the risk and make the wrong call. It may seem like there’s more skin in the game now than ever, but if a win is only going to last so long, a loss is just part of equation, and we always bounce back to where we were and who we are, then in reality going big never cost less. So let go of the worry. Let go of the drag on your wings that keep you from flight. Once you do that, you’ll find the hope. You’ll find yourself. And you’ll find tomorrow.

 

August 22/2014

Frames are highly undervalued things. Subservient to the art and often unnoticed in function, they’re rarely prized as possessions nor desired as ends, and yet, they are everything. So powerful is the frame, that very often, it and it alone is all a viewer need see to feel the value. A frame defines the experience, and that’s the secret to running a business.

frame

For example, you could break the bank on an original Eggleston and thumb tack it to the wall, or you could buy a print off the street for twenty and some change then find the best frame you could get for a fraction of a fraction of the Eggleston. Put both up for sale to the average person (and I can assure you the average person has no idea who Eggleston is), and what do you think is going to sell for more?

If your cash flow is faltering, and you’re not hitting your marks, before you look at your pictures, look at your business, and know that business is the frame. Now keep in mind that there are frames of all stripes. They’re not just rectangles bounding images. Frames are spaces and words and colors and clothing. Anything that creates the experience that surrounds your product. It’s the place you choose to meet, the way you show your pictures, and even the tone of your voice. It is everything, and understanding this is the first step to making business work. Business is not about the product alone. The very job of a business is to create value.

That means the question is not whether you’re taking the pictures you need to take, which is not to say they don’t matter. They do. As your product, they influence every single thing you do including building your frame. But at the end of the day, the real question is whether you are making people react.

Are you making people want you?

Business is a lot like flirtation, in that sense. It may not be the essence of who you are, but it sure can be enticing.

It’s often been said that it’s all about educating your client. And this isn’t to say that education doesn’t matter. But, rather, that it’s only half the battle. Not so much a matter of whether you educate, but how you choose to do so. Not so much a matter of making people think you’re good, but feel it without a conscious thought. Quality should be exciting and intuitive.

How important is framing? Along with the vast amounts of studies out there showing how effectively price can be manipulated by the smallest of factors (here’s my take on the deadliest pricing assumption), here’s another great example:

Jennifer Aaker and Cassie Mogilner set up a lemonade stand using two 6-year olds to sell the lemonade. Customers could purchase the lemonade for any price they wanted from $1-3. They tested three different signs saying the following:

  1. Spend a little time and enjoy C&D’s lemonade”
  2. “Spend a little money and enjoy C&D’s lemonade”
  3. “Enjoy C&D’s lemonade”

As it turns out, making people think about time is far more appealing than thinking about money – which isn’t all too surprising. What might be more surprising is how much it mattered. The sign stressing time beat the others by bringing in both twice as many people and twice as much per lemonade.

In a second study, students in college were asked how much money they spent on their iPad and how much time they spend on their iPad. Students who were asked about time had far more favorable opinions about their iPads. When it comes to value, talk of time trumps talk of money. But more importantly, the point is the opportunities to adjust your framing are vast. The small things count.

If that’s not revealing enough, in an A/B test for a web page on unbounce.com, simply changing “Start your free 30 day trial” to “Start my free 30 day trial” increased click-through rates 90%. Yes. 90% for one word.

Which is all to say, we are tremendously influenced by very minor things that operate at subconscious levels. Levels beyond education and beyond the photography itself. That’s the differentiation you’re looking for. As creators, it is often too easy to find ourselves investing our time in the creation of the images, on the posts to show them off, and on the distribution of those pictures in general. But as business owners, it needs to be our job not just to create the work and have it seen, but to have it seen in the right light through the right experience.

Business must elevate the value of your art. And if you don’t take that job as seriously as the art itself, you leave your livelihood to chance. Are you creating value in the art you produce? Are you teasing the most out of all the elements that signal to people who you are and finding ways to hit triggers that others aren’t? If not, then it’s time to start building a better frame.

If you’ve been rebuilding your business, I’d love to hear about what sort of framing devices have worked for you. Add a comment, and share what you’ve found! And don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter. Just scroll up and fill out the box to the right.

 

August 12/2014
Goodbye Robin Williams by Spencer Lum

It happens again and again. People hit the top, and when they fall, they fall so hard. It shocks us and rocks us. This world deifies the stars. We think they’ve got it made, and every time, it takes us by surprise. No matter how many times the story is told, we figure if we can climb the mountain, the problems will fade.

robinwilliams

Robin Williams hit the summit, but you figure he was hurting pretty bad in the end. The pain is part of being human. Harder for some, better for others, but fame and fortune don’t make it go away.

You can’t spend all your time on the chase. There’s so much to love. There’s so much around. But it’s not fuel for the future. It’s not about the one last job or the big payoff. It’s seeing the now. I mean, isn’t that our job? Not to build the portfolio or get the big feature, but to immerse ourselves fully in the present?

It’s so easy to forget. You snap right back to the idea you can buy your way through. That’s why it’s always a shock when people who get to the top give up the fight. “They had it all!” But we know better. Success might be around the bend, but joy is either in the now or in the never. It sure isn’t in the money or the fame or the name.

Truth be told, Robin Williams never fully registered with me. I loved Dead Poets Society – I’m gushy at heart, and it gets me every time. I liked Good Morning Vietnam and Good Will Hunting, but the comedy – I could never quite lock onto it. But what’s it matter? He vibrated his way through life at double the speed doing it his way. I respected that, and I love that he did. There was a warmth to his soul and a comfort in his presence. He brought so much laughter to the world. There was just something about him that felt so personal.

He lived the lesson he left as Mr. Keating. Our power lies in ourselves. You can’t escape being human, but you can be you. That’s all we can ask. And it’s all we need to give.

O Captain! my Captain! Our fearful trip is done.

I’ll miss ya, Robin.

 

August 08/2014
Finding Your Limits by Spencer Lum
5

A lot’s been said of comfort and resistance and struggle and hardship. It’s a simple point, but a big one – if you want to make it, you have to risk failure. You have to pass through uncertainty and come out the other side. Only when you embrace failure do you embrace hope.

nolimits

Uncertainty is not the enemy. It’s nothing more than not knowing. A mandatory point of departure for every new journey. And aren’t new journeys what it’s all for?

It goes something like this. We know safe. We know the feeling of comfort when something is within bounds. But life tests us. Constantly. There’s the photo you don’t know if you want to post. There’s the the sales pitch you were afraid to try. And those hands. What are your couples supposed to do with those damned, gangly appendages of theirs?

So let’s take posing as our example. Maybe you’re not sure what to do, and there are so many ways those hands can go wrong. So you tell your couple to put them exactly where you know they should be. Maybe wrapped around one another. Maybe resting on a groom’s chest or around a waist. And in doing so, you quell all the voices of fear, knowing you won’t go wrong.

That’s too much to give up.

Every time you choose not to cross a boundary, every time you stay with the familiar and fear the strange, you draw a line in the sand, telling your body: This place, I will not go. And like a child told where not to go, the more often you enforce these boundaries, the more power you give to the fear you feel. So the greatest of ironies is that only when you’ve had the most experience, can you feel the most fear. In other words, the time at which you’re the most capable and you should fear the least is the time we often fear the most.

Of course, we don’t call it that. By that time, our minds sift through it, and we justify our fears as beliefs or rules. See, beliefs grow around patterns, and when we stop, we create beliefs telling us to stop, and when we go, we create beliefs telling us to go. Either you come to believe you are limited or limitless. How much do you want to let fear matter?

Let’s go back to the portrait. The portrait is always about that delicate balance between the familiar and the strange. In fact, what isn’t about that balance? The familiar gives us comfort and resonance, while the strange defines individuality and creates excitement.

So you have that hand, a little twisted, not quite like you’ve ever seen it before. Maybe it’s floating. Maybe it’s sitting somewhere just a little different. Maybe it’s tense instead of relaxed. You just don’t know what to make of it. Use it. Play with it. Take it further and embrace the possibility. This is a point of departure. This is where the magic is. When you let it take you somewhere, you let yourself grow.

Uncertainty is the heart of exploration and growth. That we can feel it is a blessing. That our body can so finely sense when we have stepped to the edges of our craft and the borders of our selves, means we can always shape who we are and know when we have the potential to be more. What greater a gift could there be?

July 07/2014
Living the Better Life by Spencer Lum
12

It was good. Too good, in fact.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. How had he done this? The year was 1999. It was a time before there was Facebook and Twitter. Before there were apps and smartphones. The Internet was new, and I was a web designer. I had been fighting the fight, pushing with no relent, no give, year on year, day on day, and I was sure as sure that I had arrived. Big things were coming. Then came this. This thing. This site – years ahead of its time. In that instant I knew everything would change forever. And I would be on the sidelines.

I could feel the well of inferiority pooling in my gut. Knowing I was less. Feeling I couldn’t be more. I hated the hurt. That feeling when you see something not just better than you, but beyond you. Beyond your knowledge and beyond your talent. Beyond your vision. As if someone operated on another level. As if they lived in a world that moved at one quarter the speed, absorbing everything in Matrix time, so much fuller, so much richer, so much deeper.

For so long, so often, that feeling has defined my life. I’ve worn it, sometimes in shame, sometimes in defiance. Always gnawing at my gut, as I trudged step by step, hoping I was more.

And I’m here to say, it doesn’t matter.

Ignore better and worse. Superior and inferior. Don’t play that game.

Because that type of better misframes the challenge and misses the point. It leads you down a path of rights and wrongs. Full of this is good and that is bad, and this is how it’s done. What you want is exploration and freedom. What you get are rules.

It’s a prison with four walls that kills creativity and limits vision. The whole point of life is to figure it out for yourself. To love the challenge and live in the process. It can’t flourish in the light of others. Comparison is the surest path to bitterness and grief. Explore. See your power. See what you can do. Success is not being better than everyone else. It’s finding you.

When you frame your value in the context of others, you place yourself on their roads in their journeys. But the problem is you’ll never see the whole puzzle. You’ll never hear about their failures and hardships – the challenges they overcame to become who they were. You will only know their successes. You will only witness their best. It will give you none of their insights, but it will leave you empty and miserable, drained of the very energy you need to live like you.

So, sure, go ahead and enjoy what others can do. Be inspired. Let them move you. But remember, learning from others is one thing. Chasing them is another, and when your gut churns, and you feel you have less, do less, or are less, let it go. Because it’s the surest sign you’ve checked out of your life to go after someone else’s.

May 14/2014
How we kill creativity by Spencer Lum
3

Get over yourself.

Seriously.

Just let go.

You don’t know it, but that self is stopping you dead in your tracks. That self is the past. It can tell you what to do, but it can’t tell you where you need to go. In fact, when it counts the most, it’ll do the opposite, and it’s killing you.

creativity

It’s a little like this: You’re driving. You have your GPS all set and the coordinates locked in. But you have a change of heart, and you decide to take a detour. Your poor GPS doesn’t have a clue. It just keeps saying you’re off course. And the more it does, the more tense you feel. The more messages you hear, the more you worry, the more you doubt. Maybe you even start to think you are going the wrong way. And there lies the problem.

We all have our inner-GPS. And it’s great most of the time. It’s the instinct we acquire from a lifetime of experience. It keeps us safe, and it keeps us on track. But it’s built by the past, and it will never know when there’s a new you. A you who’s ready to push in different directions to find different things. In short, it doesn’t know about the detours. Yet the detours define us. When you go off the beaten path, it will just keep telling you to get back on track, and for awhile, the more you veer, the more it nags. If you listen to it, know that you’ll be navigating by a you of yesterday, and sometimes, a you from a very distant yesterday.

See, the GPS is loaded with all sorts of destinations. Notions of who we are and what we’re supposed to do. Maybe we never got over the idea that a certain career was right for us. Maybe we thought there was a best way to talk to people. And in the heat of the moment with the shot on the line, it’s sure not going to know that some new and different pose in this new and different light is the one you really want to go for.

Of course, your GPS isn’t to blame. It was designed for different times. Times when eating the wrong berry could kill you, or taking the wrong path would leave you short an appendage. It’s conservative for good reason.

But this is a bubble-wrapped world. We’re insulated from everything, and we can bounce back from a whole lot more than we think. You post the wrong post. So what? You get a mediocre review. So what? What’s really going to happen? Not to say that it won’t hurt, but at the time these things happen, it feels like you’ve just RUINED. YOUR. LIFE.

In other words, we fear pain more than we feel the potential.

Don’t listen to the fear. The fact is you change every day. You have new needs, you have new desires, and you just plain grow. But your mind and body take some time to catch up. Your GPS holds on to the old directives, and it takes the full force of all the will you’ve got to send the message that this new place you’re heading is exactly where you want to go.

Don’t stop.

We start all things free. Full of ideas. Full of purpose. To be sure, tangled and blurred and ever just so hidden, but it’s there. We lose this along the way as we find success. Once we make things work and the patterns become apparent, our bodies hard-code the recipe into a user manual for living, when, in reality, there can never be a user manual for living.

As this happens, we go from a state of freedom to a state of constriction, which is utterly backwards. After all, shouldn’t learning free us?

And it can, if you stay open and aware.

Success can be so much worse than failure. Failure hurts, but it pushes us to keep exploring. Success, on the other hand, limits us. It tells us to keep doing the same.

It’s all that damn stuff. Literal. Metaphorical. You know – baggage. Once you have something, you fear the loss, which is why nothing is more perilous than early success.

See, once you are something – once you earn something, deserve it, have it and need it, letting go is hell. We’re all a bunch of pack rats, when it comes down to it, but it’s not just about keeping this or that, which is hard enough. What we really cling to is ego, and losing that is most painful thing of all.

So we stay the course and re-tread familiar ground. We let creativity die.

Don’t.

You live by the fear or you live by the potential. When you know whatever you do this second is all you are, you know you can be anything. When you know today is what matters there’s no ego to feed. But more than anything, when you turn off the GPS, you get over yourself in the most glorious way possible. You live free of definition and free of restraint.

And that’s the detour you want to take.

 

March 17/2014
The End of the Rockstar by Spencer Lum
11

It’s official. The rockstar is dead.

Dead, gone, and six feet under.

But if the patina has worn thin and we’ve been rubbed a little raw, now that our unvarnished lives are out there for everyone to see, what becomes all too apparent is the single burning question we have yet to answer. What next?

endrockstar

The rockstar was nothing but the worst in us all. Hope hemorrhaging on dreams of quick money and good times in exchange for the belief we could all be the next big thing if we just learned to wash, rinse, and repeat.

We killed the rockstar, but wash, rinse, and repeat is exactly what we have left.

There are more tips, more tricks, more advice, and more more than ever before. We’re awash in knowledge. Search brand. Search SEO. Search marketing. Search sales. It’s all there. By this point, if you’re not finding it, you’re not looking.

But no amount of information is going to do the trick.

The industry is running scared. Bodies crowded, flesh to flesh, mouths open, gasping for air. And we wait. Counting the inquiries. Waiting for revelation. We dangle on the hook ready for the next shot of adrenaline to keep us going. Just get a little more knowledge, a little more cash, and we can keep the raft afloat until we hit solid ground.

It’s not enough. The downgrade from an economy of hope to an economy of survival may be a correction, but it’s not a cure. Because all the information in the world will do nothing for us, if we have nothing to use it for.

We chased our dreams. We followed the bill of goods we were sold. Find your passion. Find the thing you love. Make that your life’s work. And we found something we loved, but we have been let down. Because what no one told us was how to keep that passion alive.

The truest problem in the age of the rockstar had nothing to do with broken promises and unfulfilled dreams. Like the day after any party, the real disappointment comes when we wake up in the cold morning light with the hangover pounding, and the emptiness is still there when we ask “What’s next?”

So often, it’s the very reason we started taking pictures. To quell the nagging voice in the back of our heads, asking if there was more, asking what was next, and wondering who we were. Photography was the answer. The thing that set us free and let us be, in this world, as part of it, with purpose and power and feeling.

But as the days grew longer, and the nights got harder, we were slammed into the wall. We can run our hardest, but we can never catch up, because what’s next is always an arm’s length away. It’s always out of reach. It’s the carrot in front of the stick, and it’s never going to be here in the now, when the here and now is the only thing we ever have.

It’s a question we can never answer.

But we can stop asking.

These are hard times to be sure. But the choice is always the same. You can put full faith in the present or you can let the doubt swallow you whole, because when you wait for the money and the likes, and dwell in the tension and fear, you diminish your power and bypass all the potential of the now to build a hollower, emptier future.

Committing to the moment lets you find the future you need and forget the future you want. Do what matters. Reconnect with the stories you need to tell. Start writing the unwritten tomorrow.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Look. Act.

Now, I’m not saying business doesn’t matter. But Duke Ellington had it right: It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Do not create a business that pits you against yourself. Our security against our freedom. Our ego against our creativity. Don’t let your vision detach itself from your destination. The question isn’t how to get it done. It’s how to get it done your way.

It’s fully true that you don’t need to take great pictures to make a great living, but it’s so often said, and we’re too often mislead, because when you connect the dots and relentlessly stuff your products so full of your vision that they’re ready to burst at the seams, you’re worth your very most.

The trick is so deceptively simple. What’s true is selling only the quality of your images is a perilous proposition. But what’s too often left out is that the dedication to delivering your very best – all of the exploration, the toil, the craft, and the art – these are the most powerful weapons in your arsenal to build the exact story people will hire you for.

The world craves the real, but it’s a story you can’t fake to make. You’ve gotta hit the ground hard, keep on the move, and push your way through. True grit is the stuff of real legend, and skipping it is the surest way to find yourself back at the end of the party, wondering what’s next. So if your very best doesn’t matter to your business, change things up and make it so, or else you’re wasting the very power of the stories you have.

We’re blessed with a task that asks us to dwell in the present. You can’t engage in the act of photography without some vision, some direction, and some place you’re trying to go. We don’t always know what it is. We don’t always know how to get there. But don’t lose faith before you arrive. Dive headlong. Find your verve. Find your vector. Find your little corner in the universe, and build from there.

Are you moving forward with heart and dedication? Are you living boldly? If you can just see the movement, that’s enough. Because once you lock-on to even the smallest sliver of that person you are, you’ll never need to think about washing, rinsing, or repeating ever again.