Professions are like relationships. You run from one to the next in the vain hope that each new job will be the one. And maybe it will be. But maybe it won’t. Either way, you know the cycle. You begin with high hopes and a burst of energy – this time it’s for real – but as the air thins, your breath grows short, and your sprint slows to a jog then a walk, the doubts creep in. Because if there is one thing that every creative knows, it is that wanting to be something is wholly different from actually being that thing.
So let’s suppose you didn’t quite hit the head on the nail, and something is just off. Maybe you stick it out, maybe you don’t. Maybe you push through until you hit the next wall. Maybe you just can’t figure out your next move, so you settle into the life of the less green grass, as you wonder why everyone else seems to have found true love, when all you have is good enough. Or maybe the dam cracks, the water breaks through, and you find yourself awash, looking for another fresh start. Who doesn’t like to fall in love, after all? Whether your wandering eye takes you on that tangent to the promised land, or whether complacency and a mortgage keeps you put, it’s hard not to wonder sometimes what happened to all the love? Maybe the job wasn’t for you. Maybe it wasn’t the one. But maybe it’s the wrong question. If we can spend so much time in this life dedicated to the pursuit of loving what we do, why do we spend so little time dedicated to keeping that love alive?
We are mislead. Happiness doesn’t come when everything is easy. It is not when we make the most money, it is not when we get everything we want. A happy child isn’t the one with the most toys. It is the child who enjoys the toys the most. It is not more, more, more. It is about less, less, less. It is about having purpose, finding who we are, and feeling valuable in doing so. Happiness comes from unconditional actions. Actions of confidence and faith. Of process. We do them with hope and joy, not because they move us up the food chain. If you find yourself winded, here are some ways to bring the love back.
1. Get down to the nitty-gritty.
If you don’t sweat the small stuff, you’re not sweating enough. Steve Jobs replied to customers. At Zappos, everyone spends time doing customer service. Remember that good enough is death. Good enough is giving up. It’s short-changing yourself by never learning what great is. I’m all for getting things done, but there is getting it done, and there’s barely getting started. Don’t give up before things even get going. The fun kicks in when a $150 price difference matters to you. When 4 packages is better than 5 or vice-versa. Or when smiling when you pick up the phone counts. If these things don’t, then find out why they should. Get in deeper.
2. That means the nitty-gritty for pictures, too.
Try this out. Hold a pencil at arms length. Look at the pencil with one eye. Then look at it with your other eye. Switch back and forth and watch how the background changes in relation to the pencil. It bounces back and forth like a ping pong ball. What’s the distance between your eyes? A few inches? How often are you paying that much attention to the foreground and background at your weddings?
For most people, it’s not often enough. Every inch should matter. You should be crawling through space, trying to seize on the perfect confluence of timing and composition. Try this. Go out to your backyard, a local park, or a street corner. Find an arbitrary subject that interests you. Make it something that’s not moving. Take a shot. Now move your camera over a little, and see how the alignment changes. Take another shot. Angle your camera differently, and see how the shape and form changes. Play with the alignment of your subject, the background, and the form of everything. Make things overlap. Make them blend together. Keep them separate. Add more negative space. Use less. Now go back to Lightroom and pick which really matters to you. Then go back and do it again.
3. Expand your world
Find a place that inspires you. Take a walk there. Stop. Sit. Stare. Watch people. Stand. Feel your feet planted into the ground. Inhale. Stare at more people. Watch for the small things. The really small things. The way their arms move. Whether they walk fast or slow. Whether they walk gracefully or not. What it is that makes you think they’re walking gracefully in the first place? Bring a notepad. No camera this time. Write down your observations. You don’t need to go far and travel the world to expand it. Everything you find on a day to day basis is filled with infinite variation. Great pictures are anchored on these small observations. It will seem like magic. You’ll suddenly find you’re making shots that feel more alive, that express more, say more, and no one will know why. You will. Because you saw more by focusing on less.
4. Cut out the noise
Block out the emails. The iPhone. The iPad. Tune it all out, except for research. Don’t even answer the phone. Now start working on the thing you want to work on. The big thing on your list. The idea you kept shelving that you can never seem to get to. The revolutionary one that you know will change everything. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. But if you wait too long, it won’t be relevant any longer, and you’ll never find out. Or you’ll lose the momentum. Get it going now. Even if it’s not going to save you, you’ll learn from it. It will take you somewhere. Do it for at least 3 hours. Block it out on your calendar, so you don’t feel like there’s something else you need to go do. Have fun. Remember the feeling. This is what it’s like to be productive.
5. Make a decision
Find something you need to get done that scares you a little. Something you’ve been stalling on, because you’re afraid making the wrong call could lead to something bad. Make a decision. Commit to it. Making decisions carves out the person you are and the things you’re committed to. Decisions without trade-offs are valueless. You don’t want every path to take you to the same place. You want to go somewhere special. If all roads lead to Rome, you’re just following the herd. Make the call, commit to it, push through it, and see where it takes you. If the decision is so monumental you just can’t make the call, break it down into smaller steps.
Take the top 10 core tasks you need to get done. The initiatives that will really matter. Not the little 1-minute deals that you can get done by the end of the day. If you have more then 10, so be it. Write them down. Look them over. Now toss out all but three. 10 is too many. It will distract you and keep you from getting where you want to go. Remember? The nitty-gritty. The small stuff. 10 tasks done broadly and generally without strong decisions will never do as much for you as a few tasks done deeply and specifically. You can juggle a bunch of big things once they’re all going and moving on their own. If you’re falling out of love and stuck in a rut, then it’s not the time for that. Get focused.
7. Actually do it
I bet you read great advice all the time. Then you go back to work. Don’t. You’re not getting off that easy. Force yourself to use it. Try things out. Act. Action is movement, and when it comes down to it, that’s really everything. Doing is what counts.