She wasn’t happy with her pictures

“I’m a little disappointed,” she said.


I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The pictures were rock solid.

My friends concurred. My associates agreed. It was every bit a match for what I had shown when I met with the client.

But she wasn’t happy.


I was dazed. I was confused. For fuck’s sake, it was a hard, long day, and I pulled a rabbit out of a hat to make it all happen. I was a little bit angry, and a lot surprised, all leaving my head pulsing with a big, pounding “WTF?”

Then she explained.

“Well…it’s not that there was anything wrong. They’re beautiful. But it feels like you held back. You were shooting the way you used to, and we were expecting you to shoot the way we’ve seen you shoot now.”


She had me dead to rights. I could feel the pent up aggression bleeding out of my body.

It’s hard to fault someone for wanting you to be the most you possible.

The pictures were, in fact, quite good. But she was right. I had pulled my punches. If it was a beautiful set of shots, it was also risk-free.

The other day, I asked Ground Glass readers what the opposite of style was.

I asked, because there are two versions of you.

One lives a life of trust. A life of constant rebirth, fully in the now, open to all possibility. That version lives by purpose. The other lives a life of doubt. A life of formula and safety, where you chase a caricature of yourself. That version lives by style.

And the version you invest in is everything.

I received hundreds of replies to my question. There were no wrong answers. Style can be good. It can be bad. It depends on how you see it, and more, how you use it.

But at a cultural level a style is the death of birth.

It’s the moment the novel loses that skip in its step and becomes predictable. It’s when citing the VSCO filter is as important as talking about the shot. Or taking a picture in front of that plane in Iceland becomes a thing instead of a photograph.

It’s when the look becomes more powerful than the message, because the critical mass of similarity is obvious enough that our brains can just clump it together into its own bucket.

There was a time when small little people in the hills was surprising and fresh. Now, it’s part of a style. There was a time when the mere look from a Contax 645 was innovative. It, too, belongs to a style. Even hair blowing in the wind shot in that certain sort of way is most certainly a thing.

Before a style hits the scene, you have movement and innovation and departure. And this isn’t all to say that the opportunity is ever gone.

But you have to be willing to embrace the departure. To take ownership of yourself.

To. Be. You.

I got an email the other day from Thor asking about the tension between specializing and experimenting. In business they say there’s riches in niches. Specializing is everything. But how do you avoid creative death? How do you keep changing and growing, when people expect you to shoot what you’ve shown in the past?

The answer is purpose.

Make people hire you for your purpose and not your style.

There is no purpose without interpretation. It has to bubble up from inside of you.

Even though purpose itself might be constant, the results aways change. To be hired for purpose is to be hired for change. Purpose lives and breathes, while style is just its static byproduct.

And if you want to avoid a life of misery and grief, where you build the walls of your own prison, shooting the same damned shots over and over, don’t take the bait and confuse the two.

Make people hire you for the most valuable version of yourself.

It may take more savvy with your marketing and a couple shots of courage to get there, but when people hire you for purpose, you are irreplaceable. And, yeah, that means you get paid more, too.

Imagine the excitement of a client, waiting, waiting, and waiting, almost ready to burst, like it was Christmas morning, for the simple fact that you are you. Done right, me is the most potent of value propositions.

But it has to be done right.

If you want to see how to put purpose front and center and make people hire you for you, Want Engines is around the bend and coming in July. It sounds impossible, but it’s a whole lot easier than you’d think.

Stay tuned, and get access to the free preliminary course at:

—Spencer Lum

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