But one day the “why” arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement. – Albert Camus
I learned some time ago the benefit of accepting disagreement and not engaging in futile debates. When the dark clouds of rancor and animosity threaten on the horizon, all I need to do is to remind myself of the words of George Herbert: “Living well is the best revenge.” I go outside; I go to places that inspire me and feed my soul, where I can be whole and content, independent of the mass of humanity; I engage in creative work; I gaze into the astounding depths of the universe on a dark night; I listen to coyotes and ravens and the crackling of coals; I breathe the perfume of sagebrush and pine and juniper smoke; I watch as feats of light and land transform and dazzle before my eyes. Meaningless banter on a random web site, if it even enters my thoughts, becomes insignificant and inconsequential, as do those that propagate it. But this time I’ll make an exception because the topic at hand is exactly the reason I’m able to have these experiences. I do this for a living.
It is by no means a glamorous living, nor a lucrative one. At times it is a source of much anxiety and doubt. It required sacrifices and adaptation. But most importantly – it is possible. And the reason I write about it is exactly because so many pundits proclaiming (or pretending) to be “pros” are in the habit of going out of their way to dissuade others from attempting it. Whether it’s outright saying you shouldn’t, or the constant whining about office work and lack of time and changing business models and too much travel … enough already.
Don’t look to me for any great business insights. Success in such matters, however you define it, is as much about skill and temperament as it is about dumb luck. But, if you are willing to take the risks and acknowledge that failure is a real possibility, consider what is truly at stake: the value of a life – your life; the greatest gift you will ever be given. Are you really prepared to wake up one day, when it is too late, and admit that you gave up your dream, that you lived an unsatisfying life, that you could have been, if only … because of something you read online, written by someone you know little about?
I struggled with the decision to “go pro” for a long time. I spent years in offices and cubicles, yearning to be elsewhere. For decades I made a good living, lived a comfortable life, and patted myself on the shoulder for having accomplished the fabled American Dream. But, I was not happy. I was not fulfilled. I did not feel like I was living my life to its fullest. It made me bitter and angry. It took a toll on my health and my relationships. Like many others, I’m sure, I found myself struggling with the question of whether the celebrated career-driven urban lifestyle was really all that there was to aspire to. And, having realized the answer, I could no longer pretend to not know what it was, or that it did not matter.
There came a point when I could no longer reconcile my most fundamental notions about what makes a life worth living with the actual life I was living. I could no longer be one person in theory and another in practice. I could no longer be one person in my “off” time and another person in my professional endeavors. I could no longer be the person secretly admiring others for doing the things I wanted to do and being the things I wanted to be, rather than doing and being them myself. I had to at least try. Either that or give up hope. The scale tipped when I realized that the latter was a far more terrifying prospect than the former.
Looking back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made, though I went into it knowing it could just as easily have been the wrong one. But that’s the thing about meaningful accomplishment: you roll the dice and you accept the risk and you go into it prepared to pick up the pieces and move on if you fail. It’s not for everyone and it’s not easy, but if you believe you have what it takes and you acknowledge the risk, and you see yourself spiraling deeper into despair at the thought of not accomplishing it, it’s likely that the regret of not trying will ultimately be worse than failure.
This is not to say that photography is the one thing that can inspire such contentment, far from it. Many do find their calling in careers, in raising families, in political activism or any number of other avenues. The point is that if you want something – anything – badly enough that it hurts, and you know that accomplishing it will enrich your life beyond anything else you may do, and give your life meaning and pride and contentment, don’t delegate the decision to anyone else.
Photography as a business has changed considerably in recent years. Old models may no longer be possible. If you want to make a living in it, you have to be creative not only in your photographic work but in coming up with novel ideas. I say this with the humility of someone who still wonders about the long-term prospects of being in this business, and the knowledge that I could not have done it without the unwavering support of my wonderful wife. But, even if it all ends today, it would still have been the right call and one of the most transformational experiences of my life. It has altered me in ways I could not have predicted and has made me a better person.
So, don’t listen to the naysayers. Consider your own situation, factor your own risks, prioritize what is truly valuable to you and your own aspirations, and whatever you do, be at peace with yourself and your choices.
I started with a quote from Camus, whose philosophy I admire, and I will end with another, in honor of the recent 100th anniversary of his birthday:
But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?
I’m the happiest person I know.