Hear No Evil

| November 15, 2013

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 of how to make a living in, or with, it. 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.

Outside the Box

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Category: All Posts, Featured, Thoughts and Musings

About the Author ()

Guy Tal is an author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau—a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.

Comments (19)

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  1. Richard Wong says:

    Inspirational words of wisdom, Guy. Your honesty is part of what makes your blog such a great read.

  2. Carl D says:

    Hey Guy

    Essentially, you came out of your closet. It’s all about this.


    And, I’ll add that even though what you’re both talking about is an intensely personal decision, and step to take, the encouragement and supports of others is every bit as important in this process as is their opposition to it. So your post is (again) an important one.

    Congrats to you and Sarah.



    PS: Your closing sentence is awesome man. Thank you.

  3. Guy, could agree more with your words. You have experienced an amazing journey that has lead to personal fulfillment. Many are less fortunate. Thank you for having the humility of recognizing this. Best Regards.

  4. Thanks for the inspirational words. You always find new ways of telling how I feel. You are one of the most inspirational photographers I know!

  5. Hi Guy: Another beautifully written piece. This is not merely advice for photographers or creative persons; it’s solid LIFE advice for everyone.

  6. I found your thoughts here inspirational as I often do when I read you. I am at that sort of crossroads you describe here and at the moment I’m trying to come to terms with the prospect of leaving behind the security of my monthly salary and take the plunge into the world of photography which is where I find true satisfaction and fulfilment.

  7. Wade Thorson says:

    Thanks for adding to the conversation, Guy. This essay really hits home with me. It goes further to answer the question I asked you in that bagel shop in Lone Pine. Should I transition to a creative life? Now to just step off the precipice.

  8. Mike Cavaroc says:

    Very well spoken, Guy. This is exactly what I went through and to certain extents, still going through. I can wholeheartedly agree with everything, especially including, succeed or fail, that I am the happiest I’ve ever been simply for trying.

  9. John Wall says:

    I’m one of those who still struggles with the balance, not really having what it takes to go pro, but not being in an entirely satisfying day job either. Trying to retain a harmonic balance takes a bit more work, a lot more acceptance of things as they are. I left a career (which even involved photography) where I often gnashed my teeth in anger as I drove to work in the morning, though, so at least there is some improvement!

  10. Guy, if I may, I’d like to respond to John’s comment.


    I am in the same boat, and, as difficult as it is at times, what helps me the most is knowing that I have a dream — a purpose that extends beyond even my own awareness, whereas the many that surround me during the daily routine most likely do not…for whatever reason. Or perhaps, as Guy mentioned, their dreams thrive within the walls of a conference room, whereas mine lie within the walls of a slot canyon, the silence of the mountain and the soft dance of the grasses. To each his own. The struggle for balance still exists, though, and, perhaps the knowledge that others face the same struggle can somehow bring renewed strength, tenacity and perseverance.

    I wish you well.


  11. John Wall says:

    Thanks, Jennifer. I like that faith element, the idea of a purpose you’re fulfilling without even knowing what it is. Good to know others are also struggling and still doing good work as the opportunities present themselves.

  12. Guy – thanks for the introspective view into your life and yearnings. I suspect your thoughts and advice hit home for quite for few people, including me. I enjoy what I do, thankfully, but still have struggled with the idea of going “full time”. I’m sure many of us struggle with that. It’s very refreshing to see someone such as yourself who shares the reality, anxiety, and real life fears that come with such a decision and leaves out the romanticism of the lifestyle. Thanks for opening up your life and sharing your thoughts.

  13. Awesome article Guy! This inspired a friend who sent it to me. GREAT! I sent you a Facebook message too.

  14. Ryan Wright says:

    Guy, thank you for your perspective. I greatly appreciate it.

  15. Daniel Ruf says:

    Well stated and very true for many. Thank you for your continual sharing of insights.

  16. Thank you for the insights, inspiration, and especially the challenge. I needed this.

  17. Bill Stice says:

    Guy, an inspiring and thoughtful article as usual. Your passion and your creativity show in your images. Thanks for the post.

  18. Late addition here, but for discussion and posterity:

    In thirteen years of freelance, I’ve faced good and bad years. I’ve faced angst and depression slogging hours at a computer in my own office, and the joy and wonder standing alone atop a mountain at sunrise. I never know where my next check is coming from. This is the way it is.

    Every so often, I think how nice it would be to have a regular paycheck again. Then I think about the commute. Then I think about ‘work’, and not doing something I can feel personally passionate about. Then I think about the commute. – Ya, it’s still a no-brainer. I’ll take the unknowns. It would have to take a pretty incredible opportunity to lure me back into that world. Then I think about the commute, and I wonder if that level of opportunity even exists.

    I think it’s fair to tell those who come to me asking advice what the realities are, but I always like to follow that up with, regardless of what the challenges are, if this is what you know you have to do, if this is your calling, your passion, your fuel, you have to listen to the voice. But a bit of reasonable forethought and planning certainly can’t hurt, but there will never be a “safe” time to jump, but as you found out, eventually there becomes a “right” time to jump.

  19. Thank you for putting it into words that hit home. I have been taking pictures since the the 70s but did not get serious about photography till I was diagnosed with cancer in my leg 10 years ago, which resulted with a surgery and use of crutches for rest of my life. I may say it was my life wake up call to do what I always loved, and it is to spend more time outdoors with my camera. Photography is still a hobby for me, but gets me out to explore and appreciate every day I am out there.

    Your work and words are always an inspiration.
    Take care,