Today I’m turning 30, and I’m really happy and proud that at this milestone I’ve reached a point where I can celebrate achieving two major dreams: 1, I earn my entire living through photo and video work. And 2, I finally have a studio space to call my own! So while I’m certainly not the biggest of the big shots out there, I feel very lucky to be where I am now. On my journey to get here, I’ve encountered quite a few folks who, like me, are chasing their dreams. So in case you’re one of them, I’d like to share some thoughts/philosophies I’ve built up over the years when it comes to developing a mindset that will help you pursue your dream. I may not be the expert in every field (or even my own necessarily), but I definitely think these tips and strategies would help anyone pursuing a fulfilling career or any other personal goal. So, here are my top tips for anyone chasing their dream:
Own it, be who you want to be, right now
Go to parties, introduce yourself as a(n) X, whatever it is that you want to be. For me, it’s a photographer/filmmaker. Once I started introducing myself to people as one, I started to get a ton more referrals. This is because when people think of me, they immediately associate me with my craft. If you have a day job you’re not that into, answering “what do you do?” with that position is a huge wasted opportunity to make connections. Whether for potential job referrals, collaborators, people who might be interested in following your work, or just people on your team. If you want to get photo work, telling people you’re anything besides a photographer is not going to work to your benefit. You gotta be who you want to be right off from the start! As Coco Peru said in her one woman show: “not next time, now’s the time!” Start embracing yourself and your craft right away. If you’ve been waiting to take the plunge, start right now! From now on, as far as anyone is concerned, you are exactly whatever it is that you want to be.
Plan on plan A, not plan B. I talk to so many people who have a dream, but are afraid it might not work out, so they develop elaborate contingency plans. I know so many people who’ve gotten so wrapped up in plan B that they’re now years and years into a job that was just meant to be a backup. That doesn’t mean be reckless, of course people need jobs and money to survive. That’s why it’s so important you look for ways to start making money from your dream asap. Money doesn’t corrupt the art, that’s a load of crap that only serves to make people further resign themselves to a dissatisfying fate. Also the starving artist sounds romantic to everyone except the artist who’s starving, so prepare to follow your dream and make money while you’re at it.
Now back to my point, all your energy needs to get thrown at pursuing your dream. Got some savings? Spend it on materials/trainings/conferences, anything that’ll help you get towards your goal. If you dream of being a writer, skip that Master’s degree you’re hoping will help you climb the corporate ladder and think of what you could do in service to your writing for $100,000 (or maybe just get that Master’s in writing instead?). I was talking to my teenage cousin about his college plans. He wants to work to combat climate change, so he’s planning to get a BA in business with a minor in environmental studies… WHAT?! NO! Major in Environment, become the undeniable expert in your niche, and then you’ll be able to find 500 finance bros to fund your project for you. Why put your plans off for decades because you think you need to build up savings? For a lot of people nowadays a 4 year degree = at least 10 years of massive debt, so you’re planning to *start* working on your dream at... 32? No problem with starting late, you’re never too old (or too young) to work on your dream! But think about all the great work you could do between age 16 and 32 if you work tirelessly in pursuit of your goal! That’s a whole 'nother 100% of your life we’re talking about! Plan B should be just that, a fallback if all else fails. Don’t give it your heart and soul.
Invest in your craft. I touched on this in the previous paragraph, and it’s oh so important. Of course your financial means have an effect on this, I used just one camera body and lens combo for almost 10 years before I bought a second lens. So you can do a lot with a little! Just remember you can really keep yourself fresh and your talents current by keeping up-to-date with your field. If you’re a writer, pay for newspaper and magazine subscriptions and buy books as soon as they come out. Sure it costs money, but so does a suit and tie for that office job. If you’re a filmmaker, get a decent camera! It might cost $1,000, but so do 6 months of train passes for commuters in NYC. To put it plainly, we easily convince ourselves that spending money on plan B is essential while cash put out for plan A is somehow a splurge, don’t fall into the trap!
Believe in Yourself (It makes more sense than you think)
Feel confident! Easier said than done? What I want to do in this paragraph is help you think of things from the other side of the table. I’m not an expert in every single field out there, but I do have a variety of experiences. And one thing I can say I’ve experienced first-hand time and time again is: people who follow instructions and try hard, really do have a fighting chance.
A few personal examples I’ll draw on: hiring committees. I’ve been on the hiring teams at quite a few organizations and companies, and every single time we were EASILY able to narrow down the pool. If not to one obvious winner, at most to two for us to choose between. This isn’t because these candidates were gloriously amazing in every way under the sun. It’s because all the others were clearly unprepared, unenthusiastic or both. So it was exceedingly simple for us to cross them off the list immediately after their interviews. Another example is reading grant proposals in a few different jobs I’ve done in the past. We’d have a set number of grants to give out, let’s say 20. And then we’d get 100 applications. You’d think it might be super competitive, and that a lot of qualified candidates wouldn’t make it to the 20. FAR FROM IT! Every time it was actually that there were 5 good proposals, and then we’d have to scrounge through the 95 crummy ones to find 15 passable ones to give the rest of the money to. Perhaps a little sad but true, but I think it’s encouraging to know that you really should go for things. If you can follow the instructions/meet the qualifications, and actually care about what you’re trying to do, I can say with a good measure of confidence that you’ll at least have a shot.
That doesn’t mean every time you get rejected that you totally suck ass either, I’m not so naive to think nothing out there is more competitive than the things my teams were evaluating for. There are certainly jobs, competitions and other opportunities out there that are fiercely competitive and reject hardworking, stellar candidates all the time. And sometimes it’s just not a good fit, even though your work might be quite good. I just want to see people stop second-guessing, hemming and hawing, and putting things off because they’re afraid they’re not ready. If you gave it some serious thought and then made a conscious and informed decision that your work isn’t where it needs to be in order to be competitive yet, that’s fine! But if it’s truly more a question of nerve and confidence than your caliber/talent as a candidate, please, JUST DO IT!
Speaking of rejection, it can be a really good thing! A comedian in NYC, Emily Winter, set a goal to get 100 rejections in a single year. She ended up getting 39 wins to her 101 rejections. Would she have those 39 wins if she wasn’t on a veritable spree of putting herself out there? Who knows! And while 101 rejections sucks 101 times, Winter explains she was “making myself more comfortable with failure to reduce my fear of it”. And don’t think because you didn’t get the thing you’re going for that you didn’t get noticed! People remember work that had an impact on them, and if they liked what they saw they might be on the lookout for what you submit next time! RuPaul talked about this in his Masterclass, sharing a story of auditioning for a part he ultimately did not get. But, the casting director remembered him and reached out about another opportunity. So going for it can actually be to your benefit even if it doesn’t seem like a success at first.
Caution: It is, however, important and fruitful to work until you’re ready
Now the flipside of my previous two points is: every interaction makes an impression! So, please don’t misunderstand my advice as me urging you to submit your half-baked ideas or unfinished whatnots! You don’t want to get a reputation as a spammer or someone not to be taken seriously. I recently read a fantastic book on screenwriting: “Writing Screenplays that Sell” by Michael Hauge. He reiterates this point: if you submit bad screenplay after bad screenplay, you’ll eventually be known as that bad screenwriter. You don’t want to be known as that amateur who won’t leave people alone.
So there you have it, my reverse bday gift to you: a few pieces of advice from a young-ish dude who has somehow found a way to make a living off his art. I’ll reiterate: please don’t take my advice as the word of god. I’m sure in another 10 years I’ll have a whole lot more to say, a whole lot more learned, a whole lot left to learn, and a whole ‘nother 10 years worth of mistakes and triumphs to look back on. It’s all a journey, and the important things include: enjoy the ride, help and collaborate with your peers (high tide raises all ships) and make yourself proud.
As always, I’m open and eager to discuss these ideas with anyone out there who feels like they have something to share! So leave a comment below, and I’ll look forward to connecting with you!