I used to think that the first two – passion and drive – inevitably would lead me to the ever-desired success as an independent artist because, as we all know, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration“ and “The harder I work, the luckier I get”. So, I thought, if you really love what you do and you work hard, you will be successful in your creative professional career no matter what.
But the longer I am on this journey, the clearer I see that there are more obstacles and hidden enemies than I expected. And because I was unprepared for many things I had to face as a full-time professional artist, I often struggled. It is true that we’re our own worst enemies, and in order to succeed and conquer those endless external obstacles, we first have to conquer our internal “demons”.
Allow me to share my experiences with you, chances are you’ve already stumbled upon one, or maybe even all of them.
Problem #1: Wasting your precious time being busy with reactive work
I once happened to find myself running in circles, spinning my wheels and not progressing in a slightest bit. Many months of hard work, I would take on every job that came my way, I was constantly busy, but nothing I did was getting me any closer to where I wanted to be.
I had a few great big projects in mind, but I could never start working on them because of ordinary uninspiring jobs, emails and customer service that was taking up all of my most productive time.
Solutions I have found:
LEARN TO SAY “NO”
One of the biggest challenges I had to face was learning to say “No” to some client assignments: those that were not paying enough, those that were not adding value to my portfolio or helping me to improve my skillset.
As soon as I started turning down such jobs, I hugely progressed in my career. Saying “No” to time-wasting assignments and projects that don’t get me closer to my goals freed me up and allowed me to focus on the projects that advanced my skills, gave me more exposure and publications.
It wasn’t easy, because I needed the money those low-budget jobs were offering, but I made up my mind and stuck with my decision, and I never regretted it.
Besides, if you are a full-time artist you must understand that by taking on low-budget jobs you’re effectively running your business to the ground – you spend X number of hours and get paid Y amount of dollars for it, a big chunk of which you automatically owe to the government (here in California 50% of your income goes to taxes). And if what’s left for you is not enough to pay rent and cover your basic living and business expenses, than you got yourself in debt right there by simply accepting a low-budget job and blocking your time from either becoming a better artist or marketing your services to better paying clients.
Choose the jobs you are offered wisely! They have to be of significant value for you, which is either a better pay, they could be a great addition to you portfolio, or it must be the work that brings you closer to the type of photography you want to do more of in the future. Otherwise – respond with a respectful “no”.
Keep your eyes on the prize, protect your time and energy to stay focused on your goals. It took me many years, but finally getting to work on commercial campaigns as pictured below was worth all of the energy I had to put into staying on course.
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EAT THAT FROG!
You may have heard this saying before, or maybe even read the book by Brian Tracy (Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time book or audiobook). If so, you already know that it is highly recommended to start your working day by tackling the most difficult, time- and energy- consuming task first.
And what most of us usually do? Yep, start our days by checking emails. This is still my weak point and I am trying to force myself to learn to apply my most productive time (early morning) to the highly valuable creative projects.
Leave emails and simple tasks until after you run out of your creative juices.
Mark McGuinness, a London-based coach for creative professionals says: “The trouble with this approach [emails first] is it means spending the best time of the day on other people’s priorities.” He also suggests that we focus on the most important creative work at the beginning of our day “otherwise you’re sacrificing your potential for the illusion of professionalism… and surrender your dreams for an empty inbox”.
With that said, we’re all different and while for some their most productive time is in the morning, you might be one of those night owls and do your best work after midnight. If so, turn your desktop mail app and your phone off so you don’t get distracted by your mail or social media notifications when it’s time to create what’s important for your career and your future. Stay proactive, not reactive.
Let people wait for a little bit, while you turn the world off and focus on what matters to you the most!
TO BE CONTINUED: We will talk about the Problem #2 Lack of inspiration & Self-doubt in my next article next week. See you then!