I was talking on the phone with my good friend and architectural photographer extrordinare Jeffrey Jacobs last week, about the various ills and ailments plaguing the photography business, when I happened to mention a comparison of professional photographers to Olympic athletes. He then challenged me to write an article on the topic, which I gladly accepted, so this one is his fault (just kidding, Jeffrey!)…
Now, I’m no Olympian myself – not in any shape or form, real or imaginary! In fact, Usain Bolt would be standing on the podium, kissing his gold medal, before I could even get my feet off the starting blocks.
However, I do believe in the Olympic Spirit, and that it lives within all of us if we only take the time to look for it and, just as importantly, use it.
By the way – you have a chance to win a copy of “The Charge” - an awesome new motivational book by Brendon Burchard – read to the end to learn how…
So what does being a professional photographer have to do with the Olympics?
The Olympic Spirit Of Achievement
Despite not being an avid sports fan (my wife is the sports addict in our house), I do enjoy following the Olympics, and I’m especially proud this year with my home country doing such a fantastic job of hosting the games – the opening ceremony, for me, was especially moving, as was seeing many of our great athletes go on to win medals. We were even treated to the music of Mike Oldfield, one of my all-time favorite musicians, as part of the opening ceremony, so I was very happy!
But, at the end of the day, it’s not just about winning medals, is it?
Those gold, silver, and bronze medallions are a wonderful achievement, of course, but there’s something else far more valuable…
The Olympic Spirit.
Winning that last race to clinch a medal is thrilling to watch, but it’s a bit like walking into a movie to catch the last five minutes, or only reading the last 10 pages of a novel.
The Unseen Struggle For Success
What about the parts we don’t get to see?
99.9% of us never get to see the years of training, the successes and failures along the way, the pain and sacrifices needed to get these athletes to the point where they can stand proudly on that podium to receive their medal…
The sheer effort of will and determination to succeed, even when no one else is watching or cheering for them, is something powerful indeed!
I can only imagine how many times they must be tempted to skip a training session because they don’t feel like it that day, or perhaps a touch of despondency sets in after a setback.
To be able to get back up, dust oneself off, and keep going, even though business success is by no means certain – that is the defining element that powers the Olympic Spirit, and I think we should cheer every bit as much for those who come in last as we do for the winners, because they’ve suffered just as much, sacrificed as much, and pushed themselves just as far as the winners, especially when you stop to think that mere 100th’s of second separate them.
But it goes even further than that.
The Olympic Spirit is something that I honestly believe we all possess – it’s just that not everyone chooses to use it.
Find Your Greatness
Consider this great commercial from Nike, “Find Your Greatness“, perfectly narrated by Tom Hardy, which first aired during this year’s games. I really have to give them tremendous credit for it’s sheer ingenuity and, more importantly, for its undeniable truth…
I would not be at all surprised to see thousands of people become inspired by watching this, whether or not they buy Nike shoes. Its message is simple, to the point, raw, and very moving because it appeals to a fundamental quality that lives within all of us.
The Photographer’s Olympic Spirit
So how does this relate to the professional photography business? What does training to win an Olympic medal have to do with becoming a successful photographer?
In short, everything!
Putting aside SEO, marketing and sales for a moment, the prerequisites for succeeding in photography are very similar to those required to be an all-time sports champion:
- Passion for what you do…
- A burning desire to succeed…
- The strength of will to make each and every day count…
- Resilience against temporary setbacks…
- Unwillingness to quit…
- Commitment to constant improvement and training…
- Respect for your fellow competitors…
- Making yesterday’s limit today’s starting point…
- Celebrating uniqueness…
#1: Passion For Your Photographic Art
Obviously, it all starts here, with a genuine love and passion for what you do. Without the spark needed to ignite the fire, your business life will feel more like a drudge or an uphill battle against a lack of enthusiasm.
I see evidence of this every day in photographers who choose a genre because they feel that’s what they should be doing to earn money, rather than because they have a real love for it.
For example, there are a lot of wedding photographers out there who chose wedding photography simply because it seems more logical or “easier” to earn money from than, say, landscape or fine art photography. Or, perhaps their family and friends suggested it without really understanding who the photographer really is an artist.
Instead of being resolute and following their true passion, the photographer struggles in a genre they don’t really enjoy, which can only lead them to a place of ultimate resentment and disillusionment.
But having a passion for photography is just not enough.
You also need a passion for photographing your chosen subject.
#2: Burning Desire To Succeed
How much do you want success? I’m reminded of Gordon Ramsay here, and especially his show Masterchef, where amateur cooks compete against each other for the title. One of the key factors in the choice of contestants in that show is the judges’ assessment of how strong their desire is for success, often outweighing their initial cooking abilities.
Putting this back into the Olympic analogy, you can be the fastest athlete in the world, but if you don’t want to win, there’s a very good chance you won’t.
What kind of fire wakes you up in a morning and keeps you running through the day, no matter what?
How strong is your desire to succeed as a photographer?
One acid test is to notice how easily you can be distracted from what you know you should be doing. You might be amazed at all the little things that you allow to get between you and your goals in the course of a day…
Facebook, Twitter, email, texting, TV, radio, busy-work, and a host of other critters can easily swallow up your day, making you “feel” busy, but in the end only serving to confuse activity with achievement.
Instead, focus your fire with laser intensity on your goals.
#3: Making Each And Every Day Count
We all have bad days, and no one is immune. Heck, I’ve had hundreds of them.
The question is: “How will a bad day affect you and your continued performance?”
In one sense, the bad days are more important than the good ones, as they have much more to teach us about ourselves and our business.
If we allow a bad day to negatively affect us, we not only fail to learn the lesson, we also waste valuable time by projecting its effects into the future, dampening our future performance.
One thing I realized early on in my business is that the outcome of tomorrow has nothing to do with what happened today. We can all start out every day with the goal of making that day count as much as we possibly can, without dwelling upon what happened yesterday.
#4: Resilience Against Temporary Setbacks
Setbacks are an inevitability in any business or endeavor, and we have to learn to accept them as part of the process. In fact, without setbacks to challenge and test us, we’ll just stagnate and fail to grow.
Setbacks often go beyond the idea of just having a bad day, which I outlined in the previous section.
Sometimes, we can hit what feels like a brick wall in our business – a challenge that might even call into question the very fundamentals of what we’re doing.
This is where we need to rely on the belief we have in ourselves, our goals, and the faith that we can get to where we want to be.
For example, I’ve had many occasions where a project suddenly went off the rails, or a product launch failed, and it seemed like the end of the world at the time.
Looking back now, from this perspective, I can see those setbacks for what they really were – opportunities to grow, learn, or even change direction.
Something I often tell my coaching clients when they have a setback is this: “Even if you don’t fully believe in your ability to do this right now, at least believe in my belief that you can…”
#5: Unwillingness To Quit
The idea of resilience leads me to this section, which is the unwillingness to accept failure or to quit.
We all have times when we might feel like quitting, that the goal is just not attainable or worth the sacrifices. Such things are natural, but we mustn’t give in to those ideas, no matter how tempting they might sound or how much other people question the sanity of what we’re doing.
I’ve said this before many times, but there is really no such thing as failure – only those who quit.
In fact, you owe it to the wonderful people you are meant to serve with your passion to keep going.
#6: Commitment To Constant Improvement
Anyone who puts themselves on a path to achieving an eventual goal must understand that the person who finishes is not the same one that started.
I know I’m not the same as I was 3 years ago when I started writing a blog as a means of self-therapy…
I’m certainly not the same person that spent almost 20 years behind a desk, working as a computer programmer…
And you are not the same person who picked up a camera for the first time. You are not the same now as you will be when you’re the proud owner of a successful photography business.
I think it’s sad that there are too many people who believe the need for education stops when they leave school or college.
Hopefully, you are not one of them!
Because it’s going to take a lot more education, in a variety of arenas, to get you to where you want to go.
And education leads to change and growth.
So embrace the idea of continual improvement, treat every day as an educational opportunity, and learn as much as you can along the way.
In my opinion, making a commitment to continual investment in education is one of the most important things any of us can do, and I’m no exception – I invest at least an hour a day, seven days a week, to my own personal and business development, and I love every second of it.
#7: Respect For Your Fellow Competitors
You are not alone in the race.
Michael Phelps never won a gold medal by swimming by himself, and you won’t achieve your goal of owning a profitable photography business by ignoring the other photographers around you.
However, the important point here is that your fellow competitors are not your enemies – far from it – in fact, your most-feared enemies are the ones living in your own subconscious.
For example, you’ll rarely, if ever, hear any sports person say a truly negative thing about their competitors, although politicians seem to have perfected that particular art, which is probably why few people truly admire them any more.
Your competitors deserve your respect, as these are the people who will help drive you towards the success you crave. You may not agree with their approach, pricing, or photographic style, but they will inspire you to be better, to achieve the very best that you are capable of.
In the final analysis, the only true competitor you have to beat is yourself, someone who also deserves your own healthy respect.
It might seem strange to think of respecting yourself as a competitor, but I believe this is one of those secret skills that all successful people possess, whether in sports or business. However, it must not be confused with arrogance or over-confidence, both of which can undo your best efforts.
Respecting yourself as a strong and deserving competitor in the photography business, and combining that with humility, will take you a long way indeed.
#8: Making Yesterday’s Limit Today’s Starting Point
I already mentioned that tomorrow’s outcome has nothing to do with today’s performance, and that we should always aim to start each day with a fresh outlook.
However, I also want to make the point that we can use yesterday’s achievements or limits as a springboard for today’s goals.
For example, you might have made a really good portrait sale yesterday, so today would be an opportunity to see how you can push that limit further.
The Olympic analogy of this is the idea of records that are constantly being broken, but sometimes it takes a specific mindset to break those records.
A good example of this is the four-minute mile. Before Sir Roger Bannister broke the four-minute barrier, there was a general belief that it couldn’t be done, and people were failing at it left and right.
But then, on 6th May 1954, he did it, and then others quickly followed.
The collective belief of what was possible had been changed forever by the experience of just one.
Somewhere, in our own minds, it seems we have the capacity to ensure our failure simply through belief – likewise, we also have the means to achieve success through belief in ourselves.
#9: Celebrating Uniqueness
It might seem like an obvious statement to say that there’s only one of you, but it’s often overlooked because of its simplicity.
This concept lies at the very core of who you are as a photographer, why you do what you do, and what it is about you that people respond to when they choose to hire you for their photography project.
Celebrating your unique qualities is one of the most effective ways to market yourself, as no one else can imitate or copy who you are without coming across as being inauthentic.
When your ideal target market can see you for who you are, and understand the values you represent, they will be naturally drawn to you for reasons that go way beyond what you charge.
In fact, they’ll resonate with you to such a degree that they simply can’t wait to work with you.
Inspire And Win…
So there you have my 9 collected Olympian skills for the professional photographer. If you enjoyed reading this, or found it helpful, then please do leave a comment below, and don’t forget to share it with your friends.
For example, can you draw any other parallels between being successful in business and the Olympic sports world?
What personal stories can you share to inspire others to know that being good isn’t the same as being the best you know you can be?
As a very special incentive… I’ll personally send a copy of Brendon Burchard’s inspiring and motivating book “The Charge” to whomever submits the most inspiring comment by noon on Saturday August 11th 2012… Good luck!