How to Fail and Quit at Everything:
Back in what seems like another lifetime, long before my career as a photographer, I used to teach English 5 days a week in Korea to adults. Every morning I awoke and immediately gulped down a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Excitement because my job was cool: I talked about interesting things to interesting people. Anxiety because my job was hard: I had to stand in front of a lot of accomplished people and engage them all, every day, and ensure they left with a better understanding of English. Not to brag, but I got the highest praise from students, and students in other classrooms sometimes requested to be transferred to my class. All was great….except the anxiety and the occasional mishaps. My classes were somewhat unstructured because I wanted to stay relevant to student needs, and quite honestly, I rarely knew what I’d be doing next. Sometimes I’d run out of ideas mid-sentence and stand in front of the class racking my brain for something to say or do. That was the worst feeling and I unconsciously took it as proof that I was a fraud teacher who didn’t know what he was doing. Over time, I started filling my lectures more and more with all sorts of structure, activities for the students, tasks, and evaluations. Every minute was accounted for. Eventually my mornings were different. I awoke without anxiety, and without excitement. Student enthusiasm dropped. I got bored. Then I quit. I went back home to Canada.
I have a bunch of “back in another lifetime” stories like this. Stories in which I had, by some means or another, effectively conquered anxiety and began to internally rot with boredom.
Then, during this lifetime as photographers, Rae and I went through a period during which we absorbed anything and everything we could about photography. Every photo we came upon we analyzed in terms of light, composition, editing, lens choice, aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and so on. We read blogs, watched videos, and practiced all sorts of stuff. And the anxiety was back. I got it before weddings, before engagement shoots, before anything that had to do with us and a camera. And when we produced photos that I wasn’t thrilled with, I took it as proof that I was a fraud as a photographer. I’ve definitely had days when I strongly considered quitting and doing something less stressful. I still have days like that. But when we were absorbing all that we could about photography, I firmly remember a lecture given by 2 INCREDIBLE photographers, Brian and Allison Callaway (also a husband and wife team), and they said that they still always get anxious before a shoot, worrying that they wouldn’t be able to pull it off effectively. And then they showed a bunch of their mistakes.
World class photographers…….still have anxiety before a simple shoot……still make mistakes…….
I eventually realized the most obvious of truths from all of this. Anxiety, in this context, isn’t a problem. Not at all. It’s a signal that I’m doing something that I might fudge, something that matters to me. If I eradicate this anxiety, I can only do that by eradicating the possibility of failing, which means I avoid anything daring, exciting and bold…anything that I could possibly be proud of. If you’re reading this sort of thing speaks to you, click here for a video from Seth Godin who talks about this. It’s worth the watch.
What the heck does all of this have to do with these photos?
Well, the family photographed here hired us on more than a year ago to photograph their daughter on a date near her birthday – she turned three this year. The session went really well–fun, relaxed, and the photos are some of our favourites. A year later, they hired us again for the same reason and I had the anxieties. I started telling myself that “lifestyle photography” wasn’t our expertise and that we should stick to what we knew–weddings. We also keep our lifestyle photography sessions unstructured, so that we can catch authentic family moments as they naturally happen….and I worried that no authentic moments would happen….so I started to think about activities we could give the family, and poses, and ways we could light them, and all sorts of contrived portraits we could do so that every minute of the shoot would be accounted for.
But I don’t really want to bore myself out of this profession, so I’m going to stick with the anxiety….the unknown of unscripted human interaction, and photographing the hell out of it. And I hope it always turns out this well.