I recently shared a drink with an executive type on a flight. Really nice guy who had his head buried in a laptop screen full of numbers. After about an hour into the flight he looks over at me and asks about the photography mag I was reading. We got to talking and he pops the usual set of questions..."Can you actually make a living doing that" and "How do you stay motivated in a job like that". I shot the same question back at him...crickets. He did say the money...the money as a way of measuring progress/advancement but the passion for what he's doing is long gone. Now with a couple of kids in university and all the other trappings of life motivation is only about staying one step ahead of that avalanche.
The first question is easy but that second one I've avoided for a long time. I get asked that a lot and until now, never really had a satisfactory answer. I'm also not sure if people who ask aren't conflating motivation with inspiration which is easier.
Inspiration comes easy...I'm pretty much in amazement at just about everything. Imagine if you woke up everyday like that.
I grew up in a small town. The four corners of my family's property was my entire world until age 7 when my folks decided to change the scenery. Our new digs gave me a severe case of sensory overload that's remained constant for over 35 years.
Just to give you a small idea of what my year looks like...10-15 weddings, lot's of portraits, events and a good sprinkle of commercial assignments. Add to that a rising interest in video from my clients. A good percentage of that work is pretty cookie cutter stuff. Wash, Rinse and Repeat. While I do have some leeway to inject a little creative license from time to time I generally stick to the numbers.
Weddings and Lifestyle portraits are different. They can be fun and creatively engaging but make no mistake about it, it's lot's of work and by the end of the season I'm ready to move unto other things for awhile.
So how do I stay motivated?
I've never thought of myself as a good person to say much on the subject of motivation. I love waking up and catching a sunrise or dropping everything to watch the sun go down. I'll stay up late after everyone else goes to bed just to listen to the rain falling without any other human sounds. I'm naturally chatty...love meeting new people and discovering what they are all about especially if they are artists or craftsmen of some kind. I also don't look at work as something I have to do. Regardless of what job role I've had it's always been like my own business. I do it well and consistently and it provides me with a home full of creature comforts etc. I cannot recall a single time when I've woken up and thought "damn, I've gotta go to work".
I'm not sure if "luxury" is the right term but maybe the reason my motivation level stays fairly stable is due to the fact that i have my hands in a variety of things which aren't directly tied into my daily work. I enjoy Landscape & Macro Photography though those two genres don't contribute a lot to my bottom line. They feed my curiosity while helping me relax and enjoy nature. Maybe that's the key...having outlets other than your main interest/work.
BTW...I'm well aware that not everyone has the ability to develop those outlets for whatever reasons. This is just what works for me.
I struggle to explain it most of the time but I came armed with some good examples. Two people...different motivations.
EX. NO. 1
James Brown. Even if you don't dig his style of music check out the documentary "Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown". I believe it's showing on Netflix now even though that's not where I saw it originally. He's got a ton of nicknames (Mr. Dynamite, The God Father of Soul, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business...etc). He was also one of the first African-American entertainment millionaires. This was in the 60's when being African American wasn't automatically paired up with success and wealth. When asked by an interviewer what motivated him, Brown summed it up in one sentence.."I was hungry and I wanted to eat". Just that...survival. All those decades of screaming, shaking and grooving was so he didn't have to be that hungry kid abandoned by his parents. Money can be a powerful motivator.
EX. NO. 2
Gry Garness. This one hurts. I ponied up the cost of her workshop and plane/hotel ticket all the while thinking it better be worth it. It was. I learned more in a single day than a year of retouching on my own. I along with others in attendance felt her passion for photography and retouching but I didn't realize just how motivated she was until a few years back when she announced her cancer diagnosis. She's gone now but right up until then she laboured through pain and uncertainty to pour everything she knew about the business into a complete course. I still have that on my bookshelf. If you have ever been close to someone suffering from cancer it's real easy to understand just how committed and motivated she must have been to do that.
So the closest thing I can deliver to an answer is this...what motivates me is a challenge. As long as photography remains a challenge I'll probably never give it up. Everything has been painted, photographed, written about etc. so the challenge is to raise the bar with my own interpretation of the work. Here is the thing though, I don't think we are designed to be inspired or motivated all the time. For myself I can say that days, weeks sometimes months go by where I hardly touch my camera. I really believe you just have to roll with it. Everyone needs a break even if it's just to recharge and refocus. Put down the camera and do something else for awhile. I'm teaching myself the harmonica right now..five months in I can almost allow other people to hear me hack away at it.
Obviously if photography is your full time job the opportunity to just tune out isn't there. You have to pay those bills but it's not unlike my executive friend on the plane. He may not always be inspired but having a lot of people depending on you provides the motivation to power through.