3 Ideas

In Freelance and Business, Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons, Thoughts & Theory by David3 Comments


I know the title of this post is lame. Sorry. And the photograph has nothing whatsoever to do with the post. Them’s the breaks. Lamayuru, Ladakh, India, 2008.

I sat with two friends yesterday for lunch. Hamburgers at the Red Onion in Vancouver.

One of these friends is easily one of the most accomplished magicians on the planet. What he can with his hands and a deck of cards would amaze the most cynical. He’s the magician other magicians look up to. No cheesy Vegas act, this man is a craftsman and he entertains a client list that he can’t show anyone because it’s attached to an equally long list of Non-Disclosure Agreements. The other is easily one of the best variety acts on the planet. I was the odd man out, having retired from comedy 5 years ago. But we spent a couple hours sharing stories, talking about business and marketing and doing a lot of laughing.

2 hours, I hamburger and milkshake later, I came away with three distinct thoughts.

1. There is absolutely no substitute for being awesome.
Being the best you can possibly be, committed to your craft and putting the hours in bring you closer to mastery, is – hands down – the best way to get where you are going as a creative person. It is said that you need 10,000 hours at something before you can master it. In my showbiz days it gave me unending amusement to see 18 year old kids calling themselves Master Magicians. It becomes a cheap, meaningless moniker and it reeks of amateurism. If you have to say you’re a master, you aren’t. Let others, and your work, do that for you. Put in the hours. If you put in 8-hour chunks, that’s still 1,250 chunks to get behind you. That’s 3 and a half years of practicing your craft for 8 hours a day every day, no days off. Wanna be awesome? Put in the time.

2. We all fake it till we make it. All of us.
One of my buddies tells me that at the end of every gig he goes home and tells his wife he didn’t get the knock. You know, the knock. The one where they finally discover you have no talent, that all along they’ve mistaken you for someone else with a similar name, and they’ve come to tell you to pack your bags. Almost every one I know in the creative arts has a similar fear. It’s not a bad thing. I think it comes from the way we do things in the west. There’s a sense that there’s a right way to do things, a well-beaten path that we should be following, and when we don’t – because we’re artists, dammit! – we feel like we’re thrashing about, trying to discover our own path, and so sure that other creatives are all on a nicely paved path of gold. How did we miss that path? Are we less talented? Less motivated? Nope. We just haven’t discovered the secret: There is no such golden path. You make your own, and it’s only as others look at your path once it’s been blazed and bushwhacked, that it looks easy.

3. Shift Happens.
The creative arts – when we make a living from them – exist rather painfully and in fragile tension within the world of business. We’re never sure if we’re artists or just sell-outs. The needs of the market and the needs of our souls to create are often at loggerheads. So the usual rules don’t apply. Many of those rules revolve around the whole concept of competition. We compete for business and for the praise of others, desperate to be among the best. Oh, if only someone would recognize me as “one of the best photographers in the world!” Whatever that means.

Competition among creatives is cannibalistic, it feeds on the soul and excretes arrogance and, ahem, crappy art, pardon the pun. Ever notice something about the guys that are really making it? They give and give and give. They aren’t slickster salesmen, they’re the ones who are excited about the work of others with no need to put it down in order to maintain the equilibrium of their fragile ego. They teach, they mentor, they know that the craft is bigger than they. They’ve learned that when you give, it comes back to you, and it’s good for the soul, and when the soul is healthy, our work is better and our vision clearer.

If you’re still bound by the old competition paradigm, let me encourage you to join many of us in the Cooperation and Collaboration paradigm instead. Make the shift. The water’s warmer here, the ideas flow better, and we know there’s enough work out there for everyone. It’s not a normal pool; the more of us there are, the more the pool expands to accommodate us. It’s scary, sure. Paradigm shifts always are. But it’s less scary than trying to live the creative life as a lone wolf fighting his way to the top of the pack. Let it go, man. Work, and work hard, but leave the fighting to others. We have 10,000 hours to put in, if you’ve got time to fight and compete you don’t want it badly enough.

Have a great weekend. Go shoot something you love. See you next week. 🙂

PS –  45 days until the release of Within The Frame


  1. I think there’s a real truth in that 10,000 hours figure. I remember hearing on the radio a few years ago a programme about some research into musical genius. They looked at entrants into the UK music academies to see if they had anything in common. What they found was a huge diversity of backgrounds, teaching methods, age they’d begun learning, family involvement in music etc etc. No commonality in just about every factor you could think of, except one. They’d all done, over their lives so far, about 10,000 hours of practice. Hard graft though it may be, it’s also quite encouraging to know that there’s no short cut to mastery.

  2. There’s truth in that last bit- The more I looked at being “the best” the more I came to realize It’s a goal- not a destination; something to aspire to.
    And my personal realization is that my part in all this crazyness that is “professional photography” may just be to help somebody else get there before me……Not bad really ( and my bruised ego will mend- just know who the royalty checks go to…..*grin)

  3. Re: #2 – I walked away from our meeting the other day realizing that yes we all fake it until we make it, but some of us are better with the smoke and mirror show that makes others believe that we do actually know what we’re talking about. Perhaps You and our magician buddy have an advantage because you both practiced the art of misdirection more than I have… Hmmmmm… Now look at the magic wand… Look at the pretty colors… Watch my right hand as my left hand makes the magic happen…

    Fun watching the show and wonderful when there’s enough of #1 so that even if I know #2 is in fact the case I can enjoy the awesome-ness!

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