Forget Jumping.

In A Beautiful Anarchy, Pep Talks by David9 Comments

Fogo Island Bog at Sunset

Here’s another Q&A from The Big Q. This time we’re talking about making the jump from full-time job to full-time photographer. If you’ve got questions you’d like answered, I’d love to help: leave them in the comments.

Q: When you first made your decision to become a full time adventurer/humanitarian photographer what scared you the most? Did you have a full time/regular job before that? How do you get the balls to make such a move? I have a full time office job with good pay, and I’m good at it, but I just don’t feel any connection with it. Instead, I think about photography everyday, every hour, and almost every minute. I have been planning my extraction strategy for a while but since I have a mortgage and family to support, I get butterflies in my stomach to just jump and make the move, even if it feels like this job is sucking the life out of me. ~ Luis

Luis, first, way to go for articulating this, and admitting both your desires and your fears. I think that’s the hard part: coming to grips with the need for change. Change is hard. Most of us get more than butterflies in our stomachs when it comes to change. Change promises uncertainty. So stop looking for it (the certainty). It’s not there. Adventure is there. Meaning is there. A great story is there, because story is all about change. That’s the first thing I need to tell you. Nothing I say will make this less exciting (read: terrifying).

You asked about my story. It was similar in some ways. I saw the need to change. The desire to do something different. Unlike you I had already been living off my creativity. I was a comedian for 12 years, and that’s not what I would call a regular job. But it was full time, and leaving it was still hard (see previous note about change.) But in some ways it was different. I had no family to support. There was, in some significant ways, less on the line for me. But it probably didn’t feel that way at the time. Change is change. Fear is fear.

But change doesn’t have to come with a jump, and I think that’s where people get stalled. Imagine you’re on a 30-foot cliff. You want to get into the water below. You could jump, and many of us do. We like the jump, in part because of the excitement. But that’s not the only option. Walk down the trail, one step at a time, and the water gets closer with each step. Sure, it’ll have it’s own challenges, but jumping is not one of them. So, what are you doing now to grow an audience, find clients, and bring your product/service to market? How are you spending your lunch breaks, or your evening time after the kids are in bed? How many clients do you have now? That’s your step-by-step. And you’ll put that extra money into the “one day I’m going to get in the water” account. And one day, free from the need to have jumped, you’ll wake up with too many clients to keep doing both the “real” job and the moonlighting gig. You’ll have money in the bank. You’ll have tested the waters a little with proven clients and some of the early mistakes out of the way without costing too much. And then you’ll dive in.

You asked what scared me the most and how I found the balls to do this? What scared me the most was not changing, not doing what I knew I needed to do. I had a great career in comedy but eventually it wasn’t meeting the needs and desires of my soul and I needed to change. I found the balls (ladies, forgive the weird, too-macho metaphor) the same way you will. Look down. They’ve been there all along. Change or don’t change. That’s up to you. But don’t be mistaken: it’s not the jumping for which you need your balls. That just takes legs and the will to change. And you can do that step by step as easily as you can jump. Forget jumping. That’s not the goal. The goal is getting into the water. Do that any way you can. That’s what takes balls. And you’ve already got them.

We’re going into Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada – have a wonderful week with those for whom you’re thankful. We’re still driving home to Vancouver. Today we hit the 19,000Km mark on this roadtrip – it’ll feel so good to finally get home in 3 or 4 days! Happy Thanksgiving, friends.


  1. My question is about the money. Sadly its what drives the world and you need it to travel. I’ve done alot of traveling but I had to save big to do it. But now I’m broke-ish, jobless, and either need to hit the corporate world again, but I’d rather be hitting the road with my camera again. How do you afford a lifestyle on the road? Are you sponsored somehow?

    And ontop of all this, what are you going to do when you’re older and want to settle down? I myself have a background in Finance, so when a company will be looking at my resume when I’m 50, it’s not going to look great when I have a 20 year gap in it, do you have a retirment saved up?

    Also, I was 5 months in South America and I got burnt out and had to come home. Now I’ve spent a few months and I want to leave again, do you have a on again off again lifestyle? Few months on the road, few months at home?

    Thanks so much

    1. Author

      Chet – First, the longer answer is in two of my books – VisionMongers and How To Feed a Starving Artist. Second, it’s all about a long game, earning income from many sources. I earn money from books, workshops, affiliate programs, assignment work (less and less), and a few other streams I’ve carefully built. My travel leads to photographs and experiences and people pay me, in multiple ways to see what I’ve seen and learn what I’m learning. It’s taken a long while to get to this place.

      As for your resume, I suppose every industry is different, but I think the resume is dying out. It will be replaced by your story. Unless you’re in a coma, you do not have a gap, you have a story. Have you read Seth Godin’s book Linchpin? Highly recommended. But is there no way, at 50, to be running a company, even as a freelancer, instead of making money for someone else? Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, I get that, but “working for the man” is not the only option for making a living.

      Yes, my lifestyle is very much a few week, or a month, out, then a month back. Since my accident in 2011 I’ve been more at home than on the road. I can work from anywhere and leverage my time well both at home and on the road.

      Ultimately money is not as hard to come by as many imagine. The big question is: what value do you have? What do you contribute to the world? The more you scratch the itch that others have, and serve them, the more chances you’ll have to earn what you need to to make your way in this world, wherever that is. Sounds idealistic, I know, but I know so many people doing it, so many people happy they took the apparent risks, that I now believe it’s deeply pragmatic – after all, won’t we do best the things we love?

  2. Great advice as always, David. I’m in a similar position to Luis, although my ‘job’ is flexible and I’m not the breadwinner for our family. Still, there are other people to consider than just my happiness. I’m working on my project plan one step at a time, even if the pace has been frustrating of late.

    All the take of balls reminded me of this wonderful Betty White quote: “Why do people say “grow some balls”? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.”

    1. I agree, Lydia. It’s time that mis-named male-defined attitude acquires new identity. I agree; “if you want to talk tough, talk about vagina” . There are ways women are stronger than men; strength encompasses so much more than physical attribute/muscle or sexual identity. Intuition speaks with great perception and accuracy. When males are unafraid to own their feminine/gentle side, this slang-rigid definition of identity will become totally inappropriate and outdated.

  3. As always, David, great post with simple words of down-to-earth wisdom. I love your stuff and you continue to inspire me, and for that I thank you!


  4. This is me all over, I’ll be doing this later in life – 55, although I wont have to grow “Balls” as end of contract(read redundancy )will force my hand. Still scary!

  5. First of all, I am thrilled and very thankful for you taking the time to write this in response to my Q the other day, it really means a lot to me.

    Secondly, wow, I find tremendously encouraging what you mention here because being the project manager I am I thought: you know I don’t have to just jump into this, I can do a lot of stuff (and I really mean a lot) before making this transition, so I started almost unconsciously by realizing I didn’t had what I considered a decent portfolio, so I started there, getting the photos, improving my skills by identifying my weakest points, and being very conscious and honest about the results I was getting.

    When it became clear that I was really finding a way out of my full time job, I decided to make it even more organized and I created a project plan with all the things I can think of that need to happen before I do anything stupid. So, I am working on that, marketing plan, legal stuff, financial plan, finding the clients, website is up, all the not so cool stuff that will enable me to do what I want, which is to become an artist, an adventurer, an a landscape photographer and see more of the world before my candle burns.

    I know I sometimes feel frustrated because a lot of this stuff takes time, but as you mention there’s a lot on the line, so I will do the best I can, taking those few short steps before getting into the water, cause I am sure I will get in there, I deserve to do it, I deserve to have a meaningful life and I won’t have that sitting on an office for as much as I appreciate all the opportunities that my full time job has given me in the past. My future has to be worthy, I need to look forward to it, I have to live all of my dreams. As long as I am healthy I have to try it, I don’t want to have any regrets at the moment of my death, sure as hell I don’t want to think: what may have been if I have succeeded? It breaks me just to think about it, how could I see my son in the eyes and know that I didn’t try hard enough to be the man I always wanted to be or live the life I always dreamed of? I have to try…

  6. For me the jumping point came a few years ago after a lot of baby steps similar to suggested above. My point was when I had regular work coming in from regular clients, a stock library that pulled in a small passive income every month, and enough money stashed away that I could go 6 months without a client and still survive if need be. And with the exception of the past 2 months where I’ve been out injured (I did to my wrists similar to what you did to your feet David), I’ve had pretty steady work ever since.

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