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I had a friendly conversation with someone recently who is unhappy with their current career situation and wanted some advice/guidance in terms of photography and the rewards and challenges involved. To be honest, I have these types of conversations quite frequently, and questions about making a living as a photographer rank at the top of the most requested information – well maybe after “what kind of camera do you use.” These questions are all valid, and I’m constantly learning more and more as I grow as a photographer.

One of the common pieces of advice I hear often from seasoned professionals is “don’t quit your day job” if you have thoughts about becoming a pro. I understand the underlying reason for this response, yet I have always felt it is a negative and fear based position that I’ve never agreed with. Who am I to tell anyone what they can or can’t do, or for that matter place a limit on their determination? Is this perhaps a sign of insecurity, after all they themselves had to make the very same decision at some point in their lives.

It reminds me of my ankle injury three years ago when I had 5 screws and a metal plate inserted to get me back to “normal”. From the day I broke it, I was determined to recover and return to the very physical activities I was so accustomed to doing. When my doctor finally told me to start walking again, I was anxious to start therapy, but he recommended I wait a month before my first visit to the rehab center. I couldn’t wait, yet to my utter dismay, on the first visit the physical therapist proceeded to explain the limitations I would face because of the injury and hardware now in my ankle.

To this day, I will never forget how I felt on the drive home, and I decided right then only I would decide my limitations. I’m a pretty humble person, but how could someone tell me what I was or was not capable of doing? I had just finished reading “It’s Not About The Bike” by Lance Armstrong, and we all know what he went on to achieve after being given a death sentence with massive cancer. I was inspired and motivated, and  started my own intense therapy regiment of daily yoga, weight training, and hiking which lasted almost a year. Today, I am 95% of where I was before the injury, and the last 5% I make up by being wiser and smarter about the types of physical activities I’m willing to engage in. Experience and wisdom do come with age!

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm” – Winston Churchill

My core belief is only you can determine what you are capable of, and no one can or should tell you otherwise. IF you have the dogged determination and stamina, then yes you can become a professional in whatever field you choose, including photography. Will it be difficult and challenging? I can tell you it is the hardest thing I have ever tried to do. But so what – I am having a blast and I am doing what I love. I wake up every morning at 5AM eager and excited about the day ahead, and if  you are not clear and focused mentally, then you will find it exceedingly difficult to succeed no matter what your goals are.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 3000 games…I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” -Michael Jordan

Am I afraid or worried that others will crowd this extremely competitive field? Not at all – I work day and night at creating my own path and no one can be me – just as I can not be anyone else. You will know if and when it is the right time to quit your day job, but if it is, then don’t look back, and never listen to the voice of fear – it’s never helped me achieve anything.


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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. What an impact a few words made on you! As a physical therapist, I have mixed feelings learning about your experience with physical therapy. I am delighted you function at 95% of how you did before your injury. Kudos to you for working hard (I know how hard people work after surgery)!

    I also have the “what ifs” going on in my head… what if the physical therapist did not address potential activity limitations? The conversation spurred you and motivated you and probably ticked you off all at the same time… but what if? What if the physical therapist did not address possible limitations and allowed potential false expectations? How does a person cope with not reaching false expectations (i.e. anger, feelings of failure, frustration)?

    As a physical therapist, your post has me self-reflecting. In my opinion the conversation you had with the physical therapist was a needed conversation, but maybe the timing was wrong. Maybe it would have been better to not discuss physical limitations on the first visit but to have saved that conversation for later.

    Thanks for sharing – both your physical therapy experience AND your work – you capture beauty very well. The photos in your journal are breathtaking.


    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and views. I just want to be clear that in no way do I feel that physical therapists should be avoided. I’m sure the great majority are a positive influence both physically and mentally to the patient. My Dad suffered a broken ankle soon after mine, and his therapist was instrumental in getting him to walk again. I was actually really looking forward to my PT, and just wanted someone to help me focus my determination and drive. And I’m glad you mentioned timing because in retrospect that was the key issue I had – get to know me first before you assume I am not willing to work twice as hard as I need to in order to rehab. Discussing potential challenges (not problems or limitations) is one thing, defining limits is another matter completely.

      I’m also glad I’ve inspired you to reflect, and I only hope it has a positive outcome for you, my sole purpose for the article. Negativity is not a part of my language, and I hope I’ve not offended you in any way. Thanks again!


  2. You most definitely did not offend me.

    Often times those in our profession try to capture “satisfaction.” The response items in satisfaction surveys do not help physical therapists grow or necessarily think about the experience the person received from the individual’s point of view. You shared something that is not generally found in peer-reviewed literature for physical therapists. What physical therapists say, how they say it and when they say it are very, very important variables in the relationship they build with patients.

    Your experience helps highlight the importance of timing AND a better choice of words when working with someone who has an injury. I can only hope that anyone I work with would be able to politely take me aside and tell me their perceptions of something I have said that maybe could have been said differently.


  3. Rob, as you know I have a great admiration for your work and wisdom, and I particularly liked this post. The words by themselves won’t get any of us ‘want to be pro photographers’ to the promised land, but the message of following your dream to where you want to go in life, be it pro photography or any other endeavor is deeply inspiring. Wow – that is SO important a message and so few individuals remind all of us to Follow Our Passion. As you mentioned, hard work and perseverance are critical to success and the dream needs to be constantly tempered by working toward it and not just dreaming about it.
    I just want to say THANKS for this message – people like me read your blog and find deep value in your messages about life as well as your knowledge of our ART. We appreciate you, and your committed and creative spirit. We are out here in cyberland reading your words and beginning to listen to our own hearts.

    1. Thanks Pete for the very kind words – not one of us can accomplish his/her dreams and goals without some help, and I know of no better way to help oneself than to inspire and help others. Thanks for your inspiration and for motivating me to continue on my own journey.

  4. And the creative fellowship said…”AMEN”. It is commonly believed that we need to have something to fall back on if we don’t succeed. Falling back is dangerous and can cause a lot of damage. Truth is, people spend more time making sure their fall back plans are acted upon instead of moving forward with their vision. It is possible to move forward with the emergency brake engaged, but it makes driving very difficult. Thanks for the sharing and living your words of wisdom.

    1. Well said Dana – words of wisdom from a wise man. I’ve always believed time spent looking back or sideways is time wasted moving forward. When you put yourself in a position where failure is not an option, then surprisingly opportunities arise that you might have missed – that’s been my experience after 24 years in the “trenches”!

      Thanks for the visit – come back soon!


  5. Hi Robert,
    I am very glad that you started this blog about not quitting your day job. I am experiensing some back pain these days and I started to have nubness to my right leg. I went to the Doctor and they found out that I have a bad problem with my lumbar are of my spine and at the same time one of my vertabrates are pinching my sciatic nerve is been pinch nerve and causing the nubness. I am very active. I also love my job with all my heart. I wish I could becomme a very succesful photographer. But due to the pain at times is hard to be active . I try to shoot as much as posible on my spare time, because my job is very demanding. But I not give up my job. I know I can do both jobs with the same intensitive. Tomorrow I will start treatment and I hope all will be part of the past. Robert I think you are an amazing photographer and God Bless your talent. Thank you for your words of inspiration. I wish you major success always.

    1. Thanks for your generous feedback Rosa – I wish you much health in the future, and I’m glad you have found passions in your life that can coexist together – a rare quality in todays world. Good luck with your therapy!


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