Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Problem With Doing Nothing

Nelson DeMille, one my most favorite fiction authors, wrote one line for one of his characters in his book Plum Island, and it has remained with me for atleast a decade. He wrote (for his character) "The problem with doing nothing is that you never know when you're finished." I have endeavored, as I recall that sentiment, to always be trying to do something.

Not every post here is going to give you some concrete "take home" way to improve your business. This one's more ethereal.

It's frustrating that when I make a presentation to a room full of people, all of whom have invested time (an evening, or a day) and the statistics show that fewer than 10% of those in attendance will actually act on what's presented. They're doing nothing. I wish I could determine who those folks are, and go and shake them, and say "do something! Get yourself out of this rut and improve your lot in life. I know you want the phone to ring more. I know you want to earn more money. It's right here, in front of you, in the presentation." (atleast I hope it is!)

How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
From the book:

"It is important to be realistic about the amount of time it takes to learn complex subject matter. It has been estimated that world-class chess masters require from 50,000 to 100,000 hours of practice to reach that level of expertise...Although many people believe that "talent" plays a role in who becomes an expert in a particular area, even seemingly talented individuals require a great deal of practice in order to develop their expertise (Ericsson et al., 1993)."
Recently, I was talking with an aspiring photographer. One with talent, and one that I expected had promise. I asked him - "so, what do you think about when you're on your way home from work?" He said "usually, just about the traffic." I said "When you get home, after dinner, before you go to bed, what's usually on your mind?" He said "a bit about work tommorrow, what I'll wear, I don't know." So, what's wrong with this picture?

What's wrong, is, where is the planning for the future? I can honestly say that as a young, aspiring photographer, when I woke up, for the hour or two before work, I thought about making great pictures, and about my portfolio. On my way home from work, I put the traffic out of my mind. I was thinking about my portfolio. When I got home, I would edit images I made over the weekend. I would caption them, prepare them to send off to publications for consideration. I would scower the newspaper to see what they predicted would be happening the next day. I would watch and see what events were coming up over the weekend. I would check to see what concerts were coming to town so I could seek a credential to photograph them. Not to show my age, but this was back in the day when I processed my own E-6 film and hand mounted it, printed captions with a dot-matrix printer and affixed a label to each slide mount, slip the mounts into a slide page, and I did not have the internet to do my research, so I'd often find myself at a bookstore reading through Spin, Rolling Stone, and every other magazine where concert schedules were listed. I collected and read the "Upcoming Events" list on the first weekend of every month in the paper and local city magazine (as well as the free city weekly) so I could see what functions were that might attract a celebrity, and I'd sometimes call the event organizers and offer my services as a photographer on those evenings, times when I didn't otherwise have work.

The point is, many a friend would be out partying, watching television, and so on. They saw their time off as just time to goof off. I saw that time as the time where I could do whatever it took to chart my course for the future. From the minute my eyes blinked open to the moment I drifted off to sleep, (that's me in the photo, circa 1992 at about 2am editing photos) I was thinking about being a photographer. I was reviewing in my head, line by line, a conversation I had with a prospective client, determining where I'd failed to "close" the deal so I could provide their photography, or cover their assignment. When my eyes closed at night, and I could not fall asleep, I would lay in the darkness, the street lamps glowing dimly through my north-facing window, thinking about how I could improve. Improve my photography. Improve my lighting skills. Improve my negotiation skills. Improve my knowledge about business. I read every book I could -- many many of them listed in my recommended reading list -- Secrets of Closing the Sale, What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School -- and so on. I pushed myself. I knew as sure as I could, that if I just worked harder -- and smarter (or as smarter as I could) -- than my "competition", I could achieve (and sustain) my dream career, one as a photographer, where it's work but not a job.

I love what I do. I can't imagine doing anything else. I am so very grateful for whatever station in life I am at, and wherever in life I end up. My time now when I arise is spent dressing my daughters for school, making lunches, and when they come home, and I am not making photographs on an evening assignment, I am saying grace with them, coloring with them, and tucking them into bed, (that's them, on Halloween last year) and then I can sit down, and watch a few television shows with my wife, shows we've grown to cherish, and we have them for many of the weekday evening nights, save for Fridays, which are sacrosanct "movie nights", where we get a family-friendly dvd and gather together and have popcorn as a family. The girls all look forward to those nights, and I do too.

I am blessed that I am not so "nose to the grindstone" now, but, in some odd way, I had the faith that, just as a farmer does when he plants a seed, and waters it, and weeds around it, that one day, his hard work will be rewarded with a crop, one that sustains him, that if I too, fertilized my "soil", and nurtured the seedling, that one day, it would be not so time consuming. So far, so good.
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7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice to know that all the hard work will pay off,thanks.

leeb said...

thanks for this

Anonymous said...

John - 1992

John - 2007

Are they the same person - nope.

Is he a better person - yep.

Is he a better photographer - yes.

Did he work his tail off the right reasons - without a doubt.

Shaithis said...

Good stuff. I'm printing it out and putting it in my stack-o-good-stuff. Thanks for sharing!

Andrew Smith said...

Well I guess I'm heading in the right direction. Seems all I ever think about is how I could light/compose a hypothetical picture, or how I could have improved on the way I did one previously.

I love that feeling of progress when I'm on a shoot that isn't going as expected and I come up with a spur-of-the-moment idea, and then I realise that it's something I had planned out in my head a year ago. Suddenly I know the shot I want and I get it.

Great post today John, one of the best so far, thanks.

Dennis Murray said...

Really great piece today. As a part-timer trying to find an identity and a means to go full-time, it means a lot to read about some who is successful recounting their formative years.

I have about 90 minutes to 2 hours a day in the car commuting - and there's a lot of time spent thinking about where to find work, marketing, and getting the shot.

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to be the buzz kill here, and this post IS very inspiring, but I wonder...

Is there anyone out there who has trouble being driven all the time? I have my days when I go to sleep thinking about some photography idea and wake up excited about making it happen, but it isn't most of the time. I get scared and unsure and lazy and unmotivated and all sorts of other feelings that make it difficult to do the things I know I need to do to succeed. Does this mean I am not cut out for this or have others felt this way and struggled there way through to the other side?

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