Anyone who wants to live an untemplate life will find themselves wondering at some point in their life, when is it time to quit? We all have had lofty dreams and passions that we’d love to make a living from, but realistically a lot of those dreams don’t come true, and sometimes we just need to throw in the towel or pivot in a different direction.
I got my first real camera, the Canon EOS Rebel XS, about 3 years ago for my birthday. After years of using low resolution, pocket-size point and shoot cameras, I was ecstatic to have my first dSLR. These types of cameras don’t come cheap, and I never imagined I’d be privileged enough to own one someday.
With my shiny new camera in my hands, I instantly started dreaming about becoming the next Annie Leibovitz and making a cushy living as a talented professional photographer. I’d start my own studio, make a name for myself, and impress clients with my skills and ability to deliver top quality photographs. I’d be completely at ease behind the lens, knowing exactly how to capture the perfect shots without breaking a sweat, and I’d have people booking photo shoots with me months and months in advance…
When Is It Time To Quit? The Pressure To Succeed Can Backfire
Over the next six months, I tried to fast track my dream into reality and it totally backfired. I quickly discovered how hard it is to take professional quality shots, and how challenging it is to direct and photograph people. Just like in any profession, the pros make it look so easy, and as a result we easily underestimate their talent and experience. I give mad props to the professional photographers out there, especially those who shoot amateur models and actresses! Plus, I came to realize I have shaky hands, and tack sharp shots are absolutely impossible to get with shaky hands!
I became so overwhelmed with my flaws and trying to learn skills overnight that take years to master, that I stopped having fun. I put so much pressure on myself to learn every technicality of lighting, exposure, and composition that I found myself frowning every time I picked up my camera or a photography book.
What was supposed to be a fun learning experience with my brand new camera started to feel like a stressful chore because I was never going to make it as a photographer unless I quadrupled my skills. I constantly felt frustrated and blamed this on my lack of knowledge and not having the right tools to do things “like the pros.” I also started convincing myself that I needed to spend a couple thousand dollars on a fully equipped photography studio and more gear in order to become a better photographer. I clearly remember constantly flipping through B&H catalogs of lighting equipment, lenses, tripods, and all sorts of fancy flashes and accessories that I thought I needed to buy. Oh what a fool I was believing that if I had all that extra fancy equipment, my skills would be magically get better.
Sometimes A Passion Is Best Kept As A Hobby
Around this same time I became friends with a professional photographer in San Francisco. She told me stories about how so many of her industry friends gave up within a year because of the high level of competition, or getting their gear stolen, not making enough money, and losing all their interest in photography.
She even admitted herself that she missed the days when she was taking photos just for fun and wasn’t relying on booking back to back two-hour photo sessions to pay her bills. But her talent was inspiring and I was lucky that she openly shared so many insights with me. I still tried to convince myself that if she could make it, I could too.
Fast forward to the present, and guess what? My friend’s no longer running her photography business! She ended up becoming so bored and uninspired with photography that she packed up her studio and sold all her gear! How sad that something she used to love to do for fun became dull and dreary as a career. I didn’t want that to happen to me.
Why I Gave Up My Dream
While I was still dreaming about becoming a professional photographer, I started following Chase Jarvis, a talented American photographer who was just coming out with his photo app and book, The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You.
I remember reading and rereading the title of his book over and over. Here was a professional photographer making tens of thousands of dollars on his work telling me that it doesn’t matter if you’re taking pictures with a $15 disposable camera or a $6800 Canon EOS-1 D X. What matters is that you actually have some sort of camera on you to capture life’s moments when they happen.
Brilliant. It was the “aha!” moment I needed. Why the heck was I obsessing about getting all sorts of unnecessary equipment when I already had a fabulous camera in my possession?
And why was I putting so much pressure on myself about taking perfect shots? I was trying to make a crazy difficult career change I was so unprepared for that I would most likely end up losing all interest in photography. Is that what I really wanted? No, I just wanted to learn about photography and pick it up as a hobby, but instead I had gotten carried away. My perfectionist nature was ruining my experience, and I didn’t want to lose my love for taking photos. So I took a step back and changed my outlook and perspective.
When You Stop Having Fun, It’s Time For A Change
After I realized that dreaming about becoming a professional photographer was completely ruining my hobby, I decided to completely give up my lofty aspirations. And what a difference that made!
I went from taking a small handful of pics and grumbling about how bad they were, to taking several hundred shots each weekend without a care in the world if 95% of them were blurry or underexposed. I just started shooting anything I found eye catching and haven’t stopped since!
I was happy again carrying my camera around my neck, and I snapped whatever the heck I thought was interesting. I also switched to using the semi-automatic shooting modes so I didn’t have to think so hard about how to get the exposure right each time. I no longer felt frustrated that I couldn’t figure out how to use manual mode because it didn’t matter!
I felt free again and my passion in photography flooded back. I focused my energy on my existing career instead, which I was already pretty happy with, and have kept my passion in photography alive.
Smiling While I Improve At My Own Pace
After taking the pressure off, my photography skills have improved over the last few years and that’s plenty of motivation to keep me taking pictures and trying new things. And anytime my friends and family say, “wow that is a great photo!” it makes me beam brighter than my flash! 🙂
And I’m also proud to say that 99% of the photos I use on Untemplater are my own work! In fact, not a day that goes by when I haven’t taken at least 20 pictures just walking around or when I’m with friends. And when I’m on the road using my awesome travel lens, the numbers jump into the thousands!
If I had tried to continue my perfectionist and obsessive approach in becoming a professional photographer, I probably wouldn’t be taking any pictures at all now because I would have ended up hating photography. Instead, I absolutely love being an amateur photographer in my free time now. I get to use my pics on this site, I capture moments in my life, and I’m getting a little bit better each day.
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Hi Sydney. I’m a bit at the point you are at. I’ve had a year of hard hard slog trying to make it as a pro photographer. I have friends who are succeeding and buying bigger houses etc and then there is me, struggling to get one job. I have had high points, like winning three awards and taking some amazing photos, but getting clients is the hard part. I’m not sure how to market myself. So instead of being overwhelmed by the camera (I have spent 15 years taking great photos) it is the marketing part that totally and uttering overwhelms me until I feel like I’m drowning. Add into that a part time job and three kids who mess the house and I’m totally struggling actually.
Being a pro photographer is hard! And I hear ya about the challenges of marketing and raising three kids at the same time. You have a lot on your plate! You may want to experiment with different marketing techniques to try and get more customers. Ask for prior clients to provide testimonials and online reviews, build/expand your website, try Facebook ads, etc. Here are some other suggestions on branding.
The digital world changes far too quickly to keep up for most people. Cameras, equipment, etc costs are entirely out of reach for the average photographer to compete. These days everyone is into photography on some level. It is very crowded as a result uniqueness has disappeared. That is most of the art world including photography.
That is oh so true. Technology has changed the photography world dramatically. Apps and built in smart phone features can do in an instant what only expensive professional lenses used to be able to do.
After reading the post and all the comments, I kind of feel torn. Didn’t they say that achieving your dream when the odds are against you gives you the best feeling? Doubts, indecision are odds.
I couldn’t have stumbled across this post at a better time. I’ve been debating on whether or not I want to start up my business again. Yeah, the potential income might be good but every time I even think about it it gives me a headache. Like with your photography in the beginning, it’s no longer fun. Thanks for giving me even more confidence to give up on that dream.
Hi Keish. Thanks for your comment. Yeah not every dream is as wonderful as we can imagine, and running a business is a lot of work. Now you can search for your next career path whether that ends up being something more traditional or just a different type of entrepreneurial path. Best of luck!
Veronica Hill says
I’ve been tempted to quit internet completely. I secretly expected to be a millionaire by now but nothing has come of my efforts.
Invest It Wisely says
There’s no shame in realizing when something’s not working out, and when to shift focus. In fact, publicly admitting as much takes a lot of guts!
I think blogging is becoming more of a hobby for me again, while I pursue my dreams in other avenues. It’s interesting how things work out, sometimes. 😉
Glad you’re enjoying blogging more. It is funny how life can start us out in one direction and we end up going in another and sometimes we come back to where we started too.
Little House says
It takes a lot of guts to make the decision that something’s not working out. I truly applaud your efforts. I recently finished a credential program and now realize the job market is so tight, I’m not so sure I should have spent the money on the program to begin with (I’ve been a sub for years and work all the time as it is). I’m now waffling on the idea; should I quit teaching? I love it, but I really thought I could land a job, now I’m not so sure and I don’t want to waste another 1-2 years “waiting” it out hoping the job market rebounds. Quitting something you love is such a difficult decision. *sigh*
My Money Design says
Wow, this post kind of hit home with me. Ever since I started blogging, I haven’t really given my guitar playing as much attention as I did in the past. I was very committed to it and even putting together a studio. But investing too much time and reorganizing my priorities, I decided just as you that perhaps it should just stay a hobby. My chances of being a rock star are pretty slim these days, and I’ve got other better opportunities to move on to.
I guess I disagree: you didn’t give up your dream. You did what everyone should do, which is “due diligence.” You studied the craft, practiced some, and before you got knee-deep in debt with your own studio, realized that it wasn’t a fit.
I think this post is the perfect way to handle dreams. I’ve witnessed people buying restaurants and stores before they realized they’d be married to the place on evenings and weekends. The “thrill” of being a store owner hit them well after it was too late. Nice job recognizing it early.
BTW, thanks for the book tip. I need that one. My photos suck.
Yeah, I’m so glad I didn’t spend all that money on a studio. Sure I’d love to have one someday, but right now I’m much happier taking pics outdoors!
Paul @ The Frugal Toad says
Good for you Sydney that you realized if you continued going in the direction you were headed you might lose your passion for photography for good. I have a passion for golf and play at most twice a month with good friends. I shoot in the mid to upper 80s pretty consistently but realize I won’t improve unless I play and practice more. I have learned to lower my expectations for improving so I can enjoy playing a game I love!
Paul @ The Frugal Toad says
Almost forgot, one of the things my daughter and I did on a recent camping trip was take some incredible pictures while on a bike ride. Stop by FT and check out some photos my daughter took!
Thanks Paul and nice pics! Looks like you guys had a lot of fun. I’d love to be in the woods right now sitting at a campfire. I can just smell the forest right now!
Kathleen @ Frugal Portland says
Yay for finding that you love photography — it’s funny what a little phrase will do. I’m pining for a DSLR right now, but I’m using it as a reward for hustling, and the reward payoff date is still several months away!
It’s a lot of fun to set goals and reward ourselves when we achieve them. Plus, looking forward to something is fantastic motivation! That’ll be awesome when the date comes, keep up the good work!
Edward Antrobus says
This actually relates very well to my rant about passion. The problem with passion is that it completely blinds people to reality. We let passion consume us and ignore the possibility of failure. The crazy part is that this is exactly what the lifestyle design crowd encourages! As much respect as I have for the success of people like Gary Vaynerchuck or Chris Guillebeau, I can’t stand the “if you build it, they will come” mentality that they build up.
The simple fact of life is that more people are going to fail than succeed. You are always going to need an exit plan. Hope for the best; plan for the worst is my motto.
I agree with having an exit plan and as you said hope for the best and plan for the worst. I’m the type of person that will never feel comfortable putting all my eggs in one basket.
Carrie Smith says
I think you’re awesome Sydney and it takes a lot of courage to reach the point you did about protecting your passion. As much as we’d all like to turn our passions into money-making careers, sometimes it’s not feasible or we sacrifice our dreams in the process. I definitely agree, that at times it’s better to keep your hobby a hobby – since it’s often used as an escape from a stressful day or full-time job responsibilities. I can’t wait to see some of the fun and creative pics you share in the future. Keep up the inspiring work!
Thanks a bunch Carrie! It does make for a good work life balance having hobbies that we truly love to do that are totally different from our jobs.
That’s actually a good idea for me to put together a post to share some of my more creative pics. I’ll have on work on that! Most of the phtos I use for Untemplater are more of my everyday random shots but I do take a ton of travel and nature photo outing pics.
Financial Samurai says
The pros really do make it look easy! They make it seem as if anybody can do what they do. At least you tried!
You gotta admit, looking through all the cool gear is so much fun. I loved playing around with new equipment when I first emerged myself in whatever hobby.
My biggest fear in retirement is not enjoying blogging as much and burning out. However, thanks to a strict 4 hour limit a day, tennis, and travel, I think I’ll be alright. I’ve got to get my post queue DOWN as it’s now at 51! Arggggh!
I think part of the reason why I have such a large queue is b/c I’m waiting for the burnout to hapen. If it does, I can then have about 4-5 months of posts lined up to allow me to recharge.
That’s awesome you take all your own pics! I endeavor to do that as well, for fun, and for liability reasons.
Yeah, at least I tried so I have no regrets. And yes it is still incredibly fun to look at all the latest gear but I don’t do it very often because I’m happy with the equipment I have now. There will always be faster lenses and more powerful cameras, it never ends! And I’m quite curious to see how the mirrorless dSLR market will unfold.
Sounds like you have a nice balance going on right now. I can’t imagine having that many pending posts, that’s awesome!
Financial Samurai says
For some reason, I find phenomenal JOY in playing around with things and NOT buying them. I enjoy going window shopping, car shopping, and Apple shopping but walking away with 100% of my money intact.
Do you enjoy doing such things? I have one friend who can’t take it, and therefore cannot window shop. Her urge to buy things actually hurts her. Weird huh?! Or maybe not so much!
Invest It Wisely says
Impressed you’re able to get so much done with 4 hours, Sam!