DEALING WITH THE HARDEST PART OF MY JOB.
The hardest part of my job is often August.
And a bit of July.
Oh and most of January too!
The dreaded quiet times when holiday season switches the business PAUSE button on. When clients and contacts pack their suitcases and jet off to beaches to sip cocktails and watch sunsets (lucky things). A kind of hush descends on my world and for a month or so I feel invisible. Things are on hold. It can be very frustrating.
If you freelance, this may be a familiar feeling.
So how do we deal with that?
In my case, truth be told, I don’t! Well not very well.
If you’re a creative like me, then you’re probably happiest when you have a healthy list of projects and commissions to sink your teeth into, occupy your heart/head, fire your imagination and keep your creative juices flowing. One of my core values also happens to be ‘relationship’, so being in contact with people inspires and motivates me. Consequently, when I hit the quiet times I go a bit nuts.
This August I decided to develop a few strategies to help me get through these seasonal wastelands and stop me partnering with tumbleweed (maybe they’ll help you a bit too):
- Actually, the first of these is that we can allow ourselves to go nuts. Not for long. Maybe a day a week. I’m a great believer in not running away from ‘my stuff’. Often I think that when we let the ego take control, start stamping our inner foot and say to ourselves over and over: ‘This isn’t the way I want it to be! Why is this happening? No. No!’ then we stay in the problem. So I find it’s helpful to accept I don’t feel great at the time and let myself go a bit funky in the membrane. And that’s ok. It takes less energy to accept things don’t always (if ever) look the way we hoped they would than to keep fighting. Often something shifts and the next day I find I’m re-energized and can focus again.
- Turn off Facebook, limit the social media exposure and stop looking at other photographers websites. I guess this is kind of a holiday too – certainly a sabbatical of sorts. It’s too easy these days to be sucked into ‘comparison mode’. Over-exposure to social media can easily dupe us into that kind of negative headspace. We all know that happy highlights on timelines aren’t the whole truth and yet despite that knowledge we can get sucked into thinking that we might be doing life/business/craft/art/relationships wrong. At this time of year I’m particularly vulnerable to that so switching it all off is very healthy.
- Listen to (and play) music. A lot. I couldn’t live without music. Never have. It has the power to liberate, inspire, and soothe. I’m fortunate enough to be able to play the guitar. So listen and play (if you can) music lots during the quiet times. It helps get us out of ourselves, brings new ideas and generally cheers us up. My particular favourites: Bob Marley, Kate Bush, anything by Anjunadeep, Parov Stelar.
- Look at where you’ve come from. This one is really important. Especially when the frustration rises. It’s so easy to forget the developments that you’ve made. Taking a look at your history helps you see how far you’ve come, and often it’s further than you had fully acknowledged. This is one of the best motivators I know. It reinforces development and achievements. It also helps with the next point.
- Look at where you want to go. Yep! Planning planning planning (which I’m usually really bad at when I’m busy). Doing a SWOT analysis. Refining your priorities and nailing where you need to improve skills or some elements of the way you work.
- Learn a new skill or develop one you already have. Kind of obvious, but with all that time on your hands it’s a perfect opportunity to do this. In my case this is usually connected to learning new lighting skills, Photoshop skills or developing new personal projects.
- Keep your difficulties to yourself. OK, big one this and some will disagree. I strongly believe in an approach to life as ‘everyone is in this together, so let’s help each other out’ – especially in the creative industries, which are tougher than they’ve ever been. But it’s true that you have to pick who you talk to very carefully during frustrating periods. Why? Most people only want to associate with success or those perceived to be successful. It’s human nature, I guess. People who are at the top of their game, or industry pundits usually help only when there’s something in it for them. Genuine helpers are few and far between. There are some amazing communities out there who will offer support but in reality that only extends so far. Much better to stay quiet and deal with your stuff in other ways – such as by looking to the next point:
- Get some coaching (or therapy! They’re not the same by the way). Often the quiet times, as I’ve said, are the times when our ‘stuff’ comes up. After all, when we’re busy we don’t really have time or energy to think about that or deal with it. Busy-ness is often the sticking plaster for underlying issues. Finding a coach or even a mentor, or booking yourself in for therapeutic treatment in some way is often a great investment. It doesn’t have to be expensive (there are plenty of good workbooks on the market or an online courses of CBT for example – which is great by the way, I’ve been there). meditation and mindfulness are really useful here as well. But even if you can pay for a session a week for 4 to 6 weeks it will pay huge dividends as a result. Especially coaching.
- Blog. I’ve come late to the blogosphere but I’ve recently learnt how important (and enjoyable) it is. That’s thanks to the WordPress inspired Blogging 101 in the main. Try it. It’s worth the effort. Again all those quiet times are perfect for writing draft blog posts, exploring new themes and lining up material to publish in advance of the weeks/months to come.
- Archive editing. This is a sibling activity to point number 4. Looking at work I’ve created in the past and perhaps completing or adding to work or projects. Certainly it’s a great opportunity to reassess work with the benefit of the distance of time. A fresh eye. Controversially, in photography, I believe one of the skills we are losing is that of editing. Not post-processing but editing our work i.e. what are we putting in the public domain and above all WHY? That’s the most important question in my opinion for creating good work and any related output. There’s a lot of amazing photography online but there’s even more mediocre work that once upon a time would never have seen the light of day because it (rightly) had personal growth connected to it not communication. Learning to discern what actually ‘speaks’ and communicates is part of the craft. The digital world has altered that fundamentally. As we know everything and anything can go online and does. That democracy of that is great, but the quality is often undermined. Going back through an archive of work is a great way to develop an editors eye. There’s a lot of work I have that the world will never see. I wouldn’t want to subject people to it. There’s also some that I thought it wouldn’t see but with the benefit of hindsight actually might have a purpose to being seen somewhere. I regularly stop myself from posting an image that I might like but doesn’t have the best answer to the question WHY?
- Plan your advertising and marketing. This is a big one for me. One of the things I’ve discovered in my brief two and a half years in business is that it’s very easy to forget to market and advertise during the busy times. Especially if, like me, you work alone and have to wear all the hats of your business. So again this year I’ve taken the opportunity to build stronger advertising and marketing strategies (which I hope will help to reduce the quiet times moving into 2016). And also to learn more about how those elements of business work.
- Walk. A lot.
- Tidy up your work-space. Clear out the clutter. Dust. Refreshing the work-space is another great motivating activity. It’s like you’re preparing the way to start again in some way.
There’s no rocket science here and nothing particularly original in this list, but I hope some of these points resonate with you and help if you do find those quiet times frustrating and confusing. I hope they provide some practical steps. Maybe you have more of your own? If so I’d love to hear about them.
Roll on September!!
Image © James Bellorini
James is a commercial, editorial and documentary photographer. He started shooting professionally in 2013 and now works with design agencies, entrepreneurs, performers, musicians, DJ’s, singers, models and big brand culture and entertainment organizations. Recent clients include: Siren Design, Glyndebourne Productions Ltd, Sonisphere UK, Stone Nest, The Old Vic etc. His portrait and headshot clients include actors, musicians, writers, artists, international singers, entrepreneurs and corporates. In September 2015 he joined the Redeye Network’s Lightbox programme.