What do you do say when people ask you “What do you do for a living?”
Do you feel a little weird or uneasy about it? Like you’re not being truthful? Or are you confident and aware of where you’re at?
Often times, we think we’re faking it like we’re not the “real” version of someone who does this. That’s called Imposter Syndrome.
Everyone struggles with this, and to not waste any time, I’ll bury the lead. Here’s the base for this episode:
Don’t let the feeling of being a fraud, keep you from the feeling of being YOU.
Imposter Syndrome is something that is felt. It’s like we’re waiting for someone we look up to or someone in our community to hound us, tell us we’re not real, and that we’re a joke.
Lots of times, the internal questions we have are things like “am I qualified to do this?” “Am I qualified to make money at this?”
For a long time, I struggled with that. These days, I’m not necessarily feeling fake, but I feel luckier than ever. I’m like “when does this amazing ride end?”. You may be in a similar place.
Often times we feel like a fraud, because we’re not meeting the standards that we’ve created in our heads, and there’s a mismatch of expectations there.
When it comes to photography, it gets extra complicated. There’s no qualification or certification to be a photographer. The barrier to entry is SO LOW. Buy a camera and boom, you’ve started! I have a degree, but it’s not in photography. 8 years ago or so, I learned photography mostly from YouTube or online lessons!
A lot of times, people will buy a camera with the goal of being a professional photographer and running a business, rather than just for the joy of photography.
You’re 100% more likely to feel like a fraud when you’re starting both your photography endeavor AND running a successful business. Many people thing “Well, if I can shoot like them, I can charge or run a business like them.”
Maybe you’re better at photography or business, but the point is your skills and business know-how may not be equal, and that’s going to be frustrating. If you’re better at photography but new to running a business, it’ll be slow and depressing. If you’re better at business than photography, you could risk disappointing clients.
Photographers don’t really have a standard. So many different industries and it’s difficult to measure what success is. It’s hard to know where you’re at. Some days you’ll feel like a winner, and other days you’ll feel like a loser.
The reason I started this podcast, is to share my real story. It’s not pretty. But I also wanted to share my pricing knowledge. These are the two biggest struggles when lots of people start: being honest with who we are, and the first steps of pricing ourselves.
Even if you have supportive friends or family, you’re going to need people you trust in the industry. They will help you on your journey for long term business, rather than helping out during the early growth time. This is just because your family or friends may not be the best authority on your business, not because their opinion doesn’t matter.
When you’re putting pressure on yourself, thinking of what others will think, you have to remember that other people may be at different points in their business! I am more experienced that some, but there are plenty of people who are more knowledgable than me!
This infects every aspect of our being and our business. There were days when I came home and I had a check or an email from a client and I’d be so happy. But the next day, it was the opposite. There were no emails or checks, and it made me sad.
When it comes to our success, we need to separate our personhood from our business.
Your personal success, should not be determined by how well your business does. Business takes second place to who are you are and how you’re doing.
What about when it comes to progress? Which boxes do check? Many times we have no idea what boxes to check along the journey of learning a new skill AND starting a new business. This is okay, but you need to work on becoming a master of what you do. If you have clients and pursue new clients, you need to make sure you can perform at the level that you say you do.
When you’re starting out in your skill set, it’s not really your voice shining through early on. When I first started photography, I would just press the button. I didn’t actually know how to express myself, but nowadays I feel much more comfortable around a camera.
That doesn’t mean stop if you’re new or just learning, but to keep going! The reality is that we have to learn a new skill! In school, we’d learn something new every month or year, but as adults, we’re not used to learning complete skills.
Focus on your skill, what you want to do or sell first. Make it great! Do it for free or practice. Don’t do it to take business, but be honest about you practicing, trying, and learning. Learn from people who are where you may want to be, or at least a facet of where you want to be.
I’ve been where you’re at. It sucks. I know. You feel alone. But there’s good news.
You’re not alone.
Often times our skill and happiness are a two-way street. Many times if our skills aren’t good, our personhood will be affected by that. It also works in reverse, where if we have a bad day personally, it may affect our work. I’ve had plenty of days where if I was already having a good day, it would affect my shooting style greatly. Nowadays, it’s less, but early on it happened all the time.
Also, if you’ve only done this 1 year, don’t expect 10-year results! Just enjoy your craft for now. Keep practicing and learning. Do work for free, for people you know, etc. You’ll develop the strong portfolio you want, can charge close to what you want, and ultimately have a more fulfilling business.
I know this doesn’t feel good reading this. I know you’ve already started. The reality of measuring ourselves against others success is still going to happen and the journey ahead is so tough. People will even ask you this tough question:
Why don’t you just quit?
It’s because you feel this passion or this yearning to keep going. The key of what you’re doing is that unless you commit and do it for a longer time, you’ll never find your unique voice. You’ll have just been focusing on the skills.
Your value is not dictated on your skill. You have inherit value. Can’t take it away. Can’t add to it.
Do things long term! When Sara and I give dating advice, unless someone is a complete weirdo or a serial killer, go on a second date! You don’t ever get to know someone until after a few dates. You could make a great friend at least, but then also, you could find all the much more. It’s not THAT risky!
If you want to go faster at growing your skills, take on larger chunks. In 2010, I went on a political tour shooting 1,000 photos or more a day in at least 5 unique cities and environments, for over 4 months. I gained so much more experience by pushing myself at this time, even though I had only been photographing a year.
“No time wasted spent sharpening one’s tools” Dr. Don Meyer
Don’t hold yourself back! This may come off offensive, but I really don’t mean this in that way. Don’t call yourself “a natural light photographer”. If you are settling to only what you’ve learned so far, you’re holding yourself back. Keep going! Explore and create!
Your value is not determined by your craft.
Pick it up. Practice. Go do it. Make it happen.
I have another story about honing your craft and feeling like a success. I used to LOVE winter. It represented a time of rest, it brought on holidays, AND I think I look much better in coats (let’s be real!)! But now, when winter comes I absolutely hate it!
When winter arrives (sounds like a Game of Thrones promo!) I’m usually not as busy as I am in the rest of the year. This is where I struggle with imposter syndrome: If I’m not busy, it’s very difficult for me to feel like a success.
Often times during winter, I find myself accusing myself: “I’ve done anything noteworthy, I didn’t go anywhere cool or my clients weren’t as good as my competitors”.
When Sara and I were still dating, we chatted and I was telling her I was disappointed that I had only taken 3 international trips that year (Iceland, Guatemala, and Bolivia). I wish I had done more! I wanted to tell more stories and take this small town boy out on adventures!
Sara luckily reminded me “Adam, some people don’t even get to leave the country ever! Or the city!”. Sometimes you need people in your life to be a FORCE of reason.
Pro tip: Make sure you have some people in your corner who can help you when you’re feeling like a fraud or like you want to quit because you’re not good enough. Do NOT let it fester.
A quote I love:
“Don’t judge your behind the scenes, by someone else’s highlight reel”
Anyone’s success on Instagram, Snapchat, or otherwise is just their highlight reel! Those are great! But those are NOT your standards for success or your value!
I had a friend in college who said “Adam, it seems like life is never bad for you man.”
“How do you figure?”
He replied: “Well, on Facebook it always seems like things are going so well for you!”
Of course! Online is where I love to share the blessings and opportunities that have come my way! But that may not be where I share intimate things happening in my personal life, or at least not all of it! Ya know?
So Adam, how do I not feel like a fraud?
Some of these tips may only apply to smaller or newer business but the goal is the same.
The first thing I’d say is to focus on your skill.
Only do that, say for maybe a year or something. Let me emphasize this: you need to be very comfortable, and confident in your passion or skill set. Not just for the sake of your business, but because like we talked about earlier, you’ll be prone to judge your personhood and your value on your skills. If your skills aren’t there, you may think that you’re not valuable, and nothing will make you want to quit more than that feeling.
“But Adam, can’t I do that faster?”. What is one year in the whole span of making your life better? Your mental health?
I’ve been doing photography for 8 years! Some folks have gotten to where I am much faster than I am, others have taken a longer time. It’s personal!
You can always learn more, practice, try, hope, dream, write, create, but most of all you can always BE. You can always be YOU!
As you learn and try new things in your skill, it’ll become even better! You’ll find new facets and desires that will even fulfill you better in that skill set, and thus you’ll be more confident!
There is no quota to meet or standard, for being you. You’re already you! Congratulations, you made it! Your value is not determined by what you do.
Don’t let your clients be your standard of success. They provide a lot of valuable insight, but they’re not the full story. Also, your clients are usually short term whereas to really gauge your success, you need to know if you’re taking the proper steps to be sustainable.
Find a mentor, mentoring group, even I will gladly mentor you. Email me and let’s work something out to really help you.
Don’t say “Hey, can I take you to lunch and pick your brain?”. You’re trying to gain valuable insight that can help you long term, from hopefully someone you respect!
Also, do not just rely on a Facebook group. The folks there may not know the full you, nor will they be fully invested in you or your story. Groups are great! But if you want to go deeper, look into mentoring or other options.
Get people around you that can tell you how you’re doing, both in your skills, and your life.
Lastly, my biggest piece of advice:
STOP BEING AFRAID OF BEING WRONG.
So many people want perfection, but what happens when our goal is perfection, it often leaves us paralyzed because we’re scared to execute on the idea.
If your goal is perfection, you’ll find paralysis.
Don’t seek perfection, seek progress.
I know it feels often times like you have to take on EVERYTHING, but if you have a niche or something that is your real winning strategy, focus on that!
A guy I love, Mike Vacanti always says “Consistency over perfection”. If you focus on perfection, you won’t go to the gym, get the salad, try something new, write a new piece. You’ll be paralyzed after the first little failure.
Another guy I love, Sean Wes says “If you subject yourself to someone else’s definition of success, you’re never going to allow yourself to speak from experience”.
Often times, we always struggle with “Am I a professional?” or “Do people actually pay for my product?”.
For me, it’s only recently now that my business is finally in somewhat of a groove, that I feel like I can speak with authority on a lot of topics in the photography industry and business. I think I have a good grasp on these things, and I’m here to try.
You’ll know when you speak confidently about something. You could tell someone how to breathe? Of course! You’ve been doing it for a long time! You’re probably a master at it! That is how good you should aim to get at your craft: so good you don’t even think about it!
Being open about your struggles, and balancing honesty with humility, you can go as far as you want. If you’re honest about your development and progress, you’re not going to expect for you to be further than you are based on comparing yourself to someone else.
There will always be someone better at the thing you want to do. Someone will always have more followers, friends, reviews, better SEO, etc.
Niche down on your passion! Don’t let the fear of being a fraud keep you from the feeling of being you!
You can’t fit in someone else’s mold, you can only fit in yours. You can always change your mold, but if you try to fit into the mold of others, you’ll never be happy or find yourself feeling like a success. Success is different for everyone, and we all get there differently.
Focus on being you. You’re great.
If you’re looking for a mentor group, or would like me to mentor you, Email Me. If you enjoyed this episode and you want to tell me about it, Email Me. I’m here to help.
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What did you learn from this episode? What are you most afraid of? Email me: email@example.com
The Bearded Tog podcast is created by Washington DC Wedding Photographer Adam Mason
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Adam Mason frequently travels for wedding, event, and non-profit portrait sessions and has clients from coastal Maui to Iceland. To find out details regarding his upcoming travel dates to a city near you or to book a custom travel session, please contact for more information. You can also subscribe to Adam’s business podcast The Bearded Tog on iTunes!