How It Feels When Your Photography Dream Turns Into A Nightmare
Have you ever thought about quitting your job to live for photography? It's a dream that almost every photographer daydreams about at a certain point. I took a leap of faith and made that dream come true a few years ago. What I didn't expect though was that this dream could also turn into the biggest nightmare you wake up to in the morning.
First of all, let me tell you that I don't regret one single day. I would've done the same thing again without an inch of a doubt. I truly believe in following your heart wherever it takes you. Only then, your soul can find the light and peace it longs for. Living for my photography has been the most rewarding, but also challenging experience of my life. If you've ever thought about quitting your job to live for photography or you're just curious how wild this ride really can get, then buckle up and don't miss this.
I don't know whether you like your current job or not, but if you love photography, I'm sure you found yourself every now and then daydreaming about walking out of there to capture golden moments. A few years ago, I was stuck in a corporate job that wasn't meant for me. In order to find some happiness in my life and take my photography to the next level, I decided to do a 365 project after work. After a few weeks, I discovered street photography. It felt like I broke my creative chains for the first time. Besides that, I finally had a purpose in life that truly filled my heart and soul with love and happiness.
What started out as a nice change of scenery from the corporate treadmill soon turned into the center of my life. I dedicated so much of my time to street photography, that crunching numbers in Excel almost felt like a healthy break from taking photos. When I was traveling to Korea to translate my visual style into another country and culture, it hit me like a brick: I have to dedicate my life to photography. Although everyone tried to convince me that it's almost impossible to make a living as a fine art photographer, I was deeply convinced there has to be a way.
I returned to Germany and did what I had to do: quit my job to chase my dream. To me, it also wasn't fair towards my employer to have someone working for them that wasn't fully committed to his job. Despite strong doubts by quite a few close people around me, I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply and handed in my notice.
Finally settling sails to new horizons was one of the best feelings I've ever experienced in my life. You are counting every little day till you can finally leave the duck pond and become that eagle you always wanted to be. What a feeling! It's insanely liberating and you just can't stop smiling. However, after that initial honey moon phase, reality slowly sets in. Now you really have to live for it. Your initial excitement lights a fire of motivation and discipline in you that will burn everything to the ground that stands in your way. However, what it means to have to live for photography, you only realize much later. And that's where you walk the fine line between dream and nightmare.
Before I elaborate more about that minefield of fun and disaster, let me switch from moaning to motivating Marius real quick. Yes, it is possible to live your dream and dedicate your life to photography. Humans have gone to the moon and back, this is a piece of cake in comparison. I'm convinced that if you put your mind to it, you are able to identify strengths in your photography that you can turn into valuable assets for potential customers. As long as you create value for others, there is always a way for money to be made. Why not, you are helping others and in return they help you live off your passion.
There is just one big challenge: being able to live off what truly got you into quitting your job and is fun for you. What made me hand in my notice was my deep desire to live and work as an artist. However, even with more than 10 awards at that time I merely sold a few artworks here and there. I was far from living off that alone. In order to survive, you look for other ways to make a living with photography. Since I love inspiring and motivating people around me, coaching photographers was the best I could come up with. I wrote 5 e-books that I've been selling worldwide ever since and coached quite a few photographers around the globe. The money I made from awards, print sales, licensing my photos, selling my eBooks, coaching photographers and publishing my own fine art magazine was enough to live off it in the end. I did it, I made my dream come true and proved all the people wrong that never believed in me. But I was more miserable than ever. Depression hit me hard during financial hardships and even in times where I spent my time in a pool in Thailand on a regular Monday, something wasn't right: my inner creative child didn't want to play anymore. It ran away from home.
It's amazing to see how your creativity changes once you have to be creative. I'm sure you love your favorite food, movie or song more than anything, but if you are forced to consume it, the magic starts to disappear. I guess it's the spontaneity and excitement that fades once you are exposed to it at all times. With bills and all sorts of other business issues in mind, I was so busy making a living off photography, that I forgot to love it. I never took as few photos as when I was a full time photographer. It felt like this young, innocent creative child that loved photography all of a sudden traded it in for a suit, tie and a tax forms. It all sounded so great! If I learn how to wear the big boy pants, I could take them off anytime and play in the sand box whenever I want.
Eventually this inner conflict drove me into yet another deep depression in the beginning of this year. The grim reaper was back. No motivation, no energy, no inspiration, nothing. For months on end I couldn't do anything photography related. Depression is absolutely debilitating. It's the most evil soul-destroying demon I've ever experienced in my life. How is it even possible that Satan destroys my soul, when I don't even have one as a ginger? Man, the universe really wanted to tell me something if it had to call in Satan again. Depression is like burning down a gorgeous forest that you can't see anymore because of all the trees. It's insanely painful, excruciating to see, but necessary. Sometimes, you have to burn down the whole forest in order to let something new grow. After months of feeling down and looking at a field of ash, I started throwing around some seeds. Even though I couldn't believe something would ever grow there again, I kept sowing.
Half a year later I got an amazing job offer out of nowhere from an American company in Amsterdam. They hired me to curate photos for the entertainment industry and built up business relations with the world's biggest entertainment companies. I couldn't believe how lucky I was. My depression, anxiety and all sorts of issues faded away. It really is true, if you love the universe, it will love you back. It may not be easy at times, because the soul needs to grow, but in the end it wants you to be happy.
The day I started to work for them, I saw someone that I love from the bottom of my heart, but haven't seen in a long time: my inner creative child. It honestly felt like I lost him on my journey, gave up hope to ever see him again and all of a sudden he climbed over my cubicle and jumped into my arms again! The first time we captured a golden moment together after 8 months of not touching my camera, I cried my eyes out. I couldn't believe it, he was back! For the last months I've been shooting like never before and can't wait to bring every little photography dream I have to life.
But how is it possible that I can fall so deeply into the depths of depression? Couldn't I just stay cool and move on? After the third big forest fire all of a sudden it hit me when a psychologist diagnosed me with ADHD. Every little moment in my life made so much sense now. If you don't know what it is, it means "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder". Basically, in your brain there is an imbalance of dopamine. In certain areas I have too little, in others too much. As a consequence, I always bounce around between inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. To be honest, even though my depression can get as severe as it gets, I would describe my ADHD still as moderate. It's not completely debilitating, but it's definitely interfering with my life in a good and bad way.
I always describe it to people as the mighty sword Excalibur. It's sharp, powerful and way too heavy to handle at first. You can "cut" yourself a lot with your negative thoughts and if you don't watch out, you can even decapitate yourself. If you embrace your ADHD, you can learn how to turn yourself into a knight with a more or less shining armor. You will go through hell, you will want to give up, but if you keep going and learn to deal with it, you will carry Excalibur with pride instead of dead weight on you. What truly helped me was to find an environment that helped me embrace it. That's why I love Amsterdam so much! Almost everyone has some sort of Excalibur whether it's a different background, mental health issues or a crazy back story. We are all lost souls here that are lost together and that is the most beautiful thing I've ever experienced.
Although it's really hard to admit to yourself that you need to go back to the corporate life again, it was the best thing I did in a long time. Does that make me any less of a professional photographer? Not at all, it turned me into one again. My output is bigger than ever before! To all you weekend warriors out there, you are all legends in the making no matter what you do to pay for ice cream, rent and gear! It's all about how much you really love yourself, light and life that fills your photography passion with fire. Whether that happens after 6PM or all day long, doesn't matter. You rock no matter what!
I hope I could give you a little bit of insight into the journey from cubicle farm to sand box and back. Stay awesome, stay wonderful and never forget: Your most important gear is your eye, heart and soul...
...wait a second...I'm a ginger that doesn't have a soul and my bromance with Satan was so big that every night he whispered in my ears: "I will never leave you!"
Man, glad I learned my lesson, kicked that freak in the sheets out and found my inner creative child again! Let's rock!
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