I’m seated on a plane headed to Las Vegas. I don’t like flying at all, but I will never turn down an adventure. Plus, I’m tired and need a break. With just three days off in the middle of the busiest season of my photography career to-date, I decided to squeeze in a few days away with my husband to unwind and have some fun.
To occupy my mind during the flight, I take out my phone and begin to look ahead at my annual calendar. I am pleased with the number of bookings so far, but for some reason, it’s just never enough. Then the panic sets in. ‘What if my calendar doesn’t fill up?’ I wonder. ‘What if I can’t pay my bills or afford my daughter’s braces?’ ‘What if no one likes my work anymore and my business becomes insignificant?’
One would think that after two decades as a professional photographer, I would be past this sort of panic by now. Of course, I’m not. The reality is, every single year I consider quitting. Every single year I’m sick with worry that my slow season (January-April) won’t pick up and that I’ll never work again. The emotional anguish can be unbearable and my self-doubt can sometimes consume me.
By all accounts I’m considered a successful business woman. I’ve found long-term success in an industry I love. I’ve traveled to amazing places and photographed incredible people. I’ve won dozens of awards, published a book, hosted successful exhibitions all over my home state of New Jersey, and been featured in photography blogs all over the world. I ask myself how I could possibly have these thoughts of doubt?
This is when I realized that it was time to be honest about just how scary success can be. I know so many creative entrepreneurs who go through this same thing year after year, and often suffer alone or in silence. Well, I’m here to let you know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Even the most successful business owners can be plagued by self-doubt and fear. These thoughts and feelings, unfortunately, have never gone away and I don’t believe they ever will. However, I’ve learned they can be dealt with. I believe that the difference between success and failure is resilience.
So, you ask, how do I handle it? How do I move past all the self-doubt and worry? To start, I channel my anxiety into growth. One of the biggest stresses is that the photography industry is ever-changing. New technology seems to come out annually and style and aesthetic appears to shift by the minute. To combat this, I research what new products can help my business and learn how to incorporate them into my work. I invest in an online course to inspire me if my work feels stale. I talk with fellow creatives and brainstorm new ideas and collaborations that can boost our businesses. In short, I take my worry and turn it into action that helps separate myself from my competition. Ask any photographer and they’ll tell you that shooting is the easy part. The rest of “it” is the challenge!
The best advice I can give you is to not get too comfortable. Each year I analyze my advertising and marketing efforts and find new ways to network with potential clients. I fine-tune my style and my craft and learn new techniques if they make sense for my business. I think about how I can address my weaknesses and improve upon them. It’s important to analyze new trends and see if your business can benefit from them. You can fear the industry changes, but do not ignore them!
Of course, the technical side of business is not the only issue. Many photographers discuss the technical struggle with ease, but we rarely acknowledge the emotional challenge of it all. The trend is to flaunt your successes on social media, which simply adds to the fear and self-doubt that keeps us (me) up all night. They’re often our deepest, darkest secrets.
As artists, in general, we are sensitive creatures. We have egos that get in the way of our rational thoughts and cause our most irrational fears. We desire, and often need, to be reassured that our work is good enough. When a client isn’t happy or a critic tears our work apart, it can feel like a dagger. But this is when we grow the most with resilience and a bit of tough skin! If you truly desire to be in the photography business; if it’s your passion and your heart and soul, then you must find a way to persist and move forward. It’s not always easy, but it will be worth it.
The final hurdle is balance. If you’re married or in a committed relationship, it’s important that your partner is on board with you as you start and grow your business. Photographers miss so many family events because of the line of work. The long hours editing, the weekends shooting, can be that much more difficult if your family isn’t behind you. My daughter was born knowing that I work weekends, travel often, and sometimes must miss a holiday concert or recital. However, I will make time for a mother/daughter trip each year to connect and bond. Finding that time, any length of it, to connect with your loved ones is so important for the technical and emotional well-being of both yourself and your business.
In summary, when you find yourself overcome by fear wondering how you’re going to do this, just remember, there are so many others wondering the same thing. You can let it defeat you or you can let it inspire you to act. I hope you choose the latter.
About Veronica Yankowski
Veronica L. Yankowski is an international award-winning photographer specializing in documentary style events, soulful portraits, and empowering boudoir. Veronica began her career in 1996 after earning her degree in journalism (cum laude) from Rider University. She worked part-time for The Trentonian for two years before freelancing for some of the area’s top news outlets, such as The Star Ledger, The New York Times, and The Associated Press. After the birth of her daughter in 2005, Veronica shifted gears and left the news world to begin her portraiture business. It wasn’t until 2012 that she branded her company VeroLuce Photography; “veroluce” is Italian for “truth and light.” Known for her soulful portraits, she expanded her business by creating Veroluce Boudoir in 2013. That same year, reality TV star Dina Manzo of “Real Housewives of New Jersey” posed for a boudoir session, establishing Veronica as an expert in photographing women and helping them feel empowered.