ProgressionZappa

Note: Welcome to Melissa Niu, who’s joined the Photofocus team.  Be sure to follow her on Twitter. 

Coming from a broadcast journalism background, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing some of the most unique talents from various respective fields.  My life right out of college was spent chasing down the stories and thoughts of professional athletes, politicians, professors, CEO’s, humanitarians, musicians and what later came, photographers.  But let’s be honest.  Grabbing a microphone and a cameraman for a sound bite to fill the 10 o’clock news was always just a temporary excuse to fulfill my eager necessity to learn something.  Every human being I have interviewed has continually opened my mind to lessons and principles that motivate, inspire and provoke personal inspiration.

My work place, or as I like to call it my “personal inspirational classroom” ranged from places like the Seattle Mariners locker room to the backstage private press room at a concert and now to the most recent endeavors, the studios of successful photographers.  Whether the video camera was rolling or not, my nosey curiosity frequently asked of their hardships and advice for high achievement.  No matter what industry these professionals excelled in, they all shared very similar philosophies of finding success in their field of expertise.

So, which of the advice below can relate to you, the photographer?  All of it.   No matter what field you are currently aspiring to master, the following principles apply to your desired progression.

1. Comparison Will Kill You

One of the greatest NFL Wide Receivers gave me incredible insight to the grueling and ugly plague we all suffer from; comparison.  This NFL player had coaches who were repetitively comparing his stats to the others.  He was always slower than the others on his 40-yard dash, he didn’t have the best vertical jump and he most definitely wasn’t the strongest.  He once fell into the deep, dark death trap of comparison that his coaches, media or his fans put him in.  If he continued to compare his stats to others he knew he would always lose.  He felt like he was dying a slow mental death and gradually digging his own career grave.

He had enough. Since he believed that comparison was inevitable, he decided he needed to compare what he DOES have over others rather than what he DOESN’T have. He realized his strengths and perfected them.  Hard work, precision, persistence, determination and absolute love for the game became his focus.

So how did he do? He had a record breaking career, Hall of Fame induction, Super Bowls, Pro Bowls and was also considered one of the Best Wide Receivers to ever play the game…I’d say Jerry Rice’s hard work paid off.

How can this apply to you?

There are so many ways you can “compare your stats” to other photographers.  How many times have you compared equipment, skills, social media fan numbers, client lists, etc.?  If you don’t stop yourself now, you’ll be digging your own career grave and dying a slow mental death.  Snap out of it.  Compare what you DO have rather than what you DON’T have.  Be precise, work hard and develop an absolute love for what you do.  Realize your strengths and perfect them.

 

2. Everyone Sucks

No matter who I spoke with, the truth of the matter is that everyone has a point in which they feel they sucked.  Embrace the fact that just as every athlete has good games and bad games, so do artists. Every legendary musician has scores of handwritten music that never make it past their trashcan.  And I can assure you that every award-winning photographer has images they’re most definitely not proud of.  Don’t let an insecure moment stop you from progressing.

3. Know What You’re Good At

I once interviewed an extremely tall and lengthy NBA basketball player.  In the midst of a press conference outside of his locker room, he jokingly muttered a quote to me off the record that I’ll never forget.

“God sure didn’t put me here to be a horse racing jockey.  I know what I’ve got, I know my skills and I’ll use them to my advantage.”

Do you know what you are good at?  Exploit the passions and skills that were implanted in you and use them.  Put them to work and utilize them to your advantage.

4. Deviate From the Norm

Composer and musician, Frank Zappa, said “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

When is the last time you tried something out of your comfort zone?  When is the last time you worked for days to perfect one skill?

Race car drivers practice certain turns on a track for hours and hours just to shave milliseconds off their race time.  In order to get better, we must put the hours in to progress and master our craft to make ourselves the best at it.

5. Don’t Fear the Up and Coming

An interview with a certain successful photographer demonstrated something so powerful.  This talented artist taught other photographers everything he knew.  I was confused and questioned if he ever had the thought that these artists would copy him or surpass his skills.  He simply stated that if he shared what he knew to the up and coming artists, he would be forced to go and learn something new.

If you accept the fact that everyone has their own set of skills and you’re constantly working towards bettering your own talents, fear of others is irrelevant.

6. Passion Fuels

Writers have writers block, athletes have injuries, creatives have failures and politicians lose voters.

Disappointments will happen and flops will strike, but regardless of what field you are aspiring to master, put a little fuel on the fire in the form of passion.  If you love what you do and simply stick to it, you will instantly set yourself apart from the high percentage that give up.

So what is stopping you from progressing?  Are you confident and letting go of fear?  Are you embracing your strengths and perfecting them?  Regardless of your failures, is passion still fueling your fire? Are you progressing?

If I have learned anything from the newfound relationships of the industry’s most successful, it’s absolutely apparent that those individuals never stopped progressing.   Surrounding yourself with stories and personalities of strength can open your eyes to a whole new level of principles that bring success.  Everyone should, could and can experience success that comes in the form of progression.  That is, of course, if you’re willing to work for it.

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About MelissaNiu

Melissa Niu is a storyteller at heart. Niu's work ranges from her Broadcast Journalism experience at NBC in Seattle to her recent work as a co-founder and host of the photography platform, [FRAMED] Network. Her passion for photography, music and journalistic skills harvests into a massive need to tell a good story. As a mother of three daughters and running multiple businesses, Niu is constantly seeking balance, health, laughter and progression.

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