I am sitting here this morning, after waking up at 4:15 am to help a friend with a photography project on the beach, thinking about our friendship. We met a few years ago when our kids were starting swim team together. We started talking about things beyond family and kids, and got into what we really do. What, at the heart of it, is our life, or skills, and our passion.

She’s one of the top graphic and textile designers in the world. Her talent and her skills are top notch. Not a humble brag, this friend has the pedigree and resume to back it up. She’s amazing. We’ve developed a friendship over the years, but even more special to me, she’s become a mentor. She’s an advisor. When I struggle with creative projects, or the direction I want to go, or getting bogged down in the client work, a refreshing walk with her, will perk my spirits and truly get me back on track.

She talks to me often about my “brand”, what I have to offer, what I excel in, my voice. She is a huge proponent of work/life balance, and often pulls me back out of the weeds and puts things into perspective. She’s got the experience, and she’s got the eye, and she’s been through it. She’s a trusted advisor.

Even though she’s not a photographer, she’s a perfect mentor for me. She’s shaped me and brought me alongside her.

Find that.

Look for people who push you. The biggest growth I’ve had as a photographer, and almost anything in life is from these mentor relationships. Build them up. Treasure friends, colleagues, that push you to be better, who challenge your status quo, who listen and advise and want you to be the best you can be.

Just yesterday, I was talking to a friend and fellow photographer who was told that all photographers are introverts. That photographers sought out photography because they were solitary beings. We might, have a bit of independence, we might seek and see the world from a different perspective than other people, but we have a community, and there are lots that are further along in their journey. If you approach it with the right attitude, these relationships grow naturally.

I didn’t seek out this friend as a mentor. I didn’t offer to buy her a cup of coffee and develop a formal paid mentorship with her. We get together, we go for hikes, and we work on projects, and she imparts wisdom.

So… when I get a call at 4am asking if I’ll come to the beach with her to create art. I’ll jump on it. Even, if as today, it was a total and utter bust, as the waves were too big, and the tide was coming in too fast, I got to spend two hours in great conversation. Great conversation about art, direction, and creative pursuits. I always make it a priority to jump up when she asks.

Tomorrow, we’ll try again. Tomorrow, we’ll head to the beach again, and tomorrow, we’ll come up with something grand. Art? Perhaps. If not art, it will still be inspiring. Creating something grand is inevitable. But today, I’m able to reflect on the fact that mentors make all the difference. They push you to excellence, and they challenge you in ways you had not even thought of.

So, find someone to talk to, even if they aren’t a photographer. Find someone who will listen, and has experience with what you are struggling with. Seek those people out the ones that you’ve already established a rapport with, and your photography will grow with it.