Photographers spend a lot of time ensuring we have the right settings during a session. We spend hours in front of our monitors tweaking an image to get it to look just right. We pour over educational courses looking for ways to improve our technique and business acumen. But we don’t talk a lot about one of the biggest tools for success that we possess: a mindset shift.
Of all the things I’ve learned and changed, the most important was a simple mindset shift I made in my photography business. This small but powerful change helped me grow my business to six figures and quadruple my income in under a year.
It’s ridiculously simple, really. And I’ll share it with you today in hopes that you can benefit from it as much as I have.
What is a Mindset? Why is it Important?
Your mindset is nothing more than the established set of attitudes you hold. Our mindset guides how we handle situations, make decisions and capitalize on opportunities. These beliefs can help us grow and achieve. The wrong mindset can also hold us back, trapping us in negative feedback loops and cycles of self-defeat.
Face of the Business
So many marketing courses I took repeated the same thing…you are the face of your business. As entrepreneurs, we are the brands behind our photography businesses. Some of us even put our actual name on our business. We are taught that our personality, our values, and even our face is the representation of our business.
So is it any wonder then, that we tie our self-worth into the success or failure of our imagery or business? We:
- Stress over whether clients will like their images
- Internalize conflicts with clients
- Overwork to the detriment of our health and relationships
- See a business failure or setback as a personal failing and heap shame and suffering upon ourselves.
- Believe we must do a “good job” to be worthy of love and respect.
In short, we blur the lines between business and self-worth and let how others view our work product affect how we view ourselves. And that, my friends, is unhealthy and dangerous.
The Mindset Shift That Changed Everything
The most powerful thing I’ve ever done for myself and my business was to understand this:
I AM NOT MY PHOTOGRAPHY.
I am a person with wonderful qualities and gifts to bring to this world. My photography is an expression of who I am. My business reflects aspects of my personality. But I am not my photography, nor am I my business.
I’ve learned how to separate how others feel about or interact with my work or business from how I feel about myself.
You are not your photography, nor your business.
How Others’ Opinions Affect Our Self-Worth
Too often we let others’ opinions about our photographs or skills affect how we feel about ourselves. Let me give you just a few examples.
Have you ever:
- Internalized criticism of your work? When someone criticized your photograph, did you jump from “my work isn’t good enough” to “I’m not good enough. I’m a failure.”
- Avoided public interactions with past clients you had a difficult experience with?
- Let a personal relationship suffer because of a business interaction?
- Been afraid to take a risk or make a decisions because you’re afraid others won’t like you?
I can’t tell you how many times I sent off a gallery to clients and proceeded to stress and worry.
The progression usually went something like this:
“Okay. Gallery Sent. I really love these. I think they are some of my best work ever. I can’t wait to hear what she has to say.”
“Oh no. It’s been 24 hours and she hasn’t said anything. I know she opened the gallery. She must hate them. I shouldn’t have posed them like that. I need to learn to control the flow of a session better. I’m going to have to refund their money. These are awful. Why did I think I could do this? I should just quit. I’m so inept.”
“Finally, an e-mail. I could throw up. I don’t want to open it. If she hates them I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll have to see her at soccer practice every night knowing she thinks I’m a crappy photographer. I can’t do this. Everyone will know I messed this up and no one will trust me anymore. I’m so stupid.”
“Oh she loved them! Her favorite photos ever. Hallelujaha!”
Have you ever experienced something like this? We let what someone else thinks of our work product affect our emotions, our health, and worse yet, what we think and feel about ourselves.
How insane is that? I mean truly…that’s unhealthy and unfair to the awesomeness that is you.
Your Are Worthy. You Are Enough. Just as We Are.
One of my all-time favorite movie scenes comes toward the end of “Bridget Jones’ Diary.” In the scene, Mark Darcy, a stuffy English barrister, tells Bridget Jones that he likes her. She begins to qualify that statement with some of her flaws when Mark interrupts her.
“No, I like you very much. Just as you are.”
We are enough. We are worthy of love and respect and admiration, just as we are. If we never take another picture, we are still enough. If our business fails, we are still worthy. We are still smart, funny, fun, capable, courageous, brave, strong, and creative. We are enough.
Tell yourself that over and over and over again until you believe it.
I AM NOT MY PHOTOGRAPHY.
How This Mindset Shift Helped Grow My Business
When I was able to separate my self-worth from photography, I was able to grow and scale my business in ways I never dreamed. This belief shift:
- Gave me the confidence to make bold business decisions
- Improved my authenticity
- Allowed me to delegate
I now believe that no matter how “good” or “bad” my work is judged by others, I’m still me. That’s given me the confidence to take risks. I understand that if I try something in my business and it fails, it was only a business failure. I’m still me. I’m still a mom, wife, friend, sister, and community member who is loved.
Making the mindset shift gave me the confidence to pursue some large and lucrative photography jobs in 2020. I knew even if I didn’t get the bid or failed, I’d be okay. I put myself out there more, made new contacts, acted a little more aggressively, raised my prices, and bid high. And those risks paid off. I quadrupled my annual income in a single year, creating a six-figure photography business in the midst of a global pandemic.
Those facts aren’t to brag. I share this to demonstrate just how powerful this mindset shift has been for me.
When I wasn’t worried about disappointing others or not being liked because of business decisions, I liberated myself. The mindset that I am not my photography gave me room to think and act more authentically. I no longer feel compelled to operate my business based on someone else’s idea of success or rightness. I feel free to use my own words, pursue my own goals, and determine my own course of action.
Delegate and Grow
Before I changed my mindset, I never delegated work. I felt obligated to have my hands on every aspect of my photography. My business was a one-woman show and I was drowning in the belief that I had to do it all. Delegating those tasks or hiring someone else to do some of my work felt like cheating. Clients were paying for me, right?
My mindset shift helped me realize they were paying for my personality, yes, but they were also paying for an end-product. And as long as that end product met my standards, it didn’t really matter how it got accomplished.
Knowing that I am not my photography helped me relinquish control of certain tasks. I send galleries out for editing, hire assistants for shoots, hired a kick-ass accountant, and am in the process of hiring a virtual assistant.
Perhaps the greatest gift this mindset shift has given me is eliminating tension in my relationships.
For example, an unhappy client used to cause me personal unhappiness. I’d lose sleep, become distracted, and feel shame. I was constantly hounded by a single negative thought: you aren’t good enough.
Or I’d feel extremely hurt when close friends would hire another photographer. It felt like they were rejecting ME as a person and it hurt me very, very deeply.
But stepping back from wrapping my self-worth up in my business has changed all that for the better. I deal with the occasional unhappy client on a professional level and move on. I don’t care if my friends hire another photographer because I’m in that relationship for their friendship, not their business. And I believe that not matter what happens professionally, I can maintain positive personal relationships with those I love.
Making the Mindset Shift
So how did I start separating my attitudes about myself from my photography? It didn’t happen overnight, I can tell you that much. It was an ongoing process almost a year in the making.
Read books on mindset and getting out of your head. A few of my favorites are “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle; “Unfu*k Yourself” by Gary John Bishop, and “You Are a Badass” by Jen Sincero. Listen to inspiring podcasts, specifically those on mindset. Join a growth-based Facebook group. Surround yourself with people who have a positive mindset. Find a tribe that helps you feel good about yourself OUTSIDE of your business.
Retrain Your Brain.
Start paying very close attention to your self-talk and learn to talk to yourself and about yourself differently. Start simply by replacing my business for me in conversations with yourself and others. For example, if you have a conflict with a client, tell yourself “This client has a problem with the speed of the business’s workflow. What changes can I make in my business to address her concerns?”
I know, I know. That’s so new-agey. But learning to meditate and create space in your head for calm really can help.
Is This Worthy of My Energy?
Ask yourself if the thing you’re obsessing over truly worth your emotional energy. Is it a long term problem? Chances are, it’s not. Resolve the issue and move on. Why waste your time, energy and spirit on people or things that truly don’t matter?
Pursue Other Interests.
There is life outside of photography. Find hobbies that don’t involve a camera. Set boundaries on when you’ll work in your business. Develop relationships outside of your business life. You will be all the richer for it. I’ve taken on freelance writing jobs that have nothing to do with photography and I love them.
Confront the Worst.
Finally, one of my worst fears as a photographer and business owner was not having any clients. I’d defined myself these last few years as a photographer and not having work or a business was scary.
In the spring of 2020, that fear became reality. The coronavirus pandemic shut down my business for months. I was let go from writing jobs because they couldn’t afford to pay me. I had to confront the concept of not having a photography business in a very real way.
It was scary and there were lots of tears, but in the end, I survived. I learned I was still me, on the inside. If I had to shutter my business and homeschool full-time…I was still worthy. If I had to sell my gear and take part-time job in town, I was still a creative soul. No matter what happened, I’ll always be me…a person worthy of love and capable of great things.
So confront the worst…usually we find out that the worst isn’t that scary after all.
Don’t Let Photography Define Us
Our photography is our art. But it is not us. Our businesses can add value to our lives. The income can enrich our financial health. The relationships we form can bring joy and fullness to our personalities. But our photography IS NOT and CAN NOT be the sum total of who we are or the life we live.
We are so, so much more. Let’s start living in that belief. Make the mindset shift and change your life.