Career planning: The long and Winding Road

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. ~Lewis Carroll

Yes, it’s good to have a focused and well-thought-out career plan. It’s far better than not knowing where you want to go. However, a career plan to “become rich and famous” isn’t quite specific enough

But even if you know exactly what you want (e.g. become a commercial and editorial food photographer), it’s a mistake to think that knowing where you want to go is the only road to success. Thinking that success is completely under your control (“I just have to do x, y, & z and success will happen”) can lead to major disappointment when things don’t go as planned. The map is not the territory.

It’s also an illusion that none of it is under your control (i.e.”It’s just luck; you have to be in the right place at the right time. I’ll just go with the flow.”).

In fact, it’s both…and it’s always been both.
Ask any top photographer who’s both self-reflective and honest,
and you’ll hear that his or her success was made of both luck and hard work.

Good luck happens when preparedness meets opportunity. ~Author unknown

For the preparedness piece, no matter where you are in your career, engaging in continuing education is essential–both to improve your imaging skills and to keep current with industry changes. Apprenticing will expose you to different–and possibly better–work flow systems. Learning sales and marketing skills will definitely help support your career success.

Until the day comes when your preparedness meets up with a great opportunity, there’s another important element of a successful career planning to consider.

I’ve noticed that those who’ve enjoyed long and successful careers, place a lot of importance on work/life balance. A photographer often learns too late that by going full-tilt in only one direction (i.e., focusing only on career) they are at risk of ending up burned-out and alone.

To find a balance that works for you, consider planning your photography career by working backwards. Pretend for a moment that on your last day alive, you have both the time plus the mental and emotional clarity,  to reflect back on your entire life.

What in your photo career made you the most proud and fulfilled? Was it fame? Fortune? The respect of your peers? Self-respect? The income to support a family? Did you have a career path that supported your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and allowed you time to connect with friends, family, and community?

If the latter is part of your vision, then, as Steven Covey says in his perennial best-seller “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” you need to make sure that “you put the big rocks in first.”  That means that in every daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly calendar–in addition to scheduling activities that directly relate to your work–you also put into your schedule those non-work activities that support your whole life.

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. ~John Lennon