When things aren't working out the way you hoped

And how to get yourself moving forward

Image by Lala V on Unsplash
Anton Zemlyanoy
photographer, coach ICF, m.psych
Some things aren't going to go your way. Actually, a lot of things aren't. And you have a roller coaster of emotions ahead of you: from euphoria after a great project to disappointments after the ones you stuff up, with all of the subsequent periods of low self-esteem and uncertainty, to be then replaced by deep satisfaction for sticking through the tough period and with the progress you've been making... And then it starts again, but not in exactly the same way.
Such is the journey of any freelancer, especially in the creative field where you are trying to express your inner beliefs and continually putting them on display for everyone to fall either in love with, to judge, or even worse - to ignore. And that's after you have gone through the early period of immersing yourself in the new craft when your toughest judges can be the closest ones to you and who might not be taking your hobby seriously. Yes, at certain times you will not be able to photograph well, write well, speak well, dance well. In the beginning, it will be your enthusiasm and adrenalin from doing something new that will help you get through such periods of low-quality output.

Later, once you can do a decent job with your hobby, you will either, to your surprise, get recommendations and clients right away, while at other times - not hear from your "good" clients for months. Some may even sit you down and give you an honest advice saying that you "made the wrong choice and should return to your previous job" (I myself received such advice from an industry expert three years into my photography only to be contradicted by another one, thank goodness, later on in the same day). Or you might realise that you need to develop a new style, but can't seem to get a grip on it since your habit of shooting or painting or writing in the familiar to you way is your safety zone and you come back to staying safe on a big project. And then, eventually, once you "get it" and finally become a recognised professional, you stuff up one of your most important-to-date projects and don't hear from your best clients again, and you start blaming… either yourself or "them". And whenever such "events" happen, you will be facing a period of (temporary, if you're willing to get out of it) working emptiness and an emotional low.
Welcome to the "I don't think I'm gonna make it" zone. So, you now need to climb out of it. And the faster the better, before it becomes a downward spiral and sucks you in and causes you to feel fake, not talented, alone…

In order to do this, you need to get to know yourself a little better and figure out:
a) what raises your energy levels and;
b) what works best for you, and only you, for replacing fear and other destructive thoughts with inspiration and getting you into "I wanna try this one thing" mode.
Life is a marathon, not a sprint.
– Author uknown
By energy I mean how you feel physically and there are three ways to raise it sustainably: sleep, exercise and nutrition. These seem to be somewhat universal for everyone. When you haven't gotten enough sleep and don't feel great physically, it is tough to start something new or to continue a project after a setback. Run, swim, play, rest, compete, trek, walk, dance, sing, go on a date - whatever does it for you.

Now, figuring out your emotional formula will be unique for each person, and you need to experiment until you understand what works for you. What is it that makes you want to jump to working on your craft as soon as possible? Seeing your favourite writer speak? After completing a course? Hanging out with your colleagues who are going through similar stages? Spending a weekend in nature? Watching a documentary about someone you admire or simply seeing a beautifully-shot film by Christopher Doyle (one of my favourites!)? Or are you finding yourself thinking that since you're now past 30 - you need to stick to the path you chose earlier, but then you read an article about Samuel L. Jackson getting his big break in acting at the age of 43(!), go on to reading his biography only to find out that he was going through the similar emotions, but kept on moving and now, feeling inspired, you jump back to your project without even finishing the book?
Over time, I realised that the following help me climb out of "I'm feeling kind of empty" zone:

  • a biography of a successful creative person who went through similar to me periods;
  • a biographical documentary of the same subject;
  • visiting an exhibition;
  • sitting in on a lecture or seminar;
  • a successful shoot.

You only need enough inspiration to help you get from the "I'm not gonna make it" zone to "I'm gonna give it a try" area, where feelings of possibility take more space in your head than those that keep you staying in your safety zone. Once there - you need to start taking those actions that have the maximum potential outcome (there is a brilliant Pareto principle that I'll talk about another time, but you need to understand that some of your actions, although they take the same amount of time to go through, will give you tenfold amount of opportunities).
I really love the saying "Life is a marathon, not a sprint". It seems to be the same with any career, especially that of a freelancer. Just know that you will have periods of fast and intense sprints, some successful, some not, after which you will need to rest and recover. Having rested, though, you will need to continue going forward and making progress, however small, to keep growing professionally (which equals getting more work).

Yep, things will not go your way. Mostly in the beginning, when you're trying something new. With time - less. But then you will hit a period when you'll need to learn something new in order to grow and, again, things will not go your way. What you do during these periods will determine how much you will grow professionally. You just need to keep going. And don't get upset when your close ones don't get it why you can't "simply go and do another shoot or write another piece and get over yourself". It's not their job to get it. It's yours. And you need to learn how to get out of those ruts yourself, so become curious about what makes you tick, and with time you will catch yourself before the fall becomes too far down. TU

P.S. I will leave you with one of my favourite poems from Bruce Lee:

The doubters said,
"Man can not fly,"
The doers said,
"Maybe, but we'll try,"
And finally soared
In the morning glow
While non-believers
Watched from below.
– Bruce Lee