Photography Motivation: What Drives You?
What drives you as an individual and as a photographer? Why do you do what you do? Hang on. What has photography motivation got to do with building a thriving business?
Everything, actually. Certainly more than meets the eye.
Getting to grips with what drives us is not only crucial to our personal sense of wellbeing, but crucial for business longevity, too.
This is the third article in our series on building a thriving photography business. We hope to enrich and empower your business efforts—whether you’re just starting the journey or you’re well down the track. (If you’re just joining us, we suggest that you start at the first article here: Building a Thriving Photography Business.)
Business Motivation = Photography Motivation
In a moment, we ‘re going dig deep into how the human psyche works, and look at the forces that drive us.
Initially, it may feel a little far from the subject of business success, but as you’ll see in a moment, it touches on the essential core of who we are.
By investigating our personal motivations, we get gut-honest with the internal drives that flavour our photography motivations and our business aspirations.
Again, I turn to The iBoss Dilemma where Craig continues to share his experiences as he wrestles with this issue of motivation. (This really is mind-blowing stuff … and there are a few diagrams to check out, too.)
Do yourself a favour. Get a strong cup of coffee and carve out the time to read this with care and deliberation.
“Why do you want to do this?”
A simple question. An elementary question. An obvious question.
A question that only dawned on me late in the game. It proved, however, to be a game changer.
Let’s back up a little.
A little over ten years ago, when I was still living in South Africa, I was asked to consult for a well-to-do business. (The specifics I’ll keep secret to protect the innocent. I’ve always wanted to say that.)
I had an uneasy feeling about working with them. At the risk of sounding judgemental, they just seemed a little pretentious. Showy. Flashy. Yes, this was my impression of them, and knowing I could well be wrong, I took the meeting. After all, a friend of mine had referred me to them, and he’d spoken well of them, too. I was yet to decide whether I’d assist or not, but I went with an open mind.
I sat in a large, plush boardroom across from the two men who ran the business. I’ll call them Fred and Barney. Fred was the head honcho and Barney, the sidekick (at least in my dealings with them).
The room was replete with every gizmo and gadget you can think of, and I felt wined and dined (even before we went for dinner at an extravagant restaurant in the area). It seemed that they were not short for money, and I could pretty much name my price.
Still, something didn’t sit right. I listened to the plans laid out and was impressed with the careful thought behind it all. Fred nailed the presentation and ended it with a deal-sealer. Having some knowledge of my background via our mutual friend, knowing my interest in community development in Africa, he said that the purpose of the venture was to sow vast sums of finance into projects in Zimbabwe.
Now he certainly had my attention. I was overseeing work in Zimbabwe at the time, and partnering with a business whose stated goal was to plough investment into needy areas of that beleaguered country was sweet music to my ears.
Yabba dabba doo!
I was almost giddy with elation and soared through the rest of the meeting, and onto the restaurant afterwards as well.
It was only halfway through the next meeting, a week later, when I thought to ask a rather obvious question. That obvious question.
When Fred made another passing comment about Zimbabwe, I interjected and asked, “Tell me more about your interest there. Why do you want to do this? Why do you want to invest in Zimbabwe?”
I may as well have asked him why he wore pink lingerie after midnight. His eyes widened, and his mouth flapped uselessly.
I was taken aback. Surely he knows why he wants to sow large amounts of money into such projects? I resisted the temptation to soften the question or make it easier on him to answer a fairly reasonable enquiry.
He looked askance at Barney, who I’d now worked out was little more than a yes-man. And as such, he wasn’t going to prove much help to Fred.
In the stilted silence left by my question, Fred at last found his voice. “Uh, to guarantee the success of the project,” he said.
I had tugged at a loose thread and the whole thing unravelled.
It turned out that their business was going belly up. This was a last-ditch attempt at salvaging the company, which was all show and little substance. And Fred was under the illusion that if they tagged on a good deed as the stated end-goal, some higher power was indebted to bless the initiative.
Why Zimbabwe? Because he knew it would secure my buy-in to the venture. And yes, there was little actual intention to sow the money. It was no more than the I’ll-support-kids-in-crisis-if-I-win-the-lotto type of resolve. Thinner than tissue paper.
Needless to say, I got out of dodge quickly … and dodged a bullet in the process.
It took a simple, obvious question to lay bare Fred’s motives. Why? Why do you want to do this?
This question was at the core of the second answer that emerged during my post-conference musings mentioned in the previous chapter.
You may recall that I asked myself, Why do I feel so pressured to come across as “altogether”, as “successful”? Why do I feel I have to present this triumphant picture of unbroken success?
Besides redefining exactly what success was, and why I was chasing the proverbial carrot, I also came face to face with my base motivations.
Why do I do what I do? Why am I tempted to set ego-fuelled goals?
At first, this is a positively ungluing question. The flapping of jaws is not an untypical response. But it is also a question that brings freedom, peace, and long-term fruitfulness.
Allow me to get a little existential for a moment.
What is a Person’s Worth?
Our sense of personal worth, or self-image if you prefer, rests in two essential needs, needs that drive us.
A sense of security and a sense of significance.
Let me take a moment to explain the difference because this is so important.
Security addresses who we are (our identity, our sense of being).
A sense of security stems from an inner contentment with who you are, an internal peace and harmony that comes from knowing you’re a valued person. This is a contentment that comes not from your status, your bank account, what you’ve accomplished or what you do.
There’s a difference between security, in this sense, and safety. In the name of safety, you can build bigger walls around your home, install a top-notch alarm system and double lock every window and door. You’re safe, but none of that will help you find peace within yourself. No alarm system can create inner joy or keep self-loathing at bay.
Significance deals with what we do (our work, our sense of doing).
A sense of significance stems from an inner assurance that what you do is meaningful, a personal satisfaction that comes from knowing your work is valuable. This is an assurance that comes not from the approval of others. Although that’s a nice bonus, this assurance comes from the enjoyment you derive in what you do and the value you know it adds to the world.
As mentioned, we are driven to meet these needs. Here’s how it works.
Through family, friends, influential others, the shaping force of the media, and positive and negative life experiences, we derive an idea of “the thing” that will make us ultimately happy. This might be money, status, popularity, a specific profession or vocation, marriage, benevolence, or a thousand other things. (None of which are vain, or empty, or wrong in themselves. However, none of these things can make us ultimately happy.)
We then pursue “the thing”, or a mix of things, believing it will meet our deepest needs. We often pursue it with total abandonment.
In The Lord of the Rings, the ring was Gollum’s “thing”. I don’t think there’s a better portrayal of this very concept. In pursuit of his “Precious”, he lost all that was truly precious.
In the pursuit of happiness, the results are three-fold:
In fact, it can be thought of as three unfolding (downward) steps:
- Relief. We get what we seek. And for a time, all’s swell. We feel pretty chuffed with ourselves and may even become a little cocksure. However, when boredom sets in, we then seek out another “thing”. Because the relief was only temporary, we start hunting happiness again. Going round and round the hamster wheel leaves us frustrated.
- Frustration. Many never get what they seek (often because “the thing” was too lofty or outlandish in the first place); that is, they never even taste the brief “swell moment.” Missing the first step, they plunge straight into this second step. Either way, whether we enjoy relief for a little while or arrive directly here, we now endure a constant, building sense of frustration with regular bouts of disappointment.
- Despair. Not everyone sinks to this third step. Most keep revising “the thing” and keep on the hunt, enjoying enough “swell moments” to keep going while largely managing toxic levels of pent-up frustration. However, despair is always around the corner. For those whose frustration and disappointment gives way to despair, compassionate counselling is required. And a community of love and acceptance is critical.
Now, most people do this oblivious to what’s really driving them, utterly unaware of the inner driving mechanism involved. They blindly pursue external and even intangible “things” when what’s required is an internal rejig. (And sometimes, a complete overhaul.)
You see, the thing that will ultimately make me happy isn’t a thing.
(More on this in a moment. For now, take a deep breath. You’re no longer ignorant. You’ve just swallowed the red pill, Neo. Now you’ll discover just how deep the rabbit hole goes.)
So, to sum up, we’re a driven species. Even the apathetic couch potato is driven. Though it doesn’t look like it, he’s not short on motivation. You see, he watches twenty hours of telly a day because he’s driven to avoid responsibility of some sort. He doesn’t need more motivation. He’s overdosing on the stuff. What he needs is a nobler goal. A noble goal that springs out of an internal reset.
What drives one person is different from what drives another. In one sense, our drives make us utterly complex creatures. However, at our core we’re pretty simple. We’re all driven by our need to feel secure and significant.
The Importance of Wellbeing
Now, in terms of our wellbeing—our health of soul, mind and body—the order is crucial.
Security first, significance second.
No matter how noble or meaningful our work may be, if we try to answer our need for security by what we do, we’ll never know peace of mind let alone wellbeing. You see, if we confuse the order, we’ll always measure our personal worth by what we’ve achieved, or what we’re trying to achieve.
The result is one of two things (usually, a horrible cocktail of both): pride, when we get it right, and guilt when do don’t. And as you probably know, pride and guilt suck all the joy and peace out of life.
So, if we try to find our security in our quest for significance, we effectively sign up for a performance-driven, stress-plagued, and ultimately, failure-guaranteed life.
This is true for the plumber and the politician, the business owner and the factory worker, the stay-at-home parent and the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
We are not what we do.
(Read that again because you probably missed it.)
Yes, what we do can (and should) be an overflow of who we are, but our identity is not found in what we do. Our core need for security can never be answered in a quest for significance, no matter how noble that quest may be.
We are not what we do.
Say it to yourself. I am not what I do.
Say it to yourself again, and again. Until you believe it.
I am not my job. I am not my career. I am not my business. I am not what I do.
After all, we’re human beings not human doings.
The One-in-Seven-Billion Question
So, to the existential question we go: who am I?
Unless you’re visiting from another planet, then like me, you’re a human being with a unique set of resources.
I heard that.
“But that’s obvious, Craig.”
Yeah, I know. But there’s a world of truth in this rather obvious statement. So bear with me, and read it more slowly this time.
You’re a human being with a unique set of resources.
You are a human being not a human doing. And you’re gifted with a unique set of resources.
There’s no one else on the planet like you. Seriously, think about it.
No one on earth has the same set of fingerprints, the same retinal scan, the same talents, the same experiences, the same perspective, the same social connections, or the same sphere of influence. Face it, you’re pretty special. The one-in-seven-billion kind of special.
You matter. I matter. We matter.
The Happy Thing
So, who am I?
I am a human being. A member of the human race, a rather special species endowed with an incredible capacity for good. Yes, we have an incredible capacity for bad, too, but all the darkness in the world only serves to highlight our remarkable potential to affect our planet, one way or the other. And remember, it is a planet entrusted to our care. A planet we can improve. A planet that we can enrich and enhance.
Now, as a human being, I have been given a unique set of resources to contribute to my world in particular and the planet at large.
That’s the thing, the only thing that will ultimately make me happy.
Don’t miss this.
Accepting my worth. My value. And because I know I’m valuable, adding value to my world.
That’s the happy thing.
It’s not actually a thing; it’s a revelation. A self-revelation. An unveiling that connects me to a greater sense of purpose.
I have value. I add value.
And at the risk of sounding on loop, there’s no other human being who can play the role that only you can play. Wow.
(If this still sounds obvious and even a little cliché, shake your head hard. Clichés only become clichés because, containing an element of truth, they’re repeated until they sound redundant. And there’s no greater truth than the reality of the beauty and potential of even one human being. So, shake your head, crack open the cliché, and when the revelation hits you afresh, jump up and down, and celebrate your awesomeness. Yes, waving your hands in the air like you just don’t care is a perfectly acceptable response.)
Spreading the Happiness
So, the question is, what makes us more humane? What makes me a better person? What equips us to make the best contribution possible?
At its foundation, the answer has nothing to do with doing. It has everything to do with being.
In a phrase, the answer to what makes us more humane is this: our quality of character.
Compassion for others. Patience and generosity of spirit. A willingness and quickness to forgive. Kindness. Gratitude. Gentleness. Self-control. Seeking to understand others before desiring to be understood. Putting others first.
Yes, these qualities of character express themselves in action. But without heart, action is empty and doesn’t last long.
And don’t miss this…
These qualities show others they too are valued. And valuable. These character qualities are infectious. They spread the happiness.
Every human being can grow and nurture these universal qualities in their lives. Irrespective of culture, age, upbringing, education or skill-set. It is these qualities that make us better people and enable us to add value to our world. (Important note: they don’t make me better than you. They help me be the best me I can be.)
Incidentally, it is these qualities that undergird an oft-forgotten secret to business: great customer service. Invest in growing these qualities in your life and you already have a USP (= Unique Selling Point) for your business. And what’s more, it won’t be the tacked-on, syrupy-sweet, fake-smile kind that most people can smell a mile away.
The Foundation of Your Business
But as important as customer service is, your wellbeing goes way beyond making customers happy at point-of-sale or in follow-up relations. As a small business owner, your wellbeing is the foundation of your business.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the success of your business and the satisfaction you derive from it is intricately linked to your wellbeing.
Let’s play out the reverse scenario in the worst version of me:
If I’m insecure, I get easily offended. I take negative feedback personally, and I react emotively to setbacks and challenges.
You see, if I’m insecure, I gauge my identity by what I do. So, in every transaction, my personal worth is on the line. My wellbeing is at stake. In every sale, I’m seeking some measure of approval. (And this is especially true if you provide a custom product or service.)
And in the tough world of business, which is a results-oriented world after all, I’m on a hiding to nothing.
Business & Photography Motivation
Yes, that was a lot to work through, but you have to agree, it’s soul-deep stuff. Important stuff. Life-shaping stuff.
Again, don’t rush this. Getting honest with what drives us sheds important light on why we do what we do. It can save us from making knee-jerk decisions and chasing false finish lines. Most importantly, it is the only path to finding peace within and true fulfilment.
As Craig said, the success of our business and the satisfaction we derive from it, is linked to our sense of wellbeing.
Right. I trust you got a lot out of this post. Next, we look at the importance of identifying one’s strengthens and weaknesses, and how to build and manage our inherent resources.