Kristy Steeves, M.Photog.M.Artist.Cr., CPP, F-ASP, knows a thing or two about facing fears. A broadcast journalist for 25 years, she worked as a TV reporter in Cleveland, Ohio, where she was thrown into all kinds of crazy situations, often on air, and had to move past fear to produce a professional result.
That process started anew when she began pursuing a business in photography. In 2007, she started photographing weddings before ultimately taking the leap to leave her TV job so she could open a full-time photography business. The fact that she knew little about operating a business or the more sophisticated technical aspects of photography didn’t keep her from forging ahead.
From the beginning, Steeves sought education. She took every class she could, bolstering her credentials and her confidence. As her self-assurance grew, her fears subsided, her mindset shifted, and she was able to grow her business effectively. Today, she runs a profitable portrait studio in Medina, Ohio, and has garnered an admirable list of PPA degrees along with status as a respected juror for PPA’s Merit Image Review. Happy in her second career and confident in the direction she’s taken, she now helps peers face their anxieties by offering a series of lessons to help them move from fear toward fortune.
FIND YOUR TRIBE. Joining a professional organization like PPA allows you to build your network with complementary and supportive photographers. When Steeves was getting started, she joined a local PPA community network. Although she was afraid of being shunned as a newbie who was stumbling into the profession, she found that photographers were ready to help her in the areas she needed the most guidance. Steeves still counts some of those early connections as the most beneficial in her career development.
STAY FOCUSED. “In the beginning, I was scared. I’d run up against so many roadblocks. I wanted to quit,” recalls Steeves. She found a mentor who told her that many, if not most, photographers go through this period of self-doubt. “It’s those who stay focused who come out on the other side of the tunnel,” he told her. She hung in, renewed her focus, accepted the help of others who offered, and kept moving.
PUT IN THE EFFORT. Some people think they’re insulating themselves from failure by not trying, not risking anything. “But failure happens when you don’t try,” says Steeves. “When you face your fear, that is a success.”
GET EDUCATED. Research shows that most people who do not engage in formal, continuing education remain stagnant throughout their careers. Their work does not improve, and their income lags that of their more educated peers.
By contrast, those who engage in continuing education grow at an accelerated rate. One of the best avenues for ongoing education that PPA provides is Merit Image Review, which offers expert critiques and invaluable artistic and technical lessons. Business education is also vital for photographers to keep up with best practices and make sure they’re managing their enterprise according to the latest industry benchmarks. “Education sets us on a path toward improved skills, more earning capacity, and better recognition within the field,” says Steeves.
EMBRACE FAILURE. Fear of failure can be crippling to creative professionals. A field like photography involves a great deal of personal emotional investment. Steeves likes to quote writer and director Suzy Kassem, who said, “Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will.” That fear can cause people to miss out on opportunities to reach their full potential.
“Failure is not the opposite of success. It’s part of success.”Arianna Huffington
But what is failure if not a learning opportunity? It’s part of the growth process. It’s how you evolve and improve. If you never fail, you’re unlikely to learn. Coaches of sports teams love to tell their players that losing teaches more lessons than winning, and that’s true in business. To illustrate that point, Steeves likes to drop another famous quote, this time from Arianna Huffington: “Failure is not the opposite of success. It’s part of success.” If you want to succeed, accept failure and learn from it.
TAKE THE FIRST STEP. Facing your fear is a step-by-step process. “I look at facing fear as a series of stepping stones that cross a river,” says Steeves. “You’re standing safely on the bank of the river, but you want to get to the other side. To get there, you have to step from one stone to another. That first step is scary. Is the rock stable? Is it going to topple over and cause me to fall? When you take that first step, face that fear, you learn from it. Then you can take the next step, learn, step again, learn—until you’ve made it. That applies to anything we do in life. You’ll never get to the other side unless you face your fear and take that first step.”
CHANGE YOUR MINDSET. Change your thinking about failure. If you’re constantly afraid that you won’t succeed or that you can’t do something, your fear comes through to your clients as reluctance or lack of confidence. Instead, tell yourself that you can do this. Give yourself the internal pep talk needed to keep going. Accept that failure is part of the process. Mistakes are OK, especially if you learn from them.
RAISE PRICES WITH CONFIDENCE. By seeking advanced education, by participating in image reviews, by learning better business practices, you’re becoming more accomplished. You’re elevating your work and setting yourself apart, so you should be compensated accordingly. “Too many people are reluctant to raise prices because they’re afraid they’re going to lose their clients,” says Steeves. “But the right clients who are willing to pay for your elevated work are out there.” Higher prices should be commensurate with elevated work, and appreciative clients are happy to pay for the greater value they’re receiving. Understanding this basic fact of the consumer economy can help photographers push past their pricing fears and raise rates with confidence.
ENJOY THE JOURNEY. “It’s the journey that matters, not the destination,” says Steeves. Whether it’s entering Merit Image Review or running a photography business, the journey you experience en route to your goals is more important than the goal itself. There are so many lessons to be learned along the way. It’s vital to take the time to recognize those lessons and absorb them. “Embrace the journey and look at what you’re learning along the way,” says Steeves. “That’s how you get better!”
Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large.