Being a freelance artist is hard (Yes, it's gonna be one of these posts). It's not all the rainbows, butterflies, InstaFame, fortune and freedom that people tend to think it is. But you push through it, because ultimately you love what you do.
One day you wake up and you think to yourself, "You know that thing I really enjoy doing? I'm going to do that for a living", and you start down this blissful path of excitement, and potential, and optimism, but at some point that comes to a screeching halt. If only for a moment, you hit that wall where you question everything. Am I stupid for trying to make this work? Am I really supposed to be doing this? Am I good enough? Should I quit now while I'm ahead?
A few weeks ago I texted a friend about that very thing. I asked him if he ever thought he could reach a point where he would give up being a photographer. I then explained my reason for asking was because I've recently been witnessing several people I know quitting for something else entirely. Quitting sounds like a harsh word, and I don't mean it in a derogatory sense, but they've ultimately decided that being a photographer wasn't something that was profitable enough for them, and they very validly decided to go with another option.
I explained to my friend that I always have a brief moment of shock and a kind of "but, why?" reaction, when people tell me they have given up photography for other more... stable... pursuits. I also explained that I had started to wonder if I'm crazy for trying to do what I'm trying to do.
I don't pay all my bills on time. I drive a car from 1999 that I have to pray starts every time I turn the key in the ignition. I have to balance what little time I have between my day job (for those of you who didn't know, because this is literally my first admission of this *anywhere* on this site... yes... I have a day job), my business, my husband and my friends (who thankfully understand, because they're in the same boat). I don't sleep. I'm addicted to caffeine, and I have had an increasing amount of panic attacks, and often times live on a 6 out of 10 on the anxiety scale, on a good day.
So why do I do this? Why do I torture myself with "trying to make it work"? Why DON'T I just settle with excelling at my day job and climbing up the corporate ladder? I asked my friend, "Am I crazy for trying?"
You know what his response was?
"The others who stopped weren't meant to be photographers. If you give up when things get hard, then you weren’t cut out for it."
And you know what? He's right. Because I CANNOT see myself doing anything else.
Being an artist, a creative, a freelancer, whatever label you want to put to it, is a rollercoaster of emotion and experiences. You can book one client and lose another in the same day. You're putting yourself out there for everyone to see and evaluate on their own terms. You have to deal with rejection, people devaluing your worth, and people chastising you for trying to run a business the way you run it. You can find yourself dealing with the stress of not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, only to open an email a few hours later from a client wanting to book you for a last minute job that takes care of your financial stress.
People often comment on how hard and how often I work. I'm always working. You will rarely catch me in a moment when I'm not. When I'm at my day job? I'm working. I'm thinking about my next move... the day's to-do list, the next Instagram post, the next marketing push, styling a client, how I'm going to approach a meeting... And on my breaks at that day job, I'm editing photos. All my breaks, every break. Hanging out with my friends, we're discussing business. In between drinks it's, "Hey, did you remember to send out that quote to XYZ client? What's our plan for Friday's shoot?"
I put in hours and hours and hours of work, to still be driving a beater car from 1999 that dumped an entire tank of antifreeze, one hot Tennessee spring day, for no apparent reason. Why would I do that? Why would I be so crazy as to put myself through all that?
Because while long hours and difficult clients can wear you down quickly, the awesome clients, and good work you produce always remind you why you love doing what you do, and it lifts you up higher than any difficult client, long day, bad shoot, or late bills can bring you down.
It sounds cliché, but it's literally a labor of love.
Some people who've made it this far in the post are probably thinking, "Good lord, she's proud of herself," but that's not the case. I'm really not trying to brag about anything. I still have a day job. I have less than 1,500 followers on Instagram. My Facebook page hasn't been updated in a week. I haven't been published anywhere *truly* notable, and I don't have any famous clients. If anyone knows who I am, it's because of the people I'm friends with and work with, not because they know *me*. I haven't done *anything* on my own. I've had help every single step of the way.
But the reason I'm sharing this is because we've all had hard days. If you're *really* working at it, you've probably had more hard days than easy, pleasant ones. It's scary, it's stressful, it's angering, it's exhausting... and you love it. Deep down, you love it, or you wouldn't be fighting so hard for it.
So when you have that bad shoot, that bad show, or that difficult conversation with a client, give yourself time to be angry. Allow yourself time to be a little anxious. Eat that Ben and Jerry's and drink that wine... but put a limit on it. And when it's over, get back to doing what you're doing. You're not always going to win, but when you do win, it's worth it.
Because we were meant to do this.
Emily McGonigle Photography is a Franklin and Nashville Portrait Photographer, and can be contacted for booking inquiries here.