Motivation can be a tricky thing—it’ll show up with an exciting burst of creative energy and then, just as suddenly, your creativity will disappear without a moment’s notice leaving you wondering why you were working on a particular project in the first place. But here’s the thing: knowing why you’re doing something is just as important (if not more important!) as understanding what you’re doing, and it is often the thing that we give the least attention to in our day-to-day lives. Understanding and defining your why is the first thing you need to do to stay motivated and focused on the work at hand—and I’m going to share with you everything I know about finding your why.
I recently started reading Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, and honestly cannot put it down. In the book, he speaks at length about the importance of being able to pinpoint the reason why you are doing something, be it a hobby or a career, and how that can help you stay aligned and connected to the passion that originally brought you to where you are. He explains how everything we do functions “on three levels: what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.” And this all couldn’t be truer for professional and aspiring photographers.
For many of us, the what is obvious: we’re photographers! Be it wedding photography, fashion photography, or travel photography—when we start our careers, we typically have a pretty dynamic image in our heads of what we want to be doing as photographers, even if this morphs and changes over time (and it should!).
Then there’s the how. The how can sometimes feel tricky to understand, but in many ways, it comes down to the personal style we develop and the tools we utilize to create it. From the rich, saturated colors used by some travel photographers to the calm, natural hues favored by wedding photographers—this is what our how looks like. The how is everything that makes your photos so uniquely yours!
This, of course, brings us to the ever-elusive why. Without a clear understanding of why we’re doing something, the whole creativity machine breaks down before it even has a chance to get up and running. So, it’s no wonder that when you can’t clearly see why you’re doing something that you end up feeling stuck, lost, and confused. Like you want more out of your work and projects, but you can’t even really figure out what that “more” looks like. And this feeling of being stuck in the mud with no motivation to pull yourself out of it can be both frustrating and disheartening. Which is where the power of knowing your why comes into play.
Understanding your why means being super clear about what the true purpose behind your work is. In this case, defining your why is synonymous with understanding what your personal passion is. Do you have a deep love for capturing the emotion and depth in a person’s facial features through portraiture? Or do you swoon at the calm allure of trees in a quiet forest? Do you want to share the depths of these feelings with the world through your photos? Then this is what your why looks like. When your work is motivated by your own passion, it is much easier to grab your camera or sit down at your desk and get to work on something beautiful and new, because you’re doing it for you first. This is the truest, deepest level of why.
Knowing your why is the key to staying motivated even when up against the greatest challenges and toughest deadlines. It becomes much easier to stay up until 2 am editing a collection of photos for a client if you’re doing it for the right reasons. Here are a few other ways in which defining your why will help you stay motivated:
Knowing your why…
…turns your passion and purpose into fuel for your goals.
…helps you stay focused on what your true goals are, not what you think your goals should be.
…allows you to more clearly measure your personal and professional progress.
…helps you stay confident and strong when things go wrong, because there is a deeper meaning and purpose behind your work.
Having a clear picture of why you’re pursuing a career as a photographer, why you agreed to a certain project, or even why you decided to edit a photograph a certain way will make it so much easy for you to confidently stand by the decisions you’ve made, even when faced with setbacks or criticism. This is the power of why.
The thing is, it’s not always easy to define what our why is, much less to remember to incorporate it into our day-to-day decisions. So, if you’re having trouble finding your why, consider taking out a piece of paper and writing down the answers to these questions:
What made you want to become a photographer?
What kind of photography makes you feel completely present, where you forget about time?
What is it about photography that makes you feel alive, fulfilled, and happy?
What would you shoot if money didn’t matter?
What does a successful photography career look like to you?
What does a successful photography career mean to you?
What does a fulfilling life mean to you?
If you can answer any or all of these questions honestly and from your heart, then I guarantee that your why is hidden within those responses. And where there is a why, there is motivation. Finding your why will help you live and work with greater purpose and deeper meaning, which in turn will drastically improve your overall mental state and, of course, spark your creativity and motivation to move forward with new projects!
Just remember to be patient with yourself while you define what your why is, sometimes it’s right in front of our eyes, but can be hard to see with all the what’s and how’s taking up our mental energy. So, give yourself the space to find your truest why, and applaud yourself for pushing through the process.