A modern trend that grips every freelancer is hustling. The mantra is repeated by some of the most popular productivity “gurus”. The more hours you put in, the more results you will get. However, following these hours = improvement idea is dangerous for your health, your creativity and, ultimately, photography.
As a fairly young person, I believed in the idea that the more hours I put into a given thing, the more results I would get. It was my work ethic for just about everything, from learning to being a photographer or a writer. Starting the day at 5:30 p.m. in the gym and ending at 11:00 p.m. in the office was the dream lifestyle. Luckily, it never got to that point, as my natural laziness took care of my stability as a young independent. Beating myself up for wasting an hour watching Family Guy was part of the problem. Of course, how dare I watch Family Guy if I didn’t update my Facebook page biography or create a new business card that would impress everyone who got it?
Unfortunately, many beginner photographers fall into this hustle trap. They watch motivational videos on YouTube with people explaining how they did it: taking pictures every day, 365 projects, working 17 hours a day to buy the best camera, having three side jobs unrelated to the industry , etc The reason behind the hype around the Hustle culture is that many believe that time spent on a given task translates into useful work done. It is simply not true.
Productive work ≠ Useful work
A silly example is on order: any fidget toy. The goal is to press a rubber button, then flip the thing over and press the button again. While keeping you busy, it translates to no useful work being done. It feels like an idling engine: fuel is consumed, parts are moved, but the car is stationary.
Applied to photography, this suggests that not everything you do related to photography is helpful in helping you become a better photographer. A 365 photo project, where you take a picture every day is meaningless and wastes your time if you do it for the sake of it. Designing a new business card will no longer earn you bookings if there is no one to give it to. Working 17 hours a day to create the most creative website you’ve ever seen will end up hurting you, because no one likes a complicated website. I built my website in a few hours and my logo only took me an hour to create with a fancy font in InDesign (I spent too much time finding the font). The takeaway should ask you if the task you are doing makes sense. As a fashion photographer, I only take landscape photos while traveling and for recreational purposes.
Hustle Culture Ruins People’s Health
A key danger of the Hustle culture is being overworked. Overwork has been proven by scientific studies to harm both your mental and physical health.
Speaking from personal experience, the culture of hustle and bustle at some point led me to not being able to relax. The to-do list always had more items than I could do, and at the end of the day I dreaded the photos I hadn’t edited, the articles I hadn’t written, the phone calls I didn’t make. This eventually led to being constantly irritated, closed off to any emerging opportunities, and short-sightedness. There was a daily to-do list, but no annual plan. On a large scale, that means focusing on the details more than the journey. What good is a perfectly functioning machine going in the wrong direction? Fortunately, this never had serious consequences. Finally, poor mental health translates into a lack of creativity: a real evil in the creative industries.
The main effects of overworking or hustling can leave you undernourished. Naturally, a healthy lunch that takes time to consume can seem like a waste of time when there are readily available energy products. The health effects of poor nutrition are well known. Another is lack of sleep. Feeling guilty for not completing “necessary” work, especially when it’s not pleasant, leads to sleep deprivation. Finally, the mantra work hard, play hard puts unnecessary stress on your body. Working hard means poor diet and lack of sleep, while playing hard means unnecessarily high alcohol consumption and late-night meals. Although I am not a health expert and cannot tell you all the details, I am speaking from personal experience with the hustle culture.
What to do about it?
The culture of agitation is harmful, even deadly, that is clear. Let me tell you how I overcame the idea of working for the sake of working.
1. 80/20 rule
It’s probably overused, but it’s true. When I analyzed my annual income, I noticed that about 20% of all jobs paid 80% of the income. The same goes for the equipment: only 20% of what I own was used on 80% of the work. The general consensus is that 20% of the inputs translate into 80% of the outputs. Monitoring your daily tasks and their impact on your income and enthusiasm will help you know which 20% to focus on.
2. Not watching motivational videos
There are plenty of YouTube videos that will make you want to go to work 17 hours a day every day. I know for a fact that they kick up the endorphins and make you work on anything just to be someone who “does it while other people sleep”. However, watching them is the most ridiculous way to waste time because you’ve done nothing but watch a video in your shorts for 20 minutes. Those 20 minutes could have been spent learning something that will improve your work.
3. Realize that time is the most valuable asset. Full stop.
The only thing that is not renewable in your life is time. If doo-doo hits the fan and you lose your job, McDonald’s is still hiring, if you’re sick your body can recover to some degree, and so on. the only thing you can’t get back is time. Therefore, being careful about how you use your time is crucial to becoming a more successful photographer.
The only thing that counts
As photographers, we sell our work, not our personality, or the fancy website, or anything else. The only thing that matters to you as a photographer is having a great job. Being likeable plays into this a bit, but good work overshadows it. Although my website took me a few hours to create, the images on it took me weeks to produce. To produce them, I didn’t use a mediocre team, but rather scouted out the best models, retouchers, and stylists I could get my hands on. Although I spent a lot of time learning, taking meaningful photos, etc., I did it while letting myself breathe. Being able to sell your work comes from producing good work, producing good work comes from having a break where you can find inspiration and ideas. Don’t spend days in a Starbucks telling people you’re an artist, but give yourself a break between projects.
Hustle culture is the most dangerous trend infecting freelancers, especially young ones. With its effects on everything from creativity to health, it must be combated with smart and meaningful work. I always wonder if what I’m doing is fun, meaningful, exciting, or helping me improve my photography. Although this is not always the case, I try to align at least three of these factors.