After a recent bad experience in Ukraine, I returned to the UK upset, fed up and tired of things not going my way. I can’t get into details about what happened in Ukraine and although it was personal, it acted as a catalyst which then got me reflecting negatively on other areas of my life too.
Specifically, I started to focus on how far I’ve come (or not come) since quitting my full time job and trying to pursue my goal of becoming a professional travel photographer. I quit my job so that I’d be able to dedicate all of my time on pursuing this goal, yet in over two and a half years what have I actually achieved? Nothing close to what I felt I would have at this point.
That being said, I will never give up on this pursuit. I will never stop doing the things that I love. I can’t imagine doing anything with my life other than photography, making videos and being creative. Take away my camera and I’d be lost, I’d be without purpose.
And in this difficult moment when I was feeling very down, when it felt as though the world was telling me to give up, there were two things I read that gave me a lift and some perspective.
The first was an article online by a professional photographer who was giving advice on building a career. One of those ‘here’s what I wish I knew when I started’ type posts. In it, the photographer claimed that he would have felt much better if he knew when he first started that it would take 10 years—10 years of hard work, 10 years of crap, before anything good began to happen. Had he know that, he would have put less pressure on himself.
As I read this, it instantly took some of the pressure off myself too. Here I was beating myself up that I wasn’t some hugely successful travel photographer after only attempting to build something for two and a half years, when the truth is I am still very early on my journey. I haven’t been doing this long enough to have reached the level that I one day hope to reach.
I was naïve about how long it would take, and how much effort it would take to build the career that I dream of. Too often we want things to happen overnight; we think that as long as we just do something, we’ll instantly reap the rewards, but this is not reality.
The second thing that helped give me better perspective was a book I had just finished reading by Seth Godin called The Dip. In it, Seth explains that when you fist begin something—whether that’s taking up a new sport, learning photography, anything at all—things start off easy. You begin with excitement and eagerness as you explore this new thing.
Let’s take photography: you buy a camera, it’s exciting and you want to play with your new toy as much as possible. You buy books to learn how to use the different settings and how to compose photos etc; practicing is fun and you see improvements quickly as you learn new skills.
But eventually, over time, it starts to become more difficult. The initial excitement starts to wear off because photography is no longer new. And although you’ve improved a lot as a photographer, taking some pretty nice photos along the way, reaching that next level, that level of “greatness,” is incredibly difficult.
Suddenly, it’s not as fun as it used to be and things are much more challenging. Perhaps you’re frustrated that, despite putting in lots of time and effort into improving your skills and building a following on Instagram, you’re not seeing any growth—no matter what you try to do you just can’t seem to get any more likes or follower.
You’re at a point now where you just can’t seem to get any better and nothing you attempt seems to work anymore in helping you grow.
This is what Seth Godin calls “the dip.” This is the moment when most people give up, but if you truly want something, if you’re serious and passionate and committed to your goals, this is the moment when you need to push harder than ever in order to get through this slump.
This is the moment that separates the average from the exceptional.
A couple of quotes from the book to further explain this:
“If you can’t make it through the Dip, don’t start.”
“If you can get through the Dip, if you can keep going when the system is expecting you to stop, you will achieve extraordinary results. People who make it through the Dip are scarce indeed, so they generate more value.”
This is where I feel I am on my journey, right in this dip. But I’m finding comfort in the realization that I’m still early in my process. and that things aren’t meant to be easy. We look at carefully curated highlight reels of people’s lives on Instagram and think that successful people have it so easy, but this isn’t true.
If you want something bad enough you must work hard. Most importantly, if you truly want it, you must never give up. I know I never will.
About the author: Chris Gouge is a photographer, traveller, and YouTuber based in the UK. You can find more of his work on his website, YouTube channel, or by following him on Instagram. This post was also published here.