OpEd: The career you really want

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Virtual banking, from The Idea Of Man series

A couple of weeks ago, I had dinner with some friends. One of them was in a senior role at a traditionally well-paid and respectable firm. He was contemplating a move to a new firm and a new position, with more responsibility, a bigger title and presumably also more pay. But the hesitation was palpable. In an unsolicited attempt to be helpful, I asked a slightly pointy question: what is it you really want to do? What would you do with your time and life if you had no other responsibilities or financial commitments? There was a pause, and then: ‘be a jazz bassist’. Changing firms in a similar role is already difficult enough at the best of times; changing industries is harder; doing a 180 degree turn out of finance into music is something else entirely. As somebody who’d done something similar, I felt it my moral duty to offer my completely unsolicited advice.

One of the things, for instance, I enjoy about my current job is that I have the option to say no – even though I rarely do. But to know that it is firmly your choice, not your bosses’, and to take responsibility for that, is quite liberating. Similarly, if I see an opportunity I don’t have to convince somebody else we should do it – I just go and do it. That is the biggest difference between working for somebody and working for yourself. For instance, this post – is something that I’ve wanted to write for some time, and actually have the forum to do so and perhaps some of the audience who might actually be interested. Feel free to jump to the archives or come back another day if you were expecting a review, some images, or a little philosophy.

I would really like to believe that each and every individual has something that they’re at least good at, and probably also something they have at least some interest in doing. Burning passions aside – that isn’t so common – I also believe you should be happy in your job, since you’re also going to be spending the vast majority of the waking hours in the prime of your life doing it. It seems rather masochistic to spend all of your time doing something you detest. Yet judging from the unsurprisingly large number of people who complain about their jobs, and the more surprising number of people who ask me about making the career switch with some curiosity as to whether they could do it themselves – it would seem that most people are in the wrong place. I don’t know if this is because they don’t actually know what they want to do, they haven’t tried looking, or they lack the courage to take the plunge – or perhaps some degree of all three. I suspect the sad reality of modern societal and career expectations is that most may never find out because you never really earn enough to be able to not work for long enough to try. And the further one goes past the event horizon – family, mortgage etc. – the more risky and difficult it becomes to try.

The advice of making mistakes and experimenting when young (or at least without commitment) is therefore good. Even if you get older, I suspect the same still holds true – it’s probably better to at least do some serious thinking before deciding that there’s no way you try to fulfil your passion for baking.

It’s interesting to note that most of the time, when people have a burning desire to switch jobs, it’s from something uncreative – like finance – to something creative – like music, or photography, or art. I think the need to think and create is necessary to achieve fulfilment; we humans are most certainly not machines and have psychological requirements beyond food and reproduction that must also be satisfied to achieve that elusive goal of happiness. Unfortunately, there is almost zero machinery or assistance in place anywhere to support this kind of transition – perhaps because it’s not easy to achieve successfully, and perhaps because there’s no way of monetising it. The last thing a starving artist is going to do is pay you to tell them how to be a starving artist.

Don’t get me wrong: not all passions can be careers. It would be difficult to turn say, sunbathing into something that would pay the rent. But I’m pretty sure there are enough people who want to do something that the world would be a significantly better place if they did it. I’m talking about the difference between doing a task because you must do it in order to collect your paycheck at the end of the day as opposed to doing it because you want to; the extra passion that stems from the latter is something that can make the difference between a transaction and a memorable experience for the customer. And oddly enough, the memorable experience tends to create happy customers and bring repeat business. I think it’s pretty obvious that from a human relations standpoint, it’s highly beneficial to your business to hire people who want to be there. Happy people means a more pleasant environment. I see a palpable difference between say Malaysia – where people care about titles and pay, and have little pride in their work – and the Czech Republic; corruption, laziness and incompetence is rampant in one, and the other is a thoroughly pleasant and enjoyable experience. It is also probably not surprising that the GDP of one is many times the other, despite having one third of the population.

Yet what I tend to see – in Malaysia especially – is that human resources is staffed by people who couldn’t get sexier job titles and would rather be somewhere else themselves; but since they are responsible for hiring, they don’t really care so long as positions are filled and tasks generally completed. This culture of ennui then permeates the entire organization and you know they do not have much longer as a going concern.

I am coming to the crux of the matter: we as individuals have a choice. Don’t choose to be part of the problem; choose to be your own solution. The worst thing that can happen is that you have to go back to your old job – but at least you can say you tried, and your employer actually benefits since you won’t be spending quite as much time on internet forums.

There is obviously a degree of risk involved here. All we can do is mitigate it to the best of our ability by a) having a plan, b) having some backup resources, and c) knowing when to pull the plug – if that becomes necessary. Gambling is a problem when the addicted cannot quit: it isn’t the wager that’s damaging, it’s the mistaken belief that change is around the corner and a different (i.e. winning) outcome will happen without changing any of the process. I myself have had to attempt professional photography four times before it stuck; I can honestly say there are few things more humiliating than begging your boss for your old job with your tail between your legs, and few things more soul crushing than waking up in the morning to know you’re going back to something you hate. You endure the ridicule of your colleagues and a permanent black mark on your career record, and you’ve got to work twice as hard to get to the same point as your colleagues. But that may well be the cost of trying.

I do not believe that hard work alone will make an alternative career work, but I do believe that it’s a very big part of it. I think being passionate is even more important – it’s what drives the underlying hard work to begin with, it’s what keeps you going when things are unpleasant or difficult and it’s what makes you continually push yourself that extra little bit. That extra little bit may well be the difference between being seen and getting the break you desperately need, or sitting at home waiting for work and relying on hope. Unfortunately, luck is still required – but the good news is that isn’t really within anybody’s control, and can be viewed as being mostly democratic. Then, hard work makes the difference: you have to be lucky and prepared in order to take advantage of any opportunities.

When I left corporate for the final time in 2012, I knew that a) I couldn’t go back, and b) this was really going to be all or nothing. I knew that the photographic industry had changed dramatically since I first considered it in 2005, and would change even more in the coming years – and not necessarily for the better. I knew that it would be increasingly difficult to make a living, and I’d have to do things I’d never been good at or enjoyed (i.e. selling). There would be some serious compromises in the beginning – and even now – but there was also an extremely high chance of achieving the kind of fulfilment that I would never have in a more conventional career. I won’t deny that it’s been even more work than I imagined, and there were periods that were bad almost to the point of me having to give up – but I remind myself that a bad day doing something related to your passion is always going to be better than a good day doing something you despise. I work 16 hour days or longer, but I don’t have to waste time being unproductive and political in meetings or making hundreds of revisions to a powerpoint slide or excel model. I travel even more than I did as a consultant, but I choose to do so, and there’s always an interesting project at the other end of it as opposed to a grumpy partner and an even grumpier client – one of whom probably wants to be a professional dive instructor, and the other one who might want to teach pottery. But neither has the courage to leave, and frankly, I pity them.

The fear of not being able to maintain their current lifestyles keeps them going, in a never-ending circle: you spend more to distract yourself from the reality of your job, but you need an increasingly larger hit to maintain the same level of impact, for which you have to work harder and earn more and…you can see where this is going. I have not needed to buy distractions for some time, and oddly enough, though I earn significantly less now, I don’t find my lifestyle has changed as much as I expected it would. Probably because I get fulfilment from creating instead of consuming. Don’t get me wrong; money is still necessary, you still very much need to have a commercial mindset in order to survive at all in business. But I also believe that if you’re passionate enough, and are willing to put in a bit of effort into promotion, you’ll be able to find enough income to survive – and eventually do quite well by virtue of merit. My fulfilment + income now is definitely of greater value than my previous (much higher) salary, and my family is much happier since I’m a lot less grumpy and cynical, too.

To all and any of you in the audience who’ve always wanted to do something else, all I can say is you’re going to have to take a risk at some point or be prepared to be forever wondering ‘what if’ and never experiencing those euphoric highs of both fulfilment and excitement. There’s nothing worse than looking back when it really is too late and having that turn into an ‘if only’ – so for yourselves and for the rest of the world, if have a burning desire to do something – please at least give it a try. You never know what might happen next. MT

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Comments

  1. Wise words Ming, thanks for sharing

  2. Leslie Chua says:

    This was a timely post as I am restarting my career in a new industry and getting into corporate.
    I personally enjoy photography and do dream about doing this full time, yet at the moment, I recognise that I am still far from this goal in terms of my skills and capability. I however, do not see this as an either/or situation with my corporate job. Photography, in some and many ways, is quite complementary to the work I do and helps me in my work-life balance.

    And yes, it is important to love the work you do, or at least, grow to love the work you do. It has alot to do with our personal perspective and how we react to our situations. Thanks for this great post, I will revisit this sometime in the future!

  3. Jim Suojanen says:

    I am late to this discussion as I had a major commitment requiring my full attention for several weeks until today. I had hoped to see your exhibit as I passed through Chicago yesterday but the timing did not work out. Hopefully you’ll make it to the East Coast in the future – I would like to view your ultra prints.

    Ming, you have been very fortunate to be able to establish a photography career. You are obviously blessed with intelligence and an extraordinary gift of being able to communicate well. And whilst an Oxford education did not help you develop a vision, it did give you an excellent understanding of physics and the science/technology behind digital media; something very few photographers really have. The “dull” jobs you held prior to this one gave you experience with running a business; you saw the numbers and learned what made some companies succeed and others fail. More importantly, however, they gave you an income while you learned photography. And most importantly, as you developed an intense interest (“passion”) in photographing watches, you encountered a mentor, a professional at the top of their game who took an interest in you and was not threatened by you. Very few people can rise to the top of any profession without someone like this. Even with all of these advantages, you know how hard you have to work in order to be successful in this, or any other endeavor.

    So I would caution against simply “following one’s passion”. Passion for the art or for a subject is but one characteristic of a successful professional photographer. Passion for anything alone, such as a particular religion or for dysfunctional behavior, tends to cause a lot of trouble. “What is it that makes us human; being subject to our passions, or subjecting our passions to our reason and will?” Rather, I think an aspiring photographer should ask if their vision as reflected in their images communicates something truly unique to others and enriches humanity. AND, can they earn a living while they do this?

    Within our contemporary economies, an ambitious person can find independent work of some type (though at the cost of substantial risk and of incredibly hard work). But any job done as a service for others, when done well, can provide meaning to one’s life. In any moral occupation, we can always find the means to do good. Professional photography may be the path for a select and fortunate few. Most of us, however, will need to find other work whilst we indulge in our “passion”.

    Thanks for all the thoughts!

    • How about passion and stubbornness then? There’s also the question of ‘how badly do you want it’ – which I think determines effort to some extent, too. And not to forget there are also plenty of people with both little skill and passion often doing those jobs we want, too…

  4. Wow. How incredibly timely this article is…and thank you.

    After 7 years in the financial planning/advising sector, I’m only now taking the plunge into my passion that is photography. And you’re right…my wife and I were so entrenched with our lifestyle in Chicago, that we couldn’t yet afford a 180 career change, especially with a little one, daycare and the like. Well, my wife rcvd a fantastic job opportunity in Atlanta, and with that, I enthusiastically jumped into the wedding photography realm. Only my style is very niche, b&w film with a photojournalistic approach.

    And I do notice that I’m less stressed, much happier, spending more time with our daughter, and overall have a better family balance. I’m currently at 2 successful weddings via film with 2 very happy set of clients. Yet even now, I still have my moments of self-doubt and sometimes get sucked back into consumerism and wanting new things.

    This post was reassuring and helped me realize that I need to keep it all in perspective. Rome wasn’t built in a day…and it’s something I should remind myself often.

    Thank you, Ming.

  5. Richard P. says:

    Ming, as a follower of your site for years, I have been interested in learning more about the man behind the camera. This is one of those rare treat posts :). Lucky are those whose life situation affords them the possibility to actually meet you in person – I hope one day to make this opportunity happen for myself – just don’t go changing your photography career for something else before I get the chance to meet you. 😉

    Here I’ll segue to your article. You have hit on a very timely subject that currently affects me personally and that I see affecting those around me more and more. The collective working “we” have a work-life balance that is definitely in a downward tailspin as more companies adopt a corporate culture that cares little about the well-being of its employees (which astounds me for a number of reasons). And as you and your astute readers point out – “we” accept this for various personal reasons. I think a large part of it, unfortunately, is to do with our collective sheep heard mentality (and this is not to disparage anybody). Our current jobs are what we know, our lifestyle and spending habits are what we grow up with and what we see around us and we want to fit in. The formula (used to be) is simple enough work hard, get commensurate reward and support your lifestyle. But as the corporate world is changing, so is the formula changing – and it has/is changing enough to push more and more of us to reflect on why is it that we are not pursuing a career that is more holistically rewarding. Job security no longer exists – we have to take charge of our own career security and happiness.

    I think self-confidence, self-worth and fear (besides other obvious barriers) are the main obstacles to semi-intelligent people pursuing their dream careers. I’ve seen so many successful/happy people with no more intelligence than anybody else but they have self-worth, possess self-confidence and have learned to manage their fears. If they can do it … 🙂

    Cheers,
    Richard.

    • Well, I try to resist the temptation of being too narcissistic! 🙂 Unlikely you’ll be in Chicago tomorrow night, but there is the opening party for the Idea of Man exhibition which I will of course attend…

      The harder we work, the more is expected, and the less return for the effort. And it doesn’t help that our own expectations have also becomes somewhat unrealistic too – everybody wants to believe that we can be rich (not comfortable, rich) thanks to the prominence given to ‘celebrities’ who’ve often done nothing much to merit it. I’m sure self-confidence plays a big part there, too.

      I suppose it’s a tricky balance between sticking to your guns and tilting at windmills…

  6. Larry Kincaid says:

    As you point out, every culture seems to have structures and cultural norms that constrain and limit what individual members can do to pursue some ideal potential we are all capable of. In the US–apart from our super consumerism which we start teaching our kids from birth–we are encased in an employment/business world today that leaves us very little time for anything else. And it’s only getting worse. We are not even taking all of our paid vacation anymore–up to an average of 1 week of paid vacation goes unused. And then we work while on vacation via the internet. No worse example than the investment banking one you mentioned. My son “succeeded” in doing it in New York City. He quickly discovered he was in a 10-16 hr./6 or 7 day work environment with zero social life. He left and went back to school in order to move off in a different direction where he might be able to have a “life” as well as “work.” Why does this matter?

    Hobbies. Or rather what you do when not working. You need time for them. Much of what you’re discussing could be done–used to be done–on one’s own time. Work could be used to fund your other, say more creative, interests and engage in social settings with other kinds of people. It can still be done in the US, but the pressure and trend is definitely in the other direction. I have a nephew that does play a bass guitar on the weekends, has a regular job that supports it, and does woodwork (furniture) for additional income as well. But not with a huge annual income. But just writing this makes me thinking he’s enjoying himself and not too worried about what you’re talking about in this essay. Photography is a great, creative hobby, but frankly I had to retire to get enough time to devote to it. Thanks for the thoughtful essay.

    • We were given plenty of paid vacation; I just never managed to use most of it. Two weeks a year was about the most I managed, and yes, I curse the inventor of the Blackberry – he’s given us a pair of electronic handcuffs, not the freedom to work from anywhere. It means we are on call (and replies expected) 24/7. The irony of course is that the people at the very top either don’t bother at all, or do it themselves and perpetuate the same culture.

      You’re also right about doing hobbies on one’s own time – assuming there is still ‘own time’ to be had. I certainly don’t have any, even now; making my challenge a different one: how do you make sure your passion and your job (ostensibly now the same thing) don’t land up in conflict leaving you with nothing?

  7. If you are thinking of changing careers, particularly a radical change do these steps first:
    1) Take the Stanford personality test (in revised version of The Essential Enneagram) and determine your type. You can verify your type by watching You Tube videos of others with the same type. You will be able to say, “Wow that’s me alright.”
    2) Now – recognize that your view of the world is through the “glasses” of your personality and that there are 8 other views each different. The personality is a manifestation of your EGO. Albert Einstein once said of the Ego, “The ego, our illusory sense of self is an optical illusion of consciousness.” You need to learn how to decide changes without the use/manipulation of your Ego.
    3) Next, recognize you brought your personality/ego with you at birth resulting from past lives and you reinforced it during your early childhood experiences. Now as an adult you are making choices based on “tapes” developed as a child and as a result of past lives. (One sample example is a child who is afraid to cross a bridge who recalls his past life. When he tells his parents about his past life they verify it by taking him across India on train and watch him get off the train and walk through the village to where he used to live and start talking to his previous family’s relatives. He finds out he died by falling off a bridge over a nearby river and drowned. That past life fear has been carried into his current life as a phobia. One of thousands of such cases documented by Ian Stevenson, MD)
    4) Take a year learning to live with who you are and practicing not letting your mind push/pull your decision making. Not until you have learned to abandon childhood tapes and make adult decisions. You will recognize the transformation when you live with less planning, less recalling the past, less anxiety over the future and more spontaneity. Practice meditation and regular quiet time when your mind is “turned-off.” The ego is a useful tool, but we need to learn to live without the ego calling all the shots – like changing careers.
    5) Dreams and obsessions are products of our mind. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are spiritual beings having a physical experience…” Learn how to live with that truth. It means achieving your full potential has little or nothing to do with your career. Recognize your career can be taken away in the flash of a moment. OR as the result of a spiritual insight. Read the life of Siddhartha. He walked away from everything and became Buddha. He woke up. You can too. What I’m suggesting is one process for waking up to who you are before changing your career.
    6) I retired at age 58, 20 years ago, from a semiconductor technology career where I made it to GM of a start-up, was granted 9 US Patents, gave and published over 50 talks and papers in international conferences and journals, and then learned who I am after I learned to live life from the higher perspective Teilhard and Einstein describe.
    7) Read Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander, MD and see how his career turned suddenly such that he learned about himself – things he vigorously denied as a medical doctor just a few years earlier before his near-death experience.
    8) Finally – learn to live with spontaneity in the current moment – in the NOW. Meditation can help a lot. Learn how to make adult decisions/changes not fully informed by manipulations of your Ego, by your mind. Free will allows us to make choices and redirect our life differently than the fate karma of our past. You will know you are transforming when every moment of your life is precious.

    Ming – see you at the Rangefinder Gallery in Chicago
    Bob Gallagher from Chicago an avid hobby of photography for 62 years

  8. “…I get fulfillment from creating instead of consuming.”

    Hit the nail on the head.

    Yes, it’s risky. But here’s another thing for folks to keep in mind: the corporate job you spoke of—the one with the high salary? How many folks actually make it that far up the ladder anyway? The vast majority don’t.

    The other dirty little secret is that EVERYTHING is hard to get into or do these days; anything remotely worthwhile, that is. So might as well pick something that you’re passionate about and/or have some talent for. It will make those long hours fly by a lot faster, and bring much more personal satisfaction.

    It’s a truism, I think, that the more folks make, the more they spend. As long as one has enough to live a life that is reasonably comfortable, and still be able to put something away for old age, that ought to be enough. I read something recently that said past a certain income level, the extra money ceases to bring any further happiness or enjoyment in life. Chasing new cars every four years, and fancy baubles and trinkets, not only diminishes the soul, it’s also destroying the planet.

    I think our global society needs a fundamental rethink in what it values.

    • I wonder if the spending-earning parallax is one of three things:
      1. “I earn it so I deserve to spend it and reward myself”
      2. “I can afford it and I need the distraction, and more of a distraction every time”
      3. “There is an expectation that in this position I must have X”

      Yes, we do need a fundamental rethink in values. Even for photographers – the current cycle sees all of us buying cameras far too frequently when in the past they’d have lasted ten or more years…

      • I would argue that the spending-earning parallax is ALL of the above, and varies depending upon the individual. But the funny thing is, it’s been repeatedly demonstrated that “stuff” only brings happiness for the very short term. Then it’s rinse and repeat.

        Totally agree on frequency of camera purchases. In the days of film, this was far less of an issue. Product life-cycles were 2 to 4 times what they are now. The Nikon F3, for example, was manufactured for 21 years!

        I know for me, the chief reason I’ll buy a new camera is because it will actually allow me to do things with greater ease and quality than I can do now — like shoot in low light and get clean results past ISO6400 whilst simultaneously having fast accurate autofocus in that same environment. But, that’s a VERY specific professional need … not a “flavor of the week” want.

        That said, I still have too many cameras. 😉

        Interestingly, if one spends time in other less fortunate countries — many in Africa, for example — one tends to return with a far greater appreciation for what one already has, as opposed to fretting over what one doesn’t have.

        First world problems, I suppose.

        • Worse than short term: you need a bigger hit that lasts for less and less time each iteration. I suppose it’s no different to the pathology of addiction.

          Professional needs are different to wants: if they give you a competitive advantage that has an economic justification (i.e. you’ll make income you couldn’t have otherwise, and it’s return-positive) then I’m all for it – and what I do now. But I also dispose of anything I’m not using as soon as it is no longer useful to minimise the depreciation hit.

          First world problems indeed.

  9. Hi Ming, great article and some thought-provoking comments as well. Your opening question is a variation on “What would you do with your life if all jobs paid the same?” and it’s a very powerful question which pulled me up short the first time I came across it. I ask it of myself on a regular basis.

    I work in large corporates delivering large change programmes. Fortunately, I still enjoy it: every programme is different and I enjoy the process of creating order from chaos, of solving multi-faceted puzzles where ambiguity reigns. Does it meet my creative needs? Yes, at times (although certainly not always). Does it give me personal growth (as opposed to career or financial growth)? Yes but with diminishing returns. Do I add value? Increasingly, I feel I add value on the people side, coaching and mentoring other people one-to-one. I suspect at some point this will point the way to another career (similar to Mosswings’ experience I expect).

    Similar themes are at play even if the solutions are different. Autonomy (difficult but not impossible in my line of work). Creativity. The need to connect with people and not feel like a cog in a machine. Authenticity too; I tend to work to my own standards.

    Photography for me is purely a hobby and unlikely to every be anything more. It’s an opportunity for me to do something slower and more meditative; a release valve. Would I do it for a living? No, I suspect it would take all the fun away. Rather like Mark Twain’s observation about gentlemen who will pay money to drive a coach and horses but if they were offered wages, they would resign!

    Thanks for posting.

  10. Great read Ming im sure 95% of employees can relate to it. I think most working class people raised in the 70s and 80s were brought up to believe working was about survival and making a way in life and little to do with your individual character needs. I think most of us didn’t and still don’t have a passion for a particular type of work that’s why we continue doing what we do and moaning about it. Sure we think about what if this or that but because the passion is lacking we wont take the risk because without passion failure is all too likely. However I think an even bigger problem and what kills it ultimately is the work environment and people we are forced to work with, the desire for control over people and the lengths people will go to in order to get that control. The pathetic episodes we have to witness every day, and these are the people who see themselves as accomplished managers and stalwarts of industry. You would think by now that progression would have ironed all this stuff out but sadly not we endure a lifetime with what seems like little purpose………….what a waste

    • Don’t get me wrong; almost all of us still need to work to survive. What I don’t get is a) given a choice, which most of us have, why do something that is not enjoyable if it is going to take up most of your waking hours and b) if everybody did something they at least felt neutral (not negative) about, surely it would be of benefit to everybody? One is far more likely to be good at something you enjoy, and rewards would be easier.

      Don’t get me started on ‘captains of industry’ – some are genuinely, inspiringly passionate or at least thoroughly professional. Others – well, let’s say one of the things that woke me up in consulting was seeing two partners arguing over font sizes and use of ‘that’ or ‘which’ in a slide title in a team meeting for nearly 45 minutes at 11pm – whilst claiming to ‘efficiently deliver value’. I remain…a little skeptical. 🙂

      • I am probably a little dated compared to most of us at 54, but still at least marginally relevant. This is an interesting discussion that has raised two counterpoints in my mind for contemplation. First is that art is a luxury afforded by an otherwise successful society. Many of us doing the core work that allows our collective lifestyle to exist do so in part for that reason. The caveman analogy is that I may be a great cave painter and would love to do that all the time, but my tribe needs me too hunt. For me, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing choice.

        The second is the notion that we work out of obligation to be a success. Now admittedly I am a child of the 60s and 70s rather than the 70s/80s – but there is something real about engaging work for the satisfaction of work itself and knowing that it must be done. Again – the caveman analogy would be gathering firewood. Not sexy – but necessary.

        All said – I do support pursuit of passion – what I encourage though is not necessarily saying to yourself that it must be a choice. As a mildly successful stock photographer I have been able to feed the artistic development appetite while also maintaining a reasonably successful professional career. The reality of life for most of us demands compromise – just make sure you find a way to service yor passions.

        • Valid points – but do you ultimately think the junk bond trader or the PowerPoint jockey is actually adding any value to society? At least photography has value in historical documentation and communication, and one can make somebody else feel good through art. I can’t say the same of the former two professions, for starters.

          • I truly get your point and would love to take a workshop one day and explore this one over a beverage or two. I have had my moments of total frustration with corporate arm-waiving. I probably read the original post too fast, but the takeaway is we should embolden ourselves to follow our passions. I strongly believe that – was coached to do it as a kid and coach my own to do it. But it strikes me that it really isn’t likely to be realistic. Thus – the idea of compromise as a solution. To your broader point though, you need to be passionate about whatever you are doing. You are obviously an extremely bright guy and in some ways I feel that society may be at a greater loss tht you did not find the right fit in the world of finance – Lord knows the world needs people with good sense and values exerting themselves in that arena – but I am certainly appreciative of your intellectual approach to photography.

            • I agree: it isn’t likely to be realistic, but one should always try at least…

              Sense and finance? I suspect that is at odds with greed 😛

              • It is – which points to the need to have people with broader consciousness and vision as part of tomorrow’s Sr. Leadership. But I am serious – so happy to have your intellect (and more importantly, your image quality) present in the photography world. Keep up the great work and I hope one day to do a workshop with you Ming.

                Mark

      • Martin Fritter says:

        You might enjoy “The Cognitive Style of Powepoint” by the great Edward Tufte. http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_pp – you have to buy it, but the link shows the cover, which is fantastic.

        The readership of this site is international. I’m curious about the various posters’ views of your cri de coeur and their nationality. In he U.S.A., the penalties for failure are quite drastic.

        • Thanks – I’ll check it out…

          It’s not as bad in the US as it is in Malaysia (and other parts of Asia). At least you can start again, and in some places like the Bay Area tech hubs, that’s normal. In Malaysia, you’re effectively no longer employable.

  11. I quit my job as a graphic designer(though I still do some work as a freelancer) to study engineering. I´m not quite sure of the direction ahead, but I´m thinking about venturing into architecture.

    I also have a dream about opening a tea shop, but I think that´s further ahead. It needs a lot of financial groundwork first.

  12. Dear Ming,

    Your finest article ever.

    While I can be at odds with you on some things not here. And for what you put forth for the masses you are to be applauded.

    I have had a very diverse and a-typical business career succeeding reasonably well in every endeavor. Was part of a team of 4 or 8 ? that built a fortune 100 company from a basement via the finance, accounting and legal departments, then serving as COO & CFO and allowing the creation of 350,000 jobs over a few years span.

    Have worked as at several high quality mid size accounting firms. Large consulting ones. Was even the CFO and controller for several each. Plus, for small business. And on my own.

    And by the way, am a high school drop out.

    After all is said and done, we would all like to tap into our passion and make money at it. If you are fearless, believe anyone can do it.

    The more material issue for me is do you do it for someone else or on your own. Always prefer on my own, but mostly have been employed by others because in the past security of some form or another was available by this medium.

    However, nowadays an employer can and does fire you or moves you or does something else to derail your success faster than a pick pocket working the main event. Indeed, what I have seen more and more frequently is corporations just firing people for no reason. What I have seen been excessive greed, incompetent management and in-fighting that have led to many firms to their demise or decline. Though again for me personally, always benefited and came out better than ever.

    So for my money, better to be on your own. But – for the specific reason that you actually have MORE job security! Control over your life is empowering thing.

    Not for everybody, And the world does need lemmings. But would benefit those whom indulge.

    Lary

    • Thanks Lary. Ironic that it’s a non photographic article 🙂

      Perfect summary of my own conclusions after being on the receiving end of the axe – my boss upset the board and got fired, and I as a direct hire was a casualty of war. Learned that one the hard way – together with the shock of not being ready to have the umbilicals cut. I can’t say I’m any better off now, but at least I’m more prepared, and my efforts are more directly correlated with my rewards…

      • Thank you for your reply and confirmation of my observations!

        Personally feel you ARE better off. Look what you’ve done here with your posts. One of the finest and most respected columns on the web. And that is not just me feeling this way. And all in a short period of time!

        The world is you Oyster. And I for one are grateful for your being there.

        All the best,

        Lary

  13. At 14, I knew I was to be an engineer, and was a very good one for 30 years. But I never thought of myself as an engineer, obsessed with formulae and procedure; that was part of the task, but my real job was to work with people, translating science into useful things that met real needs. It was perhaps 5 years or so before the Great Recession closed that career arc that I began to feel that working with people was more important and meaningful than manipulating things for a faceless master; and my aging parents and maturing child had changed my priorities to better ones.

    However, ennui doesn’t mean that your basic skillset is the wrong one, but perhaps just employed to unskillful ends. I wound up in social justice work, doing IT, communications, web design, and other logistical stuff…but working directly with people who directly benefit from my efforts. It doesn’t pay, but fills the soul. Creative? Yes. Appreciated? Oh yes, and thankfully not by the would-be Masters of the Universe.

    The opportunity to risk was not my choice at the time, but it soon would have been. A few years earlier would not have been the right time. But when it did, it came at just the right time. Life is to be lived.

    • That actually sounds like a very, very sensible compromise. I wonder if I’d be a photographer now if I’d been an engineer instead of slave to masters of the universe…there is a satisfaction in creating something tangible that papers and meetings do not have – but engineering and photography do. (And I suspect that has something to do with the popularity of photography: you actually make something, unlike most of life otherwise.)

  14. This was a very good article. It’s one that I have to share to my non-photog friends.

    I was fairly lucky that, at a young age, I knew what I wanted to do. For me it’s to travel the world as an ESL teacher. Every job I’ve ever had was ultimately the same. My coworkers would spend 50 weeks a year fantasizing about what they wanted to do for the two weeks of vacation they got. Then repeat. I thought to myself that if traveling was what I wanted to do, ESL would be great. I could go to various countries in the world for a year or two at a time and break free from the temporary stay that most people experience. I did it last year in Thailand for 3 months and though it didn’t exactly work out as I thought, I will be going, next year, with my girlfriend to South Korea to try again.

  15. Wow, Ming, such an on-point post, especially from where I sit now. Interestingly my whole career path has been pointed towards creative endeavors – graphic design, architecture, and photography. I seemingly attempted to recreate my creative output based on my interests and to keep things fluid and fresh. I worked for design firms, started a design firm, and freelanced. But even in all of this there were always nagging doubts about what I was doing. After years I took a creative position within a government agency, that for some time was quite energetic and built from all of my years of exploration. But over time, a I moved up, the creativity was left to others while I was simply a manager of emails, meetings, and paper chases. But through this photography remained that one, singular spark, that kept the candles burning. Making the jump to “you control” versus “being controlled” is difficult, if not impossible for many. I for one have been the one running my show and it came with the always nagging pressure of having to find clients and continue to feed the nut, so to speak. So I chose stability. But resident in the stability was a modicum of creativity and the time to practice the real passions that fuel me. The long and short is that I was able to just “be” and practice my photography which just kept fueling everything. I think too often we want to rush out and just dive head first into the water. I like the idea but I think we have to be a little more prepared and to this end, we need to allow ourselves the time, and the moments, to get prepared. There is a buddhist concept that I quite like that says we will constantly be faced with the same thing over and over again until we engage it. And with this comes a moment when we are presented with an opportunity, and we are ready for it. All of this long-winded hyperbole leads me to the the fact that my practice, my dabbling, my explorations, and my trials and errors, will be put into practice as I begin the journey of teaching workshops. The door opened and I walked in. And all of this comes while still being in the embrace of some stability. I just had to be open to the possibility that it could happen. A wonderful article Ming.

    • Thanks Robert. I think we need to try both sides – working for yourself and ‘freedom’ vs working for somebody else and ‘stability’. And the tradeoffs are impossible to know unless one attempts it for a long enough period of time to really exhaust all realistic possibilities. My theory is that it’s the second choice that works because by then, we a) have to make it work and b) know what we don’t like or doesn’t work for us from the first attempt…

  16. I made my leap 13 years ago from a career in logistics to one in wine. No regrets. I take a fluid view of ‘career’. 😉

    I’ve found working on something for which I have a deep passion and natural inclination has helped a great deal. I think it would have been harder if the career change idea had been only a flash of inspiration, rather than something in which I had built up at least some expertise prior to seeking to rely on it. On the other hand, I also realise I was sufficiently naive not to have been daunted by the obstacles that arose. Knowing all that lies ahead can be a real dissuaded.

    We get life no.1, there’s no mk.11, so we must make the most of it.

    • Good point actually: sometimes fear stops us before we even attempt it (and subsequently realize it isn’t as bad as we might think).

      As for no mkIIs – if only camera makers also took that approach…

  17. This is a fascinating question and I’ll always remember a housemate of mine from my undergraduate days. He was just about to start on a graduate training scheme as an auditor in one of the big four and I asked him what he would do if money were not an issue. “Actually,” he said, “I’d like to be one of the people who choreograph firework displays.” And off he went to a career in auditing….
    Personally I’m either lucky or unlucky, depending on how you look at it, I find my job reasonably interesting and on a good day I can quite enjoy it. On a bad day, or a particularly busy period like I’m going through at the moment I can certainly say I’d rather be on a beach sipping mojitos, but I don’t have a driving passion to be somewhere else – I’d like to be a better photographer but I have very little desire to work as a professional in the field. I’ve also been able to take fairly significant periods of time off between jobs – I know some people who haven’t had more than a 2 week holiday in more than 10 years, which makes a big difference to their way of looking at the world.
    To me, the real problem with the current system is the way we are encouraged to see a single “career” as a coherent whole that spans your entire life. Imagine if it were perfectly acceptable to swap from a finance job to a musician, then go back into finance or into something completely different 5 years later. This would require a change in mindset on behalf of HR departments, but also individuals – a constant six figure income is not required in order to be happy, nor is steady progression up the corporate ladder the be-all and end-all.
    I think most people don’t have a burning desire to do anything in particular, they’re just looking for an outlet from the mundanity of most modern office jobs (hence the “wanting to be an artist” mentality). Life would be a lot more pleasant, and most people happier, if we encouraged to take a bit of time here and there to pursue alternative channels rather than spend year after year slaving away in an office….
    Also, I sympathize with anyone facing HR departments in this part of the world, I had the curious experience of interviewing a candidate in Singapore the other day who actually asked me why I was bothering to interview her when her previous experience wasn’t an exact match for the role we were trying to fill – apparently she’s found it difficult to change direction even slightly when most firms’ HR departments insist on fitting each candidate into a neat box…

    • I wonder if that friend of yours ever landed up as a pyrotechnican in the end.

      I think you’re right – some more flexibility is required when thinking about job scope/allocation etc. It makes no sense anyway since there will never be a eprfec fit candidate – and one who is versatile but has a different background is always going to be more productive than one who is merely experienced. You can be an expert at pushing the same button every day for 20 years, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to know what to do when faced with a lever 🙂

      The funny thing is since moving to photography full time, I now have much more access to the kinds of people I would have liked to have worked for back in the day – and I think it would actually be quite easy to return to corporate but in a much more suitable position for myself and my employer. The structure ingrained in some of these places makes it difficult to connect the right heads at times.

      • Actually, I think he ended up becoming a maths teacher…
        I know what you mean about it being easier to meet people you’d like to work for. A further downside of a corporate job is it tends to keep your social circles relatively circumscribed, both professional and personal – I often notice that people who’ve always lived in the same place doing more or less the same job seem to have friends who are all very similar. Unfortunately this acts as extra pressure to conform to a standard life….

  18. I left the advertising world (ad agency creative director) in 1988 and have worked as a photographer full time since then. I am still in love with the hobby, love the business of it and have been successful enough. I would never trade the freedom, the thrill of making images work and the sheer joy of being able to drop into a business, industry, commercial niche, restaurant, etc. and learn something new on almost every outing. In the good years I’ve consistently earned more than I expected and in the bad years I’ve had the free time most people beg for. It’s a wild ride. But a damn fun one. My only secret is to never let fear take over. That’s the one thing that will kill a freelance career.

    • Thanks Kirk. I definitely don’t miss the endless meetings! But having said that, I think a little fear is not a bad thing – it keeps you hungry. We just need to make one thing happen in business: so long as more comes in at the end of the month than goes out, we’ll always be fine. I think another big mistake is to assume the good times will continue and spend unwisely rather than build yourself a buffer… 🙂

  19. There couldn’t exist a more beautiful image to perfectly match the depth of your words. I saw it and thought: this feels like an image of most people I know, who hate their jobs.
    I was surprised that you actually wrote about that.

    And your words did justice to your picture, because you haven’t missed to touch and explain any point related to the issue – sadly very common – of having a job you dislike and being unhappy or doing what you want and being passionate about it.

    Your reminder is spot on and your words struck a chord with me ….”a bad day doing something related to your passion is always going to be better than a good day doing something you despise.”

    I left a successful corporate executive career in 2012, not yet knowing what to do next, but convinced that I had been, seen, done it all, and was over with it. I took a one-year off to find out and to recharge my batteries…too long story to tell, involving loss of a family member, etc…

    I haven’t decided to return to corporate but to become a consultant. Meeting old colleagues has been the best way to reassure me that I don’t miss power point presentations, office politics and frustrated bosses and colleagues, who as you rightly said, most likely wanted to do something else with their lives.

    Being a consultant in my area of specialization means that I make way less money than before, but also that I’m way happier, fulfilled, freer, and a much more present (and pleasant) person to my family and friends.

    Almost without thinking much, I started blogging, just because I like writing. Equally without much thinking, I saw myself going back to my old passion for photography, buying new camera and lenses (sorry, I have an Olympus mirror less;-)) and my blog became mostly about my photography’s learnings as an enthusiastic amateur.

    Using my right side of the brain again has been a transforming experience, and the beginning of a journey of self discovery, one that is not yet finished.

    I haven’t ever been unhappy with what I did before though. I have achieved more than I have ever dreamed of. I have loved my jobs and have been rewarded accordingly, becoming financially independent at an early age. Despite any glass ceiling, I climbed the ladder and made it in men’s world.

    But guess what, despite my success, I hated the corporate environment and its toxic politics. I’m not a conformist nor a politically correct person.

    The higher you go, the less you can focus on your job as opposed to dealing with lots of psychologically screwed up people.

    I’m sure that because I was passionate about my job, I’d still be there if I would be the kind of person who finds ok to wake up in the morning, and spend your day with people you would rather not be with.
    But I’m grateful to them because they helped me to realize that I had other passions, worth changing my life.

    As I said, I’m on a journey, and every day counts as the last, so it can’t be wasted. I am making sure to never stop asking what makes me happy and why.

    I don’t know all the answers and sometimes I have doubts, as I see no light at the end of the tunnel, but it is words like yours, full of experience, determination and wisdom, that help me put a mirror on my face and give me courage to stay the course.
    Thank you.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I look at it this way: there’s a disconnect between what society says we should want (position, status, money, outwards signs of prosperity etc.) and what we actually want deep down. We might have to compromise some of the former to get the latter – and what makes it stick is not caring what anybody else thinks. It is your own life, after all. Less money for more happiness? That sounds like a decent tradeoff to me. I’m sure if you could actually sell happiness in direct exchange for money, there’d be a surprisingly large number of takers. Making a career decision purely for us is the closest we’re going to get – and at the end of the day, you have to be accountable to yourself.

      • Thanks for replying, Ming.
        My pleasure to share. Like you, I share my experience with many friends and try to help them thinking about themselves.
        You say the right things, and those have been very clear to me before taking my decisions.
        Being aware of that was the first step to take control of my own destiny instead of fulfilling imaginary societal expectations.
        In fact, no one is asking nor obliging us to do anything.
        Except if we define ourselves by what we achieve and have.
        Being, is not doing and having. And exponentially growing what we have does not equal fulfillment and happiness.
        And yes, the trade off is invaluable. I don’t look back and don’t change my place with anyone.
        My point was more related to doubts when fine tuning choices.
        I gave myself the time to experiment what I like.
        I don’t really believe I need to be one month meditating in a ashram in India to find my ‘calling’, because I am free to try whatever I like.
        My experience has told me though, that we may struggle at this point, because we need to find out what is a hobby and what is the ‘new career’. It’s easier when one already knows that’s to become a photographer or a jazz bassist…if not, it may take a little longer and that’s when one may get discouraged.
        Thanks again for your insightful post and kindness to reply to me.

  20. Thanks for this great article, Ming. I’ve been learning a lot from this webpage, and you were one of the very first photographers that really got me interested in the whole thing. Now I’ve decided to take it to a higher level by purchasing professional equipment and attending a film school (I really want to learn about video, too). Curiously, now that I’ve made these desicions I have to basically live in my hateful workplace, because all those nice things cost more than I’d ever spent in my life before. And I simply don’t seem to have enough time for shooting and practising and editing, and I’m scared not to achieve anything. You’d worked in high positions while you were trying to switch careers and I guess it ate up most of the day and night, so I wonder how you’d managed to stay sane (and awake) back then…

    • Congratulations for having the courage to try it. But unfortunately you’ve also realised that the hardest part is going to be the transition: you have to bring the new career up to speed whilst maintaining the old one, both to support yourself and ‘just in case’. I was only able to make it work when I resigned and fully committed to the new path – at that point, you have no choice but to make it work. And that can make just enough of a knock on difference in your own approach/attitude to make the difference. There were some very depressing/hairy moments at which I thought ‘this is the end’ – and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I still experience doubt during quiet periods…

  21. Few people are risk takers, and that’s not a bad thing, because society would become more Chaotic. Most people want security and reliability, even if that is really just a short-lived perception today. There remains a battle in many corporate circles, of management trying to reduce labor costs as low as possible, though we now see some push-back from workers. Freelance and temporary workers get the worst of this, especially those of us who are creative professionals. My fellow graduates of 1998, largely were lured into the dot com boom, where the founders made it out wealthier, while the workers were left with little to nothing. Many quit being creative professionals entirely. A few even joined in on the real estate craze.

    Tech start-ups today are similar to the dot com era, in that they make money for the founders, largely exploit the workers, and only sometimes pay profits to investors. There is some wishful thinking that being connected to a (potential) boom company, or maybe the next Google, will pave the path to riches, and that’s enough to bring in a steady supply of wishful employees. Photographers and creative professionals sometimes experience this when getting corporate contracts, when the lure of big names makes them think less about how much they are being paid for a project. Few corporations care about the sustainability of the professionals who assist them with their creative needs.

    So why bother even trying? Anyone with a nagging doubt of “what if?” deserves to at least give their passion a good effort. I think it is better to have made the attempt and failed, than to have never attempted. Absolutely, being a creative professional is massively difficult. Less than 5% of those who graduated when I did, are still creative professionals. The failure rate is very high. Even some of the best in the world have experienced times of few projects, straining cash flow to a trickle. Keep in mind that nothing worthwhile in life is easy, but for those up to a challenge, I encourage giving it a solid attempt.

    • That’s a solid perspective, Gordon. And I agree that the perceived romance is almost always better than reality – but living with the little ‘what if’ doubt can drive you nuts.

  22. Vers interesting reading in the link to go from banker to musician

    René-François

    >

  23. Thanks for an interesting article. However, the following sentence seems at odds with events unfolded in the last decade:
    “from something uncreative – like finance – to something creative”
    Few photographers (or artists) are in a position to damage the livelihood of millions of people with fanciful products. Not so in finance.
    I believe I am not alone in wishing far, far less creativity in finance.

  24. Thank you Ming. Thank you so very much for sharing your passion and wisdom so that others may be inspired and empowered to co-create a world we love rather than merely consume a world we hate. I believe you touch on a topic that is of critical importance for our collective future as humans living within this one Earth. When we live our lives from a place of fear (of lost income, of separation from social norms, of leaving our comfort zones), we degrade the world for both ourselves and others. Like everyone else, I live scared all too frequently…thanks for stoking the fires of fearlessness within us all!

  25. Gerner Christensen says:

    ** I asked a slightly pointy question: what is it you really want to do? What would you do with your time and life if you had no other responsibilities or financial commitments? There was a pause, and then: ‘be a jazz bassist’. **

    It was good you had that dinner with your friend Ming. A most relevant article targeting the essence in life and the question we always have to ask ourselves. Let’s just say we have only one life and life is measured in time, we got 24 hours a day deposited on our time bank account and when the hours expires so does the life that day. It is not possible to spent less time and save it for tomorrow. It means time is the most precious thing we got.
    I learned very late in life that eternity lies in the moment, the here and now. If we would keep our attention in what is here and now and be present, the past and future does not exist and neither does the sorrows and worries about it. It helps a lot to dwell in the moment in order to feel happy about what one is doing, then it is perhaps lesser important to make everything just to be different.
    When I take the viewfinder up in front of my eye, compose and focus, it is such as moment time doesn’t exist and I feel very very happy.
    Well my point is it is never too late to start living if one should have forgotten how to 🙂

    • Time is precious because it is a finite commodity, and we are not allowed to know just how much we have left. So the only thing to do is not waste it on things and people that don’t matter.

  26. Moving from your imaginary finance career to your imaginary photography career must have been a challenge. Flunking out of audit training doesn’t really constitute a career in finance, by the way.

    It’s nice that you’ve found your niche as a gadget reviewer, though. Good for you!

  27. Jason Patton says:

    This is a great article. A really important topic that I wish I considered long ago when I was younger. It’s too late for me. I have a wife, two kids, and two college educations to pay for. I’d love a job that I could be passionate about, but that time has come and gone, at least until retirement when I’ll do some other kind of work. My job pays enormously well and gives me plenty of time off, plus lots of international travel perks, but I’m not passionate about it. I am going to make my kids read this article because they are in the prime time now. They need to ponder this daily, for YEARS.

    Again, great article!

    • Thanks Jason – and look at the other side of the fence: if you’re getting the freedom to do what you want to do at least some of the time, and it isn’t painful…that doesn’t seem so bad to me 🙂

  28. Thanks MT….I am quitting tomorrow, and I will let the bank manager know it was your fault 😛

    Anyone need over saturated, over contrasty, over processed pictures of them standing in some urban environment, doing nothing in particular? Hmm?? Anyone?? 😀

    Seriously though…as always a very sage and eloquent post, and one that highlights what sets you apart from other phoblographers. Does this mean you are currently enjoying some inner peace regarding your professional life, and perhaps even a bit of renumeration? If so….good for you, well deserved.

    • You never know, Ian. I’ve been hired to photograph things I’d never expect before in ways I’d never seen as commercial. They landed up as wallpaper and packaging patterns (!)

      Inner peace…sure, to the extent it’s possible. It isn’t an easy career but it could be much harder. Remuneration…well, we can dream – I’m still a photographer, remember… 😛

  29. Thank you for this post; it’s interesting even though I’m one of those people who want to do many things, and enjoy both my corporate job and photography. I’m lucky enough to have reasonable working hours and long vacations (7 weeks per annum) to avoid the feeling of being eaten by the job (I have also been there in M&A but it definitely requires more passion than I had to endure).

    One tip for a corporate career: if HR does the recruiting, stay far from that organisation. Managers should be very interested in who works for them, even at the lowest levels.

    • In your position, I think I would have stayed! There doesn’t seem to be such a thing as reasonable working hours in Asia: your company owns you, if you object you will be fired because there are others willing to do it, and if that’s the case…one might as well make as much money in the process.

      Sadly HR does almost all the hiring here. It isn’t even a case of lack of management interest, I think they simply aren’t given a choice. It’s compounded by the people in HR being the dregs that nobody else wanted to hire…

  30. Really wonderful article Ming. So much of what you wrote struck a chord with the life I have led and the life I would still like to lead…

  31. I get the feeling this subject is an undercurrent in many people’s lives. Director Francid Ford Coppella spoke of most artists in the future needing to have a part time job as well as follow their passion. I find myself in this position, graphic designer three days a week and filmmaker the other two. It works well for me but I’d still like to make films (narrative not corporate) full time though. We have a mortgage but no kids, one of my main issues with trying to go full time is I know it would mean taking the type of jobs in my passion’s area that i don’t like, I worry it’ll then kill my passion or I’ll end up as a commercial filmmaker with no time to write or engage that artistic side. At least the part time role allows me to fully participate in the exact kind of job I want to do even though I have made a single penny from it. Any thoughts? Interesting article Ming!

    • Sorry, I can’t say I do – the commercial/creative tradeoff is almost always going to leave you with a slightly bad taste in the mouth. I have, and continue to, make that compromise fairly often, because it allows me to do what I want the rest of the time – and sometimes I’m lucky enough to have an engagement where both what I and the client want is aligned. I suppose one could wait for such happy coincidences, but the reality is you have to do more work to increase your visibility to such prospective clients etc…chicken and egg, I suppose. But I will say that if you aren’t making money from it now and can survive, I wouldn’t compromise so that you are – that will make everything a compromise, and then you’ll just be miserable.

  32. “What Matters Most” by James Hollis. You don’t have to like or agree with this book but it poses all the right questions, imho, and I’ve found it helpful when mulling over similar ideas. No one has to do what they feel they are called to do and sometimes it isn’t possible but trying to ignore or avoid that calling comes with a price too. Great article, thank you.

  33. I see it differently: I can’t really mix passion with business.
    Finished high school and all I dreamt was to be a photographer. Followed my passion and got a degree in photography. The passion was still there. Then I started to earn a living from taking photographs and things started to change: the passion died. I HAD to make pictures, unfortunately not just of things that caught my eye (like pretty flowers) but of buildings. I had to deliver, on a regular basis.
    Eventually photography became just a job and the inspiration was no longer there. In my spare time I no longer wished to create images. My Hasselblad was used only for work, not personal photography.
    I changed jobs: I entered the bicycle industry. I lived to ride and bikes were everything. Eventually those grimy racing bikes and the team I was looking after took some of the romance away. I understood that for me the passion lives where there is no pressure. Today I have a job that I don’t love nor hate: it pays the bills, it’s creative enough and I work with decent people.
    The Hasselblad never got touched again (still have it tho) and gingerly I shifted to point-and-shoot! (yep, those things that do all the thinking for me 🙂
    Time has passed and you can guess it: I still love riding bikes and photography is now at a passion level of my teenage years.
    Oh yeah, that point-and-shoot doesn’t cut anymore now that the fire in my belly is back.

    • I can understand your point of view, too: there have certainly been situations in which the muse leaves you, but you’re committed to make an image and you have to deliver (at least you do if you care about professionalism). That has been the toughest reality to confront for me, because I never expected such a situation to be possible – I look at it this way: at least it’s better than having to make a powerpoint presentation about it 🙂

    • Firstly, MT, this topic is one which resonates with me as I frequently encounter it from the other side of the chair in my professional life. You might, or might not, be surprised by the number of patients who have ‘the midlife crisis’ at some point in their lives and find that they simply cannot continue living as they have been. It usually is not the entire situation which is the cause of the paralysis, but one specific element – and more often than not it is either work related, and in fewer cases, a toxic relationship. Once that situation has changed, there is usually a positive improvement. I strongly believe that humans are not well suited to performing the same tasks repeatedly for decades. We are a curious species by nature!

      Personally, I have been lucky to never have felt that strongly about any particular pursuit that I must at all costs follow it; I am fond of both my profession and photography, but they do not define me as a person. I will never have MT’s level of commitment, but that is also a double-edged sword, as I will also never have his level of skill. Think of it as a series of peaks and valleys: you may have an easier life in rolling hills, but you also will never know the soaring heights or despairing lows. Having seen the latter and experienced the former, I for one am glad to be walking in the hills. I will however suggest exercising sensibility if one is going to take career and life risks whilst under responsibility of care for others.

      • You know, I don’t think I could personally trade the extremes for a higher normal average – the problem is, once you’ve experienced it, you can’t un-experience it. But maybe that would be different if I didn’t feel that all-consuming obsession. I suppose that’s at the core of why we had that other conversation not so long ago 🙂

  34. I really enjoyed reading this entry – thank you for sharing it.

  35. definitely. 20 years ago when i’m still in high school i was practicing on my bass for hours daily and want to be a jazz bassist like your friend. after i finished my architecture degree i went to the music business fulltime for a few years, that failed at the end, and i switched to the IT industry for a living until now.

    and the “at least i tried” you said is so true.

    • No regrets? 🙂

      • there were quite a few occasions during those years i should have made better choices, but still, the major decision that i’ve made “to dive into the music world and nothing else matters” felt so natural at that moment. given this move didn’t hurt anyone and straight from my heart, “regret” is not applicable in my case~ ; )

  36. I am aware of your amazing educational details and roller coaster career ride and am with you all the way. I myself left a job I hated (I was a well paid senior banker) and entered the publishing industry as a lowly proofreader, when I was past fifty. I wasn’t taken seriously at first but somehow (my passion for books and writing?), within a year I found myself at a senior position in editorial and went on to hold down the top editorial positions in a number of publishing concerns. The wonder of it is that I wasn’t doing anything special–all I was doing was enjoying my work and going the extra mile because I loved doing so. Employers / clients aren’t stupid, they know a driven employee / vendor when they see one. And it was just like being self employed, because I did as I wished and was allowed to go my merry way simply because the employer knew it was best for the firm. It hasn’t paid well, in monetary terms, but at the end of the day (I’m almost 67 now), I can look back and say I probably managed to contribute something of value, after all … which would perhaps explain why I am one of your greatest supporters and admirers, for reasons well beyond the realm of photography which you straddle like a colossus.

    • Thanks Subroto. I can hardly claim to be a colossus (or these cameras would be a lot lighter!) but you’ve been fortunate to find yourself in that position. In the past even if I’ve had jobs I’ve enjoyed, I’ve had bosses or employers who’ve not been able to see that because they themselves hate their jobs and in return take it out on their employees…

      But I have no doubt that if everybody did something they at least weren’t vehemently opposed to, they’d be both a lot happier and the people they interact with would, too.

      • Jim Suojanen says:

        Yes, I have seen many folks unhappy with their work and work environment. I’ve changed jobs many times for these reasons. But sometimes this dissatisfaction arises from having no goals in life; no focus on what one really seeks. This pursuit of happiness may require radically changing course; but often, as Goethe said, “it’s not doing what you like but liking what you have to do”.

        You are correct, and I have observed many times, that ruthless drive and hard work often surpass talent and intelligence. This is especially true in Politics; whether in business, academia or government. The smart talented rabbits simply have no patience with the tortoises. Passion and persistence do go a long way. But passion, persistence and talent can go even further. Passion, persistence, talent and a focus on something beyond money/power/pleasure/intolerance enriches others.

        Many blessings.

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