“It is like snorkeling up a muddy river.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“It is like snorkeling up a muddy river.”
“Okay, what is?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“But it is really like snorkeling up a muddy river.”
“What is?”
“You don’t want to know.”

This is pretty much typical of the brief conversations I have during breaks in my teaching presentations. Someone from the audience is nice enough to come up and talk to me while everyone else is running out to a) leave as quickly as possible b) find a bathroom or c) leave as quickly as possible. I usually am trying to figure out a) what I am going to babble about next b) where the nearest Diet Pepsi is or c) how I can leave as quickly as possible.

Where was I? Right, presentations and snorkeling. The scene of this conversation was a group of 100 or so serious photography students that had spent weeks learning all the necessary information needed to become a professional photographer. I was supposed to talk to them for a day about the real life and business of being a pro- one part inspiration, one part honesty. It is a presentation I truly enjoy doing even though I find it to be one part not nearly long enough and one part entirely too long.

I always start off with a question for the participants: How many of you want a photography lifestyle and how many of you want a photography career? As you might expect almost all of them raise their hands dutifully to show that they want a photography career. The ones that don’t haven’t returned from the bathroom yet.

But then I ask them how many want to be called a photographer with photography business cards and photography stationary and photography clothes and photography stuff and travel all around the country and to far off exotic places taking pictures. I also add living in a place that is new and different and pretty and wonderful and usually western and very livable. Pretty much all the hands go up again.

I then ask them what would happen if they realized that the best place to have a career in photography was back where they came from and what if earning money meant sitting in an office most of the day rather than traveling all around and visiting exotica for most of the year. I don’t get much response from this question.

This is because these students, who range in age from 20 to 60, like all people who want to become professional photographers are sick and tired of sitting in an office all day long earning money. They want to be their own boss, out on the road doing exciting things and still earning money. They are listening to my presentation for the chance to learn how they can earn money with the least amount of trouble and the most amount of travel and photography. You see, most of them don’t actually want a photography career, what they want is a photography lifestyle.

If someone actually wants a photography career than they have to think of photography as a job, a real job. Real jobs require dong things that you really aren’t very excited about doing but that are necessary to earn money. It means sitting down at your desk every day at 8am and making phone calls and contacting editors and working on your images. Yes it does involve getting images but not as much as most people think.

If you accept photography as your job than you also accept whatever lifestyle is necessary to support that job. The job dictates the lifestyle not the other way around. If the lifestyle comes first and you do a job as it fits into that lifestyle than you have a hobby and not a career.

This is pretty much how the first thirty minutes of the presentation goes. Nothing like shattering dreams and frustrating your audience as a way to earn their respect and continued attention.

When I am feeling particularly feisty I then get into the necessity of combining writing with their photography as the best way to sell their images. This bit of good news is exactly what they don’t want to hear. They are photographers not writers, they insist, if they wanted to write they would be in a How to be a Professional Writer program.

When I ask them why they don’t want to write or think they can’t write they don’t have any good answers. Most are just intimidated and they don’t want to try or learn to be better because they……well they just don’t.

Then I hit them with the biggest bomb in my bag o’ bombs – If they are not willing to try and fail they will never be ready to try and succeed. Telling a group of aspiring professionals that it is vital that they expose themselves to failure is just about the last bit of good news they are willing to take.

All this surprises me in a way but I guess it shouldn’t. People want to know the outcome of everything they do these days. They want to be able to look into the future and see how everything is going to turn out. They are willing to take the first step if they can clearly see the path in front of them and where it is leading but if the path is obscure or even undefined most people today don’t want to take that first step into the future, even if the future may be, with a bit of work and perseverance, wonderful.

This is when I take a break and give any one who wishes a chance to bolt as quickly as they can. Which brings me back to the beginning conversation.

“It is a metaphor for moving forward but not really knowing what is ahead.”
“What is?”
“Snorkeling up a muddy river.”