My life is pretty good. I live in one of the coolest cities in the world (Toronto), I have a lot of close friends, good family, an amazing girlfriend who loves me, and I’m beginning to think my photography business is sustainable after almost five years of hard work. I’m happier now than I have been for most of my life. But here’s the reality: I am just a blue collar photographer.
I hustle my ass off to take photographs for people. If I don’t take photos, I don’t make money, I can’t pay my rent, and I end up homeless and get forced into a job as a fake pan-handling monk. I will likely never amass great riches from photography. And I’m ok with that, I think.
Recently, I’ve been running into friends who’ve done really well for themselves. A friend still in his 20’s whose tech start-up is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, a close childhood friend who bought a new Porsche 911, several others who run successful businesses or are directors or VPs of large corporations, and everyone who seems to be living in a home larger than 400 square feet (that isn’t packed to the brim with camera equipment). In the photography world, I have friends who are massive industry icons with hefty social media presences. In comparison, I am a virtual nobody. At times, I can feel inadequate compared to them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly proud of my friends’ achievements. They’ve worked extremely hard in order to get where they are. My jealousy is more a reflection of my own insecurities and life choices. So why is it that despite me being happier than I ever have been in my life do I still feel overwhelmed by the successes of others? I wanted to dive into this a little bit more, so I put pen to paper to help try to make sense of it and to find a solution. Here are some of the strategies I’ve come up with to deal with my feelings of inadequacy:
Remember What Life Used to Be Like
Holy s**t my life used to suck. It wasn’t long ago when I suffered from extreme anxiety. It got to the point that I would roll out of bed dreading to go to work. I had a lot of health issues and legitimately thought I was dying. I had underwent almost every medical test available to me. I didn’t know at the time that anxiety could manifest itself into physical sickness. The illness was largely due to the stresses and discontentment I experienced at my past job. I had been unhappy there for several years but just kept on hanging around hoping things would get better. They never did. When it was evident that things would be getting worse, I decided to leave and take extended time off to travel the world.
During my travels, I really connected with photography, deciding shortly after I got home that I would be pursuing it as a career. Most of my health problems disappeared and my life got exponentially better. When I look back on how unhappy my life was, I feel grateful that I’m no longer in that situation. The takeaway here is: anything is better than my life from five or six years ago.
Remember Experiences are More Important than Things
I’ve tried really hard to value experiences in life over material possessions. Sure, I do love my cameras and shoes but other than that I don’t have a lot of material desires. I drive a 15 year old car, live in the previously mentioned 400 square foot hell hole, and still regularly wear clothes that are 5+ years old. With the money I save from living quasi-frugally, I am able to experience more things – regular travel, decent meals, and lots of Kekou gelato.
So while others make a boatload more money than I do, they may not have the flexibility to get away for extended periods of time during the winter or duck out of work to see their adorable niece and nephew. These are the types of experiences I value over things.
Giving your money away can actually make you feel a lot happier as well. Each year I try to support the Rotary Wheels for Learning charity that helps purchase bicycles for needy children in Cambodia so that they have a means of getting to school. It brings me a lot of joy to know that my money is directly influencing the lives of others. Earlier this year, I paid my way to Cambodia and helped the Rotary team assemble bikes for hundreds of kids. It was incredibly enriching and an important reminder of why money is only good if it is used to buy life experiences over material possessions.
The Money You Have is Never Enough but it’s More Than Enough
There are studies that show that after the necessities of life are taken care of, the amount of money you make plays little to no factor in your level of happiness. So for example, if you’re making $10,000 a year in Toronto your happiness level will likely be really low since that is not enough to meet the necessities of life. However, if you’re comparing the happiness of someone making $50,000 and another person making $1,000,000 it is likely there is no difference in their levels of happiness. In fact, the person making $1,000,000 is likely to be unhappier because their job would have greater stresses and demands.
Drawing from our own personal experiences, I think we can all remember happy times when we didn’t make much money. Think about what it was like being a broke college student. When you don’t have money, it can add a lot of stress in your life leading to unhappiness. But once you can meet the basic necessities of life, it really doesn’t have bearing on your overall contentment. Yet we believe that the money we have isn’t enough.
Somewhere, Someone is Envious of You
Envy and jealousy are funny things. When I talk to my friends of their successes and I start to wish that Porsche they’re driving were mine, they will often respond back by saying they’re envious of my travel experiences and the flexibility/freedom in my work schedule and being your own boss.
Last week, I bought the new Sony a7R II camera. It is the hottest camera to hit the streets in years, with long waiting lists to get. It seems that every photographer wants it. I guess some people wish they had my camera, even though I’m more or less over it already. So while I am drooling over my buddy’s Porsche 911, others are drooling over my camera and at the end of the jealousy chain is some poor kid with clean water and food envy. So no matter where you seem to be or what you appear to have or don’t have – there are others who want to be where you are.
So yes, I do sometimes feel inadequate in life. I know others have more stuff than me and are doing bigger and better things. There’s millions of photographers that are better than I am. But at the end of the day, I am happy where I am. When I started my photography career, all I wanted was to earn an honest living from it. I never thought I would see the successes I’ve experienced so far. I see progress with my photography and have a bit more clarity in my life direction. To my friends who are killing it: keep killing it! And to those who sometimes feel like I’ve felt this past little while, I leave you with some perspective from one of my favorite songwriters, Eddie Vedder: “I wish I was as fortunate, as fortunate as me.”
P.S. Here are my thoughts on the a7R II: All images used to illustrate this post were taken haphazardly with the new Sony a7R II camera. The camera does exactly what cameras do. It is more similar to the camera you already have than it is different. It’s a nice toy. However, it is highly unlikely that my clients will notice any difference in what I deliver to them. Verdict: buy it if 1) you have enough in your bank account to buy it outright and to cover life expenses for at least three months 2) the differences in this camera compared to yours will result in new business and; 3) it provides greater shooting enjoyment.
Personally, I would still prefer to use a Fuji X100T for personal work and as an everyday camera over the Sony A7R II. I wouldn’t completely replace my Canon 5D Mark III as my workhorse either because I can’t replicate the skintones I get from the Canons. Plus for the most part I don’t want to shoot weddings at 42MP. My computer will explode.
About the author: Neil Ta is a full-time professional photographer based in Toronto. His goal as a photographer is to connect with people with humour, joy, and a light attitude, while capturing images that are poignant and timeless. You can find more of his work on his website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. This article was also published here.