If You Want to Be A [Noun] You Have to Do The [Verb]

The easiest way to become someone is to do something. Here's why, and how you can begin the process as early as today.

Armchair Twiddling

I knew I wanted to be a photographer, but I couldn't decide which lens to buy.

It was late 2015 and I was stuck between two options - a 35mm and a 50mm. I was paralysed, unable to function until I had made my decision. Hours on YouTube and review websites weren't helping, either. I stayed up late, holding my eyes open, hoping my decision would strike out of the blue.

The stakes couldn't have felt higher. It was the difference, I thought, that could make or break my future career as a photographer. In hindsight it couldn't have been less important.

I was engaged in the hobby of wannabe-professionals the world over - the delicate art of 'armchair twiddling': not actually doing anything useful or creative, just thinking about the best way to do something if I ever did it.

The gear really didn't matter. I should have just been taking photographs.

From Amateur to Professional

Eventually - somehow - I finally settled on a new lens and a new camera. I bought both, and decided to take them with me on a holiday later the next year. This holiday changed my life because a friend, recently engaged, saw the photos from that trip and asked if I would photograph his upcoming wedding.

I agreed.

Five years later, I'm considered one of the best wedding photographers in the UK by SLR Lounge and Junebug, I've won awards and I've been featured in a number of different online publications. How did this happen? It's, er, not my lenses. It's directly correlated with the amount of photos I take.

Nota bene: I've used virtually the same gear across these years (two Nikon D750s shooting RAW).

In 2014 and 2015, I was shooting... but I was mostly twiddling. When I was asked to shoot that wedding, the stakes had been genuinely increased. To get better, I had to shoot more. So I did.

Later, with more and more photography work coming in, I left my corporate job. And then I shot more. And then I shot more.

How it started (2016)

While the gear I was using stayed the same, my work became ever more creative and ambitious and confident. As more of my work made its way out into the world I began booking more and more weddings, many of which were from clients with ever-increasing budgets.

I went from using up to four lenses on a wedding day to only two. I raised my prices. I won awards. People featured my photos. Now, I barely think about my gear; I superglue bits back together and send it in for repair when it breaks. That's it.

The only thing that has really changed since the evenings of armchair twiddling all those years ago? Me, and the number of photographs I take every day, week, month and year.

How it's going (2020, during the pandemic)

Start Where You Are, Use What You Have, Do What You Can

The easiest way to become someone is to do something.

It's easy to get caught up in learning and thinking and planning and scheming, but there is never any substitute for the act of simply 'doing the thing'. There never will be.

  • If you want to be a photographer, start shooting
  • If you want to be a writer, start writing
  • If you want to be a singer, start singing
  • If you want to be a programmer, start coding
  • If you want to be a runner, start running
  • If you want to be a chef, start cooking
  • If you want to be a leader, start leading

Two of the most successful people I know I met at university. They wanted to be entrepreneurs. You could tell they meant it, too, because they both started businesses as soon as they could. Whether those first businesses were successful or not doesn't matter, they just 'got their reps in' early on.

Neither of them had stacks of cash or detailed implementation plans when they started. They just started by buying something and selling it, or creating a service and offering it. They weren't fussing over which font was best on the 'core values' page in their pitch deck, they were too busy finding a gap in the market and piling in.

How to Become Whatever You Want

To become a photographer I recognised that I needed to be spending most of my time shooting. To be a writer (that is, to publish a weekly blog like this), I knew I had to write every day. As I now learn to code, I know that my time spent actually coding is most important of all.

There are really only three things you need to do to become anything in the world:

  1. Identify the smallest component part: what is the bare minimum action required of the thing you want to be? For example, if you have a business idea to connect people who want to help needy causes but don't know which charity to give to, start by finding one person and pointing them in the right direction.
  2. Do this thing constantly and consistently: you'll get better at it and you'll learn something new each time. After helping fifty people discover the right causes for them to give to, you may find that some of your initial assumptions were wrong and you've got a whole new idea that would be even more helpful. (Can't find fifty people? Maybe your idea doesn't have legs.)
  3. Keep an eye out for growth opportunities: the more you do the thing, the more chances you'll have 'at bat' to make improvements, or perhaps find a way of doing more with the same resources. Maybe you'll even find someone who wants to pay you to do what you've already been doing day in day out.

As we do more and more of these things our identity changes. I went from 'I take photos as a hobby,' to 'I'm a photographer' without really noticing. After enough time of getting the reps in, it simply becomes who you are.

So what is it you want to be? Find the smallest part of it. Do it today.

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