Years ago there was a commercial that featured the champion golfer Tom Kite and another professional golfer. The two were on massage tables getting rubdowns, discussing in weary, jaded tones whether they were going to take the trouble to fly to Hawaii to play in a golf tournament. It's been a very long time since I saw that ad, but, if memory serves, the two also discussed the huge prize money on offer as if it were barely worth the trouble.
The joke, of course, was that they were complaining bitterly about things the average golfer would dearly love to be privileged to do.
But how many of those jealous amateurs would really have enough desire to be a professional golfer? Those guys practice four, six, eight, even ten hours a day. They'll do two hours just practicing putts...and then do it again the next day, and the next. Would you want to do that? If you play golf, have you ever once worked with the same club for two hours straight at a practice range? Maybe you have if you were on the golf team in college. The average amateur hasn't, I'll bet.
Even if I were good at it, I think I'd be bored out of my mind inside of a week.
It's the same way in many fields. The people who succeed have a great deal of energy for the work.
At least with golf there's the potential for reward. Top pool players also have to practice eight hours a day (three hours was about my max, back when I had a table) but the difference is stark: as a competitive-pool-playing friend of mine pointed out a few years back, the no. 36 pro golfer on the PGA tour earns more than two million dollars; the no. 36 pool player in the world (a friend of my friend's) has to sleep in his car when he travels to tournaments because he can't afford a motel.
People who succeed also have a huge appetite for the work. A desire and an interest—and a satisfaction when things go well—that keeps them going.
I think I read somewhere—in about '08, around there—that the average blogger writes four posts and then gives up. I have a relative who did exactly that—four excellent, well-conceived, informative, entertaining, well-written blog posts. Then, because the effort had tired him out, he took a few days off. That turned into a few weeks, and what do you know? A number of months later it emerged that he had, in fact, retired from blogging after those first four posts. He hadn't exactly intended to, but he did. Too much work, not enough reward.
This is blog post number 7,242 for me, and that follows more than 240 published columns in print and on the Internet, and around 200 published magazine articles and editorials.
Would you want to do that, or would it drive you crazy? You won't offend me if you say the latter.
Granted, not all of those blog posts are much good, but maybe 10% of them are. That's still 724 well-crafted mini-articles, most conceived and finished within a span of one to three hours. More than most writers would have the stamina for. There must be something keeping my batteries charged.
Be a happy amateur and be happy!
I have two separate points to make here. They don't necessarily relate to each other. The first is my belief that you simply have to have a certain amount of aptitude and ability for any type of work (or sport, or art, or anything) that requires so much time, effort, and practice. (Reward is a strong motivator, too.) That popular idea about 10,000 hours being needed for mastery is nice and tidy, but the fact is that if you don't have aptitude and ability for a particular pursuit, and if you're not getting real gratification from it, you won't be able to find the drive and the energy to keep going that long. Determination alone just won't do it. You can't force yourself to be what you're not. (And the worse you are at something, the more effort it takes to do it well.)
The second point is that it can be okay to be an amateur. Professional photographers work very hard. The job has an unusual number of facets and they have to be good at most of them. It requires a broad range of talents and abilities. And it never stops. If you're an amateur, think of the hardest you ever worked at photography and ask yourself, would I really want to do that all day long, five, six, sometimes seven days a week?
For most people, the answer is probably very much like it would be for the average amateur golfer: "Ahh...not really." Just as it's great fun to be able to play golf every weekend in the Summer and partake of an occasional golf holiday, maybe even practice a few times a week and enjoy reading about golfers and equipment, so it is with photography. For most of us it's lovely to be able to do many of the things I've done myself over the past week: head out for a few hours of exploring, looking around, and photographing; happily sift through those shots on the computer and spend some time feeling enthusiastic about the good ones; settle down for an hour to the satisfying task of making a great print of an image you care about; or sit down for another satisfying stint of reading a few more pages in the book I've currently got going, The Origins of American Photography. I love every part of it. It's a great hobby, and it keeps rewarding me. Add a dedicated photography vacation or workshop every now and then, a museum visit, and the company of intelligent and interesting like-minded enthusiasts (that's you!), plus the appealing distraction of the gear and gadgetry, and I'm contented.
But all the time? All day every day? The answer for me is clear: I love being an amateur photographer. And I'll continue to jealously guard that status. Your mileage, as they say on the Internet, may vary!
Original contents copyright 2016 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
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Featured Comments from:
Rob: "I'm a musician, classical and jazz mostly, and the same thing applies. I tell my students to remember that practicing and playing (rehearsals, concerts, etc.) are not the same thing, and that high-quality practice is very intense—and hard—work. To become a competent instrumentalist requires years of four to eight hours of practice a day in addition to any playing that one might do. It might be great fun and spiritually rewarding but it is also d**n hard work!"
Gato: "I started college as a music major at one of the top schools. The thing that amazed me most—and moved me to change majors—was just how much time and work people put into developing their talent. At that age I just couldn't understand putting in six or eight hours a day in a practice room—on top of classes and rehearsals.
"A couple of years later I discovered photography and found myself spending six or eight hours a day in the darkroom, in addition to shooting, studying and classes. That is, putting in the kind of work the musicians had been doing. Then I began to understand what drove them.
"I was lucky enough to make a decent living doing the kind of photography I enjoyed for about 12 years—and also lucky enough to segue into a related career when it began to get old.
"I cannot imagine how awful it would have been had I been forced to continue churning out commercial-grade photography after the glow faded. Being forced to do work you don't like just to put food on the table is bad enough. Being forced to do work you don't like in a field you once loved would be torture—at least to me.
"Now I'm retired and can do photography on my own terms—and I love it again.
"By the way, my accountant loves accounting the way some people love photography or music. Some of us are lucky enough to find a calling and be able to pursue it."
Darlene: "Well I was a pro photographer for decades and I would do it all over again knowing what I know. I made a very good income, was my own boss, was well respected, met some incredible people and some famous personalities that I otherwise would never have met if not for my profession, and because I was good at it, doors opened for me and that was a pretty cool ride to be on. It was difficult at times to balance my personal life with my professional life, and it becomes hard work physically the older you get, but I have the passion and have always known that nothing else will satisfy me like photography does. I am equally happy doing personal work as I was doing commercial work, and I find teaching photography and the business just as satisfying; it truly is my life, it makes me happy and I do not care to be doing anything else. I see very few students with the passion I had early on, and others that I hope will find whatever it is that lights their fire before they grow too old or too tired because they ain't gonna make it in the photo business; this I know. Nothing wrong with their art, they lack the need to breathe! Passion is about risking everything for a dream no one can see but you, and when the risk turns into a negotiation with life, your passion will equal your need to breathe, and it is then you will succeed. Gotta have the passion to succeed."
Patrick: "Like most professional photographers, I started photography as a hobby, dare I say even a passion. When I started photographing professionally my shooting was split between work and personal. Sadly, the more successful I became as a professional (read: the more of my hours are spent photographing what others pay me to capture) the less and less I found myself doing photography for pleasure. At this point, six and a half days of every week are spent doing the job of professional photography (from shooting to editing to various business tasks) and I almost never pick up a camera for myself any longer. I guess it's a case of 'beware what you wish for.'"
Bruce McL: "Self-made billionaire Marc Cuban wrote a blog post on this subject. His advice: forget about following your passion. If you want to be successful, find what you like to grind away at and do that. Ideally it's something that you can't help but grind away at—every time somebody brings up a problem or issue around this subject you feel compelled to grind away until you have an answer you are satisfied with."
Gordon Lewis: "Having been a pro photographer in L.A. for a couple of years, I heartily agree with everything you've said. I might also add that the hard work involves a lot more than photography alone. Depending on speciality, it also requires marketing, accounting, client relations, bill collecting, travel, hiking, equipment transport and logistics, set building...the list goes on. That said, it was a great learning experience and I would gladly do it all again; I just wouldn't do it now. Writing ain't easy either, but at this stage in my life it's easier, and frankly, more rewarding."
Curt Gerston: "I've been an avid skier my whole life, got pretty good, and in college spent a season as a ski instructor...only one season. Turns out, I loved skiing as an escape for me, not as a job to be paid for. I feel the same way about photography...I tried shooting some weddings, portraits, events, just to see if I wanted to go pro...nope. Your post perfectly described my feelings about my 'amateur' status...I like to play at photography, not work for others."
Ade (partial comment): "Similarly, I've always wanted to be able to play the guitar but somehow I've never wanted to actually play the guitar enough to become competent at it. In fact, I suspect I'd rather be seen (and fêted) by others for being able to play it, rather than actually enjoying it as an activity in itself. This seems to be key for a lot of creative pursuits: if you can't subsist on the internal rewards alone, there are precious few external ones to compensate and they are usually hard-won. I guess it's fortunate that I've been able to make a career in IT, a field I'm happy to tinker about in anyway on my own time."
Peter Komar: "Photography was first my hobby and my passion and then I got my dream job of a professional photographer for a major corporation. The hobby and the career were totally different and although my photo career lasted over 12 years it just was not the fit I had expected. I grew in my career and learned so much but I also at times regretted my decision, the hobby and the profession were just so different, so for me if asked for advice I would simply say, think it over long and hard if the opportunity presents itself.
"The hobby was always and still is my passion."