Why is mindfulness still one of the hardest things for photographers to grasp?
As I am writing to you, I have just arrived home after working my fourth Saturday in a row, hair in a disgusting greasy bun, about to throw my fourth coffee of the day down my throat – and it’s 6:07pm. Now most experts say you shouldn’t drink coffee after 12 noon, but I’m sure all photographers will beg to differ.
“Hello, my name is Georgie, recovering workaholic…”
“But Georgie, isn’t this your blog post in homage to Mental Health Awareness Week? Which was only some weeks ago…” I hear you cry from behind your keyboard. In fact yes, you are quite right. I’ve not really got off to the best start, have I?
Okay, let’s start again.
Hello, my name is Georgie, recovering workaholic, and I am crap at mindfulness. I hate gratitude journals and meditating to me just feels uncomfortable and well, pointless. I know, I know, I can hear almost all of you reading this gasping with horror, and well if that’s you, perhaps you should stop reading as this post might, I stress might, not be for you.
But, that fraction of you who are sat there as home thinking “oh my goodness, yes, hello! That’s me! I hate pretending to align my chakras and always focus on the negative” this post is 100% for you my friends.
We are the unpopular few who just don’t get it – and when I say it, I mean ‘self-care’. I’m gearing this up for you photographers out there, cos if you hadn’t already guessed, that’s what I do for a living. I really want to reach out to those lonely creatives that don’t want to feel stupid anymore just because they would rather sleep till 8:15 then get up at the crack of sparrows, just to attend a yoga class or meal prep for the day ahead.
Photographers really struggle as a collective to have ‘hobbies’; usually because photography was once their hobby that they’ve been lucky enough to make their career. But what really ever does fill that void? I know for me, I still haven’t really found what it is I am passionate about outside of work – mainly cos, I’m a bit of a dork, and I love my job. I usually end up working and working through evenings and weekends most weeks… which isn’t really my remedy, more like my poison.
“…have you ever heard the age old mantra, if you like something enough you’ll make time for it?”
There are things I do do (try not to Chandler Bing hysterically laugh… do do…) to get some separation from work, that I didn’t realise was even being mindful, until I stopped to Google what the hell mindfulness was a few weeks ago. And despite what you might think, being mindful and caring for your mental health as a creative, can be, if you put your mind to it, much easier than you think.
Do you want me to share these tit-bits of wisdom with you? Well, you’re here, so lets just presume you do!
I remember someone saying to me recently, “but what photography work do you do, for you?” And I had to stop and ask myself, hmm, what do I shoot for me? Not a lot, I had to be honest with myself.
I think I lied and said something along the lines of “because my day job is so demanding, I have little time these days for personal work”.
Okay, that isn’t an out ‘n’ out lie, but have you ever heard the age old mantra, if you like something enough you’ll make time for it? Like those crazy people who work god-forsaken hours but still find time to go to the gym… yeah, I am not one of those people. Finding time for work that makes you happy, and is just for you, that’s what really is important.
So for me, my personal work? I hear you ask, well, you’re reading it right now! My blog has become my personal work. This is me officially taking the proverbial pen to paper again, and I’m loving it – writing is something I do for me, that bleeds into my career, and I love it. Even more so because it’s not for a client, or even for a friend – it’s something I do just for me.
“If there’s a photoshoot, I’ll be there if it’s at 4:30am on the moon, if I have to”
Take a day off, just because you can
As a photographer, it’s just common knowledge you have to work all hours God sends you – whether that be 9-5, or perhaps evenings, and even weekends. If there’s a photoshoot, I’ll be there if it’s at 4:30am on the moon, if I have to.
However, I discovered around May of this year, after burning the candle at both ends for just over 5 years, since leaving University, that sometimes a girl’s just got to take a day off, you know?
It was like my mental health stuck up a tiny white flag, waved it furiously in the air and shouted “enough is enough, I can’t take this crap anymore!” and I had somewhat of a mid-twenties crisis. How am I meant to work Monday to Friday, evenings and weekends for the rest of my life? I found myself asking anyone who would listen.
And then it hit me… I don’t! I don’t have to work every hour of the week, just because I feel like I have to. Someone very wise once said to me “just because you’re busy, that doesn’t make you hard working”. It was like I was confusing a busy schedule with feeling hard working and important. It’s about identifying that these two things do not connect – you need to be economical with your time.
Now I take a day off in the week from time to time, or if I know I’m working an evening I take the morning of the day off. Sometimes the days have purpose, I go get a coffee with my Mum, or walk the dog, or even sometimes, most of the time, I have a Sex and the City marathons all by myself, just because I can. And, I kind of like it.
Do the thing you love, don’t just take photos of it
Okay so get this – when I became a recognised food photographer, in the Manchester area at least, I kind of just stopped cooking. I was so busy, running from shoots to events to more shoots, I just didn’t have time to prepare and stock up the fridge like I once did.
I started heavily relying on Jon to do all the cooking – bless him, he is an angel – but I really missed the thing that once made me so happy and filled me with joy.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not a great cook, I’m okay, I make a mean chicken curry and I like to bake banana bread, but I just stopped doing all that, and God did I miss it.
I was surrounding myself with food in my day job, but not saving myself enough time for the thing I loved so much, that made me become a food photographer in the first place – cooking.
So I’m not saying don’t completley stop shooting that thing you love, you’re making a career out of it, good for you! All I’m saying is if you’re a sports photographer, take some time out and go to a football game every once and a while. Or a fashion photographer, take some time every September to go to the A/W fashion shows. Or even like me, a food photographer, just remember to make time for the little things, and don’t lose that fire for that thing that you loved in the first place. You were lucky to find it, please don’t forget it as you excel in your career.
“don’t get me wrong, I love a mind-numbing Instagram scroll every now and then…”
Put a limit on social
Social media, the demon of all 21st century businesses. You can’t thrive without one, but having one takes up all of your time, boggles your mind and might as well be a whole other job all together.
I’ve talked before about not getting caught up on the numbers, and creating content for you always comes before how many likes light up on that new upload you posted a half hour ago, but when is it time to say enough’s enough?
Not all together, don’t get me wrong, I love a mind-numbing Instagram scroll every now and then, but can all the scrolling really be good for our souls? Interesting studies have shown that social media apps promote bad mental health, create comparison issues for their users and leave you feeling well, damn right inadequate.
I know I’ve spent the odd Saturday morning looking at my competitors newsfeed and thinking ‘why did they score that client, and not me?’ Forgetting all the amazing things I had achieved that day, week or year, just because Joe Bloggs seems to be doing better – or so he’s choosing to tell you – but that’s a whole other story for another time.
Create limits for yourself like your parents once made you do as a child, I have two strict rules…
1. Only 1.5 hours of social media a day on my work phone, which btw includes WhatsApp
2. No phones, at all, after 9:30pm
Sounds drastic? Yes I know, but no one knows me better than me, and I know I don’t like feeling worthless, inadequate or jealous, do you?
“1 in 3 people say that using their smartphone is the last thing they do before going to bed at night”
What’s worse, 1 in 3 people say that using their smartphone is the last thing they do before going to bed at night. So most of us are actually going to sleep and stewing over all these negative feelings last thing we do, before sleeping! Imagine what that’s doing to you, no one deserves to feel bad, especially just before we go off to the land of nod.
Insuring your mind is one of the strongest things you can do as a photographer, no as a creative. You wouldn’t leave that £500 lens hanging around uninsured, so why do we do this to ourselves? So little time is spent on the nurturing, just the doing, working and running around like a headless chicken. I promise you, it will catch up with you – it did me.
It’s so important to find that thing you love that takes you outside of yourself and your natural working habitat. I know for me, it’s that time when the camera is down that I actually make real memories with my family, Jon, and the people around me.
That’s what I want to remember last thing before I go to bed at night, not feelings of tiredness, stress and anxiety.
What’s it going to be for you? What are you going to chose?