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This article is written by Neil Ta, originally posted here. The views posted here are his and his alone and may or may not be shared by Eric or any other contributors to the website.

My life is pretty good. I live in one of the coolest cities in the world, 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.

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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

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Holy shit 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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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 was 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.

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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 (scroll down for my full review). 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.

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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 favourite songwriters, Eddie Vedder: “I wish I was as fortunate, as fortunate as me.”

Notes (+ A7R II Review): 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.

Neil’s portfolio.

Neil’s Instagram.

Neil’s Xpan Blog.

Neil’s Facebook.

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6 Comments

  1. It’s the fisrt time i write on this blog (One of my favorites). And i want to say that, this come in a great time for me. Sometimes we, as photographers see our instagram, FB, Flickr, etc. timeline, and feel like our work is not that great. But after reading this, some of my toughts were clear. The only person we should be better, is ourselves :)

  2. Hi Eric, Thanks for sharing, I feel like everything I read is how awesome the Sony is. It makes me think I should sell my Olympus gear and move to Sony. Then I think about how that’s not a good idea. I have the omd em1, 40-150mm and the Panasonic pancake 20mm. I recently sold my x100t to fund the purchase of my big lens. (Kids play soccer) and although the omd is awesome, makes amazing photos it just doesn’t give me the same feeling like when I held the x100t. The Sony has a similar profile dslr type camera with a built in grip which is why i dont really love my oly. Seems dumb but the fuji just fits better in my hands. I dont think the sony would motivate me like the x100t did. I love to shoot with that camera and i carried it with me everywhere. Who needs 42mp, do I need better lowlight performance or dynamic range is the sony going to make me a better photographer. I bet that sony would sit on my shelf just like my oly does.

    As far as money I couldnt agree more. I live a great life, make enough money to provide for my family and I can enjoy my expensive hobby. I just need to stop wanting the latest and greatest and just focus on what’s important. This article hits a lot of solid points. I appreciate your honesty.

    1. For the street, the X100 is all I ever need. I miss that camera already. Damn you Sony! I also agree 100% of the Olympus not having that x-factor that makes you want to pick up the camera.

  3. Please try not to to sucked in this consumerist black hole -if you had a defunct totally out of date camera then by all means purchase something like the new Sony ! Myself and some friends are busy dusting off our old film cameras and re acquainting ourselves with some old but very good image makers !
    Happiness is about deeper things than the material you keep being bombarded with -friendship- doing something creative -helping people -having a bit of control of your life -achieving goals you have set for yourself !
    I will finish with a quote from a poet I like -he was a hobo and a kind of social outcast -his name is WH Davies
    ” What good this life so full of care if we have not time to stand and stare ”

    Best Wishes

    1. Good of you to “tell it how it is”. You are of course quite right. What is it about this craving for the next camera available. I would put my house on no one I work for ever knowing any difference between my Canon 1Ds of 2002 and my current Canon 5D mark 3. I could quite happily still use my 1Ds and no one would know the difference. But, we still sign up to the camera hype and shell out thousands of $$$ &£££ and €€€€ and Yen and every other currency. Is it megapixels? DR? low light? Video? Every one of my clients to a man and woman I guarantee will not even own a photography book, they actually know very little about photography. The days of real pictures editors are long gone. In my experience, I’m commissioned by administrators and PA’s.
      I’m currently waiting to buy the Sony A7R 2 but frankly I’ve no idea why, I’d much rather be buying a Linhof 4×5 or Leica M6.

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