Guest blog: Douglas Benton

I’m working on class prep for my commercial photography business class. I’ve asked the students to answer two questions and decide which of those two things is more important to them.

1. What do you want to shoot?
2. Where do you want to live?

In the commercial field, often, one is driven by the other. If you want to specialize (make a living) in a specific type of commercial work, you have to be where that type of work is being consumed. It’s very hard to make a living shooting fashion in iowa because there are very few companies buying fashion photography here. There’s always the exception to the rule, but I’m pretty comfortable saying that if you are going to have a successful fashion photography career, you’re not going to be doing it in Iowa.

It’s hard when 1 and 2 don’t line up or conflict. Ever since I became cognizant of commercial photography and everything that went into making that imagery I thought how cool it would be to work in a studio doing the high end work. The stuff you see in workbook and showcase. What I didn’t know at the time was how much I didn’t like living in the big city. Omaha is not a big city, but it didn’t take long for me to realize how much I hated sitting in traffic on the way to and from work. As silly at it might seem, rush hour played a formative role in the direction of my career and what I have photographed over the years.

Last night a friend asked me if I always knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. The short answer is from 14, yes I knew I wanted to be a photographer. Or a bird of prey trainer (my real first choice). The long answer is yes, but I had no idea what that being a professional photographer was like.

As I was thinking about all of that this morning, I wondered how the path of my career might have been different if someone had made me ask and answer those two questions before I applied for my first job out of school. If I would’ve laid that rubric over top of the options and opportunities at the time, would I have chosen differently? Would I have waited?

I have a vivid childhood memory of my family putting on our coats after spending the evening with people my parents knew. As we were getting ready to leave the woman asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I remember what I said and the response it got. I’m not sure why that particular time that question was asked of me, was such that I would remember it to this day, but I do. That’s not a question you ask a little kid because you want to know what company is going to be making a direct deposit in their account every two weeks sometime in the future, it’s about who the kid is dreaming about being. Not what do you want to do, as much as who do you want to be?

For some students the answer to either 1 or 2 comes easily. They know exactly what they want to do or where they want to live. For others though, it’s a tough question, even in the hypothetical. I think one of the main contributors is not really knowing the options or not feeling confident in the criteria for deciding what you want to do and/or where you want to do it. Not surprising, when it seems like so many people find little pleasure or satisfaction in their jobs.

As I was walking the dog this morning, it occurred to me that there is another question that is equally, if not more important than what do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a lot harder too. The question is Why do you want to be when you grow up? What is the real purpose of you being here? Regardless of title, position or status gained, as you are standing at the end of your career, or life, what do you want to be able to point to and say, that’s why it was worth investing my life where I did. What a loss when you spend a career “climbing the ladder, just to find out you’ve leaned it against the wrong building”.

Not speaking of profession, but in general, Why do you want to be? What is the reason you want to be ______? What drives you? What motivates you? What brings satisfaction and reward? What moves you to action? What makes your heart ache? What makes it leap for joy? For what purpose are you?

To the degree you can line up the why’s with the what’s and the where’s, the happier you will be in your career, regardless what that career is.

If you were to start to make a list of the why’s you want to be, what would be on it?
(Not a rhetorical question, I’m actually making a list : )

What resources have you found helpful when making career/life decisions?

 Douglas Benton
Thanks Doug for a terrific blog. Absolutely, the questions not limited to photographers.
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