Even if you give up on your dreams, they may not give up on you…

Do you ever feel that despite your most concerted efforts – the blood, sweat and tears – you cannot seem to get anywhere in life, in your career, or in following your dreams? I feel you – I was there exactly one year ago.

This day one year ago, I announced to the world that I had struggled enough and that I would give up my dreams of ever doing anything with photography.

Many of you read the post The End, where I vented about how I just couldn’t beat my head against the wall any longer. The decision to give up on photography was not an easy one, but I figured it’d make life easier in the end.

It’s amazing how things can change…

Within two months, I realised that although I had let go of the dream, it hadn’t let go of me. I realised that I couldn’t give up photography, and so if I was going to have it in my life still, I would step my efforts up a gear to raise my level. In the post The Beginning, I outlined my plans to go back to school and study photography formally. Unfortunately, getting my wife to Australia with me proved less simple than I had imagined, and I had to postpone my planned return to Oz until the end of this year, but a lot of other positive things happened shortly after deciding to fight for the dream.

Knowing I needed a goal to push me to get out and expand my portfolio, I set myself the target of getting a photo essay published in one of the three big local English language magazines – Word, Asia Life and Oi. I posted a status update on Facebook declaring my plan.

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So I got out and started shooting all around the city and keeping my eyes out for interesting stories.

I also got a batch of business cards printed up with my website (that I had been paying for for years with little apparent benefit) on them and contact details. I handed them out any chance I got.

I stopped thinking of myself as an ESL teacher (even though I was still teaching at the time) and started referring to myself as a photographer.

Now I’m not into that weird “The Secret” crap or anything, but I do believe that a change in your frame of mind does affect the way you act, and the way you act affects the environment around you. It is now apparent that’s what happened for me.

One hot afternoon I was high up in the bell tower of a Cao Dai temple near my home (shooting photos for a possible photo essay) when my mobile rang. I didn’t recognise the number, so I assumed it was a wrong number, but answered anyway. The voice coming through the little speaker had a distinct American accent and asked if this was Adam Robert Young.

It turned out to be the deputy editor of one of the magazines I was hoping to get something published in – Oi. I had not contacted any of them yet, as I was still trying to build a strong photo essay before I did so. They discovered me as I had commented on a blog post online which they had then followed to my website. Finally the annual fees for that damned website were beginning to pay off!

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They said that they were looking for photographers, but since I hadn’t had any industry experience, they wanted to offer an “internship” first to see what I could do. It was really a nice way to say they would publish my photos but wouldn’t pay me for the work. I thought about it for quite a while, and in the end, the local exposure, experience and enhanced portfolio it would help me develop outweighed notions of justice or exploitation. I knew I had the goods, and so I planned to show them what I could do for a month or two and then either take a staff position or go on my merry way. Long story short, within a few weeks, one of their other photographers was let go and I joined the staff of the magazine. Now I’m not saying I played a part in an employee being released, and I have found the magazine to be as ethical as any other company I’ve worked for (more so than many), but I felt that I had proven myself to them, and more importantly to myself.

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If I could do this with only the skills I’d developed in isolation from anyone in the industry, then how much more will I be able to achieve after having been through a course taught by industry leaders and having a large group of other photographers to bounce ideas and thoughts off? It makes me quite excited for what lies ahead.

Since taking that job, other doors have opened up, and I’ve had some commercial photographic jobs, albeit not enough to make a decent living off just yet.

Another exciting thing that has happened since deciding not to give up on my photographic dreams is that a large publisher here in Vietnam has agreed to produce a book exclusively featuring my photographs. While it’s still early days and I only have about 65% of the photos I need to date, the terms have already been agreed on and I’m working with a great designer to pull it all together in the very near future. I won’t go into the details, but it’ll be a photobook featuring images taken all over Ho Chi Minh City. It’s been really great getting out and discovering the city each day!

I’ll also be taking people around the city on photographic workshop tours as well.

While I still get extremely frustrated at how static my photographic career seems to be at the moment, it’s certainly a whole lot better than it was a year ago when I felt there was no hope at all! I can’t say I don’t get down when I see other photographers living here whose photography is at a similar level getting work for MAJOR publications, but it just shows me that once I get the business side of things down, I too could be doing that.

This last year has really been a great year of confidence building. The next year will be more about building the skills to take it from a semi-stable career to something I can rely on (as much as can be done these days). I’ve gotta do some work on refining my technique, but more importantly, building a knowledge of the industry and the changing environment as technology and social change drastically alter the role photography plays in communication.

But the important thing is that I know it’s gonna happen. As long as I hold fast to the belief in myself and that this is the path I need to be taking, it’s just a matter of time. It’s already begun, and it will only build momentum as I press on.

Thanks to you all for your support and encouragement as I’ve struggled through, and I hope in the future I can encourage others in the same place as I was in one year ago to not give up. Keep on even when the fire seems to have flickered out completely, as that’s often right before the breakthrough comes.

So let me end with some tips if you’re in the same situation…

1. Don’t give up – keep fighting

2. Do things that you would do if you had already reached the goal – for me, it was keeping the website running and printing up those business cards and introducing myself to people as a photographer who was teaching, not a teacher who took photos.

3. Set some goals that will help you take steps toward the big dream. Mine was to get one photo essay published, and one year later, I’ve had many of them published, and even shot a couple of magazine cover photos. Just setting the one simple goal opened up so much more than I originally hoped for. Perhaps setting REALISTIC but challenging goals is a key?

Anyway, I hope this encourages you to keep pressing on even when things get tough. It really can apply to so many aspects of life! Things that come easily are usually not worth fighting for anyway.

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