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Stop Telling Yourself You Have No Idea What You Want

by Sue Bryce
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Sue Bryce and Lara Jade pose for a portrait. Photo courtesy  Nikki Closser.

Sue Bryce and Lara Jade pose for a portrait. Photo courtesy Felix Kunze.

This article is the first of creativeLIVE‘s 12 Days of Giving series.

The span of my career has been the biggest personal growth I have ever experienced. I am going to show you the points — where I got stuck, where I see others getting stuck, what you hate, what you have to regenerate every day, and what’s easy.

I’ve been a portrait photographer for 24 years, and that means I’ve sustained an income being a photographer for over half of my life. Robert Greene, when he wrote Mastery, wrote, “Masters are incredibly passionate and emotional people who just love to do things and when they love to do something, they do it all the time.” I am very passionate, and I am very emotional. Part of mastering my path and my skill was that I just loved it so much, so much that even when glamour died, I couldn’t stop doing it.

I’ve been in business during two financial crises, and I’ve learned that even when the money falls away, it just changes power — it shifts. When people say it’s the economy, I say you’re lying, and that’s a lie you’ve told yourself. You have to shift. I work under that rule, that you know who’s swimming naked when the tide goes out. And both times, I was fully clothed and prepared. I don’t quite know how. But I do know that my sheer will got me through each recession. I survived when my entire genre died. That’s why I don’t believe you when you tell me you are out of fashion. I believe you just need to reinvent yourself.

I’ve seen every single technology change in the past 24 years, including from film to digital. There is one certainty in my life and that is that there are 3 billion women on this world and every single one wants a beautiful image of themselves. When I’m in a room with a woman and my camera, I’m going to take the best image she’s ever seen of herself. I get goosebumps every time I say or write that — and that’s because I know what I do and why I do it, and I want you to do the same.

Business is a science: you create and build a brand and sustain an income. How much money do you want to make and how much work you want to do? How to identify and find your client, communicate your values, etc. But this is about so much more than raising your average and building your client base. Everything you are in this moment and everything you have is because of what you’ve believed about yourself. Every single part of my business, my growth and my evolution, has come down to Sue Bryce.

Your business is operating in direct relationship to your self worth. I operate now from the knowledge that it’s not what I say or do; it’s how I feel and act. Make goals for work, not money. When you’re looking for dollars, it doesn’t work. Work for people, not hours.

Stop Telling Yourself You Don’t Know What You Want

Sue Bryce — selfieAs I look back at my career, I see it went like this: At first I had a job. And then, in my 20s, I realized I could have a career. I could be known for this. I then became a business owner. I went from job-career-business.

It was only after I was in business for four years that I now work through my purpose, which is what I want to do every single day. That is what I create from now: my purpose. The biggest question I have to ask every single person reading this is: what do you want? What work do you really want? It’s impossible to set a course if you do not know the answer to that question.

But what if I don’t know what I want? That is the biggest lie you will ever tell yourself and everybody around you. Four years ago, I could not speak to a room full of people. I was that idiot that stood up at a workshop that, when they said, “introduce yourself,” was the person who stood up and went hot red, lost my memory, and said something stupid. I was always that person in the group. And yet there was this part of me that used to imagine that I was standing on the stage with a microphone sharing what I knew and sharing what I talked to all of my friends about. And yet it was so far removed from what I was doing and how I was doing it that I could not see how to make it happen.

You’ve got two choices here: you need to own the path and the path you are working on. You need to own it with enthusiasm and say “This is what I want,” and you need to stop seeking outside validation. I didn’t ask you to ask your friends and family what you want. I asked you to tell me what you want. And then you say it and you start doing it. The truth is this: everybody knows what they want, they’re just too scared to say it, don’t believe they can have it, or they don’t know how to get it. I didn’t ask you to be reasonable, I didn’t ask you to say it in a way that was going to make other people comfortable, I didn’t ask you to justify how much money you are entitled to make, I didn’t ask you to justify or validate yourself, I asked you to tell me what it is you want. It is human nature to want and desire something bigger than ourselves.

Before this is a stand and conquer call-to-arms, truth is, most people just want to get paid, want to be acknowledged, want life to be easy. You have a dream, you have a goal, and you need to create it right now.

Stop Looking for Validation

My biggest mental shift came when I built my first business in 2004 and, all of a sudden, I was sustaining an average of $20,000 income per week. I went from looking for money to looking for work, and all of a sudden I was looking for 12 shoots per week and I was getting 12 shoots per week. But in order to sustain it, it was going to kill me. Now, I never asked to die in the first two years of business, I asked to make money. And suddenly I’m turning over a cog that is making a huge amounts of money, but I’m not managing it well, I’m working 15 hours a day, I’m not dealing with it, and yet every part of me wanted to just fold it in and kill it, but I couldn’t because I had built this thing. And then I realized, the biggest thing in that moment is to change. But why is it so hard to change? Because how, when you’re making $20,000 per week doing something you love to do and something you worked very hard for, do you go home and tell the people who supported and validated you, that you don’t want to do it anymore? Everyone becomes a huge naysayer.

Sue Bryce — SelfieIf I want to change something now, I change it. I can spin on a penny. Maybe you’re justifying it to those people because you’re the one who asked them for permission in the first place. I don’t actually need anybody to validate me but me. When you stop looking for validation, everything in your world changes.

I realized in the second year of my business that I hated going to work, I hated what I was doing. When you hate what you do, it is the state with which you dwell. You start putting hate into what you do. Imagine hating your spouse. How many days are you going to take that home with you before it comes back to you? When you hate your job, how long do you think it’s going to take before it starts hurting you? Before it starts to be illness or physical pain? How long before it turns into something else? And yet everybody does it — everyone becomes stuck in unease. And before we know it, we create a situation that will change us, because we just can’t do it on our own. And that change will be so great, and so shocking, and it will be the best thing that will ever needs to happen to you.

Boredom Is Killing You

I believe most people are just uninspired, and that simply means bored. You are completely bored with what you are doing. How can you create anything from a state of boredom? One of my favorite quotes, by Tim Ferris, goes, “The opposite to love is hate, and the opposite to happiness is boredom.” If you break up with someone and they hate you, they haven’t stopped loving you, they are just angry loving you. Hate is the same power as love, it’s just angry. Because when someone doesn’t love you anymore, they are indifferent to you. Indifference is far more painful than hate.

If you are passionate and filled with love and inspired to master something, how could you possibly operate from a place of boredom? How could you possibly create anything? One of the hardest things to do is to acknowledge what you love to do so you can walk towards it every day. I always tell people to write a hate list. The hate list is the best list you can write — this is what I wrote in my darkest hour. I sat down with a piece of paper and I wrote “I hate doing this, I hate selling my own work, I hate retouching my own images” — I wrote down every single thing I hated doing. And I tallied it up and I hated 97% of my day. How was I ever going to create anything if I hated 97% of my day? I loved going to lunch, and I loved taking photographs. I thought to myself, at the time I wrote the hate list, I had about $3.50 in my personal bank account. I remembered thinking, “What if I tried doing only things on my love list, and I just found a way to get the rest of the stuff done?” And I wrote down a love list, and it changed everything.

I was already at rock bottom, so I was losing nothing. I was hating my life and my job and my work, so I lost nothing. What do you honestly think is going to happen to you? And it really really changed where I went, that hate list. How do you stay enthusiastic when you hate what you do, and how do you give service when you hate what you do?

Sue pauses to explain her thinking during a photo shoot. Photo by Eric Krebs.

Sue pauses to explain her thinking during a photo shoot. Photo by Eric Krebs.

What Are Your Top Five Values?

I follow John Demartini, and he has a free download on his website — a workbook that helps you determine your values. My top five values are: communicating, creating, self-growth, taking photographs of women, and building my brand. Those are my top five life priorities. Number six would be a husband — children don’t come up on my value list.

Whatever you do, as long as you are working through her top values, you are going to do it successfully. I have a girlfriend who just had two babies, she put on a bunch of weight, and she feels terrible about it. She says to me, “Look how fat I am,” and I say to her, “It doesn’t matter, you just had two babies, just get back into it, that’s life.” And she says, “I try to go to the gym, and I just can’t do it. I try to walk and I can’t do it. I try every day. My kids need me, my husband needs me, and I’m last.” So I thought about it, and I told her, “Your highest values right now are your two babies: how much you need them and how much they need you. So the only thing you’re going to achieve right now, whatever it is, has to go through them.” So now she exercises with her babies and everybody wins. It wasn’t time out she wanted.

Anything you do that has to do with the top five things you love, you’re going to get it done. When you look at your work space, at your living space, at the top five things you spend money on. What are the last five things you bought? You need to think about what those things are — those are the things you are doing every day. You cannot create a business, a career, or a life, from what you hope to do. Your values are based on what is operating within your life right now.

All I am doing is what I am already good at. But I wasn’t doing any of that until I learned what that was. It seems nebulous, but you are going to go home and look at what you are buying, what you are seeing, what you are doing every day. One of the most incredible things you are going to be surprised by is what is the one conversation you have every single day? Do you know what conversation repeats in my life every day? The one we are having right now. What excites you? What are you doing, what are you building, what are you growing, where are you stuck? These are the questions I ask people because they are my highest values, and these are questions I ask strangers, with waiters, with people who serve me, with my hairdresser.

What is that conversation you are having every day? Is it part of your business? The second you make the things that you do part of your business, you will love what you do. Decide what you want.

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Sue Bryce

Sue Bryce is an award-winning portrait photographer and creativeLIVE instructor.