Is your success muscle atrophied?

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on July 21, 2014

in This is Life

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My success muscles have been atrophied for most of my adult life.

And I don’t think I’m alone in that boat.

When was the last time you had a win?

I mean a big, fist-pumping, heel-kicking, shout-it-from-the-rooftop victory.

I’m not discounting the peace of being grateful for your daily life – your day job, your family, your recreation. Learning to celebrate the small and simple things of life has made mine immeasurably better.

But you’re reading PTP right here, right now, because you’re not where you want to be. Either with your art, or with your business, or more than likely, both.

You want to put some big marks in your Win column.

Little as you or I want to hear it though, success is a process, and that process is made up of many small wins – those wins are earned through our making good choices.

I’m not talking about the perfect choice – anything but. Our obsession with perfection leads us to greater failure than almost anything else.

Many times, any choice is a good choice because the alternative is to make no decision at all – to do nothing, to wait for more information, to wait until we feel ‘ready,’ to wait for the right time, to take no action whatsoever.

That’s your lizard brain putting the shackles on your success, over and over again. That’s your success muscle in a state of atrophy.

Atrophy: a gradual decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect.

Forming a positive habit is like trying to do a record-breaking deadlift after taking a few years off from the gym.

Odds are aginnit, as my daddy would say.

The muscles in our body are a perfect analogy to the muscles of creativity and success in our mind and spirit.

If you lift regularly, properly fueling your body and following a time-tested plan, you’re going to break your personal records.

If you create on a regular basis, you will be more creative.

If you learn and practice decision making that leads to success (often through the natural process of trial and failure), you will be more successful.

This is pretty simple cause and effect, sowing and reaping. Success is nigh inevitable for those willing to do the (right) work.

But we humans are anything but simple, aren’t we?

  • We Americans eat out an average of over five times a week. A quarter of us eat fast food every single day. This stuff is complete poison, the myth of healthy food only being for rich people has been debunked, we all know better…but we still choose poorly, don’t we?
  • Even after a heart attack, only one in seven of us will make any lasting changes to our diet or exercise.
  • Fifty percent of us make New Year’s resolutions. Eighty-eight percent of us don’t follow through; 25 percent of us will have bombed within the first week.

Even a major life crisis or health issue is statistically unlikely to move us to make better choices.

Sometimes (okay, many times) it feels like we fall short more often than we step up. Our success muscle is atrophied.

Hey, let me slip my hand up, because I’m as bad as anyone.

Even after I herniated two discs in my lower vertebrae, nearly paralyzing myself from the waist down, it’s taken over 10 years for me to finally follow my chiropractor’s advice and take my weight loss seriously.

Even after my doctor told me I should be on blood pressure medication, it took me years to consistently change my diet. I’d go months eating the most indulgent food I could afford, out of a rebellious nature as much as the emotional addiction to the food-induced high.

Even after enjoying wonderful success with my blogging (thank you PTP readers!) , I am just now (like, as I’m writing these words to you) making real progress on my writing and production habits outside of my day job.

Hell, I’ve been newspapering for 15 years, and I still don’t stay focused day to day the way I want to.

Getting Better at Getting Better

I’ve finally turned the volume down on my ego enough to accept a few things.

I’ve accepted that success is a muscle, just like creativity and strength – if you don’t use it, you lose it.

I’ve accepted that I don’t know what’s best, and my perfectionism is an excuse for half-assed mediocrity, not a discerning standard of excellence.

I’ve accepted that baby steps are the only way I will ever make lasting change in my life.

I’ve accepted that I am nowhere near as powerful, capable, or smart as I seemed to think I was. I cannot use my strengths to bypass the necessary steps of progress and skip straight to success. No matter the hands building it, every house is raised from the ground up. Every shortcut weakens the structure.

I’ve accepted that it is my character, the man I am and the man I am purposefully becoming, which is going to determine my success in this life – not how many hours I work, how late I keep the candle burning, how many to-do items I can juggle at once, how many people I please before ‘paying myself first’ with my time, or how many books or articles I read without changing myself or taking action inspired by what I’ve learned.

I think I spend more time scared of the unknown than I do the known, of undefined fears than the defined.

How about you?

I’m tired of living scared, friends. I want to make life happen, to live my legend.

I want to try and fail.

I want to get knocked down, get up again, and come out swinging – over and over and over again.

I want to be proud of myself because even when it seems the universe conspires against me, I pulled out my keyboard and sat down to write the post you’re reading now.

I want to see the look on my kids’ faces when I say, “Get your britches on guys, we’re going to Incredible Pizza!”, because I did the work and failed forward and persisted through to success (protip: success can be as simple in part time photography as being able to buy your friends a round of drinks, or take your kids out to Chuck E. Cheese).

I want to share laughter and wine and an incredible view of the night sky with friends I cherish.

I want to feel like what I’m putting into this life is coming back to me, in freedom – in rewards monetary and social.

I bet you’d like to feel the same way.

Look At Your Why

Why do you want to be a professional photographer?

What will creating art do for your spirit?

What will laughing with new friends, new clients, do for your joy?

What will the feeling of growing your savings, or building an emergency fund, or having extra play money do for your self-esteem?

What will the financial freedom you’re creating for yourself and your family do to lighten that weight sitting on your chest?

What could you accomplish if your success muscle were stronger? What would you do differently today and every day if you felt strong enough and confident enough to do what’s right instead of what’s easy?

What’s your Why?

Be clear with it. Drill down on it. Get at the core thoughts and feelings you want to experience because you are choosing the challenge (and opportunity) of being a professional photographer.

There is no right or wrong answer. If you want fame, to be recognized for your art, to be published, for your mom and dad to be proud, to prove your doubters wrong, to make money, to enable vacations and life experiences for your kids, to just exercise your talent while getting paid; whatever your Why, it’s a good one, worthy, and all yours.

Meditate on your Why often. Affirm to yourself daily that the choices you’re making – to work hard, to reach beyond your grasp, to take baby steps (no matter how small), to fail forward, to get out of your comfort zone, to focus, to succeed – are going to change your life and make your Why possible, even rewards you can’t yet imagine.

There is no limit.

One more time, to be clear:

There is no limit.

Wherever you want to get with your art and your business, you can get there.

Exercise your success muscle.

Start doing the work today.

Then do more everyday.

So your someday can one day be today.

Next Steps

  • Brainstorm session: get out your pen and paper. List every reason you can imagine why you want to be a successful professional photographer. Peer forward five or 10 years: What does that look like? What do people think of you? What do your clients say about you? How does your success change your life, the lives of those you care about? How does it make you feel? What does your perfect day look like with your goals met? Use this as fuel to define and refine your Why. Know what it is you’re meditating on, what you’re affirming to be in your life, and why. File this away in your Brainstorms folders.
  • Look at your calendar, today and seven days forward. What can you do with today, tomorrow, and each coming day to exercise your success muscle? Make yourself a simple, common sense, extremely doable plan for the next seven days and what you’ll do each day (no matter how small – I’m talking down to five solid minutes small) to exercise your success muscle. These will be the first wins of your new season as a motivated and daily-striving professional photographer. In seven days, get on your calendar and make another list. Schedule the time, no matter how little, and commit as boldly and surely to those actions as you would a lunch date with your best friend or a sales meeting with a client. Commit to your dreams, one slice of time and one day at a time. You won’t believe how far you’ve come in the next three months.
  • My writing at exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I appreciate and welcome your readership, and invite you to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top of any page of this site.
  • What’s the biggest struggle holding you back right now? E-mail me your answer (yes, right now!), and let’s make a breakthrough today.
  • If anything in this post has spoken to and inspired you, please comment below, drop me an e-mail, or call or text me at 830-688-1564 and let me know. I’d love to hear how you use these ideas to better your part time photography business!

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Arensberg July 21, 2014 at 9:33 pm


Another inspiring post, and one that obviously comes from your heart. Learning the lesson of baby steps – of momentum before clarity – of failing fast and failing often – of small changes that add up to those big wins you talked about… it’s so important to finding success in any endeavor. I, like you, thought I could avoid the work of doing something every day and building on it bit by bit – that somehow talent or smarts or some other gift would be the shortcut to avoiding all that effort (and all the failures).

But lately, I’ve found comfort in embracing the process, the daily work, and the regular, disciplined effort. Not only do I feel better about myself and what I’m doing, I’m accomplishing more, each little step building on the last.

It sounds obvious, and simple, but as we both know… it ain’t easy. Congrats on fighting the good fight, and helping your peeps do the same!



Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor August 2, 2014 at 10:03 pm

Cheers Steve, thank you so much for your kind words!

It’s amazing the automatic failures we guarantee ourselves because we fail to move for fear of risking failure. I think this is one reason accountability is such a powerful tool in achieving success: while we excuse our own endless inaction and procrastination and paralysis by analysis (under the disguise of due diligence and discerning taste), friends and peers see our excuses for what they are.

I’ve seen the fruit of your labor my friend, every baby step leading to new ground and new heights. I am excited and honored to be making the journey alongside you!


Stephen Josiah August 1, 2014 at 9:35 pm

this is exactly where I am. my struggles are life. I have day job that requires me to be on call 24/7 365. I don’t have to go out much lately but I often have to field calls. My wife the same. Family responsiblities are the big competitor for my time. I have got to build in creative time. that is what I am doing now.


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor August 2, 2014 at 8:18 pm

I feel you Stephen, as a journalist by day I’ve never been officially on-call 24/7, but it’s felt like it many times! The news never sleeps!

It’s perfectly fine and reasonable to build your day job needs into the expectations you set for your clients. Something like:

“My primary responsibility is as an [insert job here], which leaves me on call 24/7. I’ll be honest: I may have to cancel our shoot at a moment’s notice. It’s super rare that this happens, but if it does, here’s what I’ll do to make it up to you…”

Then make some generous promises here that leave your clients very at ease (maybe even secretly wishing you’d cancel!).

If your job is in a medical field, all the better – there’s no shame in playing up the fact that you work a 24/7 job because your first responsibility and calling is to save lives or help those in need.

Even if it’s not, don’t be afraid to share the truth of your situation – folks connect with real people. We’re artists, we’re photographers, we’re business owners, but we all put our pants on one leg at a time so to speak. Be authentic, and build your part time business around your day job and lifestyle.

After all – it’s your business. You’re the boss. You call the shots.

It’s amazing how freeing it can be to just be real with your clients. Don’t be afraid to tell them about your unique need to possibly cancel at a moment’s notice. Don’t be afraid to say photography is your second job, but your passionate calling.

Be real.

For family responsibilities, I’ve long lived with the same struggle – my kids are 3, 7, and 10, young and biiiig on Daddy time together.

There is a balance to be had, and as a creative spirit, you do have the added struggle of needing to create, to put your talents to use.

For the longest time I put myself, and my creative needs last – behind Day Job (which offers its own endless opportunities to invest / lose time), Second Job, Family, Friends, etc.

Honestly, that sacrifice was to my detriment, and my family’s in the long run. I became more agitated, more ill at ease, less patient, more frustrated in general. Not in a throw-the-scotch-glass-into-the-fireplace-in-a-rage way, but just a general sense of discontent. It invaded my every waking moment and my dreams.

When I allow (force!) myself to go to bed one hour earlier, then get out of bed one our earlier (before everyone else is awake), I’ve got my Me time for the day: to practice my art, to meditate, to read, to enrich myself, to exercise, to work on Me.

And when I book an evening shoot once or twice a week, it both allows me to exercise my creativity and put money in the bank with which to serve my family.

This time is extremely well-invested. I am happier. I know much, much greater peace. Day job stress doesn’t tick me off like it used to; I have some insulation now, I’m not so raw.

And most importantly, the time I spend with my family, with my friends, is so much richer now – I get to relax, I get to breathe and take my time and really focus on the moment, to as one author said, “Move at my kids’ speed for once.”

Quality over quantity. The hour a day I spend investing in myself and my art makes every other hour of my day and night much better, to the betterment of myself and everyone with whom I share my time and life.

Check out Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning – it’s made a huge difference in how I look at and use my Me time. Hal had a great interview with John Lee Dumas as well, which introduced me to his work:

Thank you for your readership Stephen! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Allen Cook September 20, 2014 at 8:52 am

Man! What a powerful title? What a realization of my current state of affairs? Wow! Here in sep 2014, our family is facing some burdens, though peacefully. But it didn’t and doesn’t have to be this way, but it is what it is because the ‘success muscle has been a bit atrophied’. Nonetheless, inspiring and motivating post…and it’s time to “work out” and get back in shape – in all areas, especially financial. Thank you, sir!


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 20, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Thank you so much Allen for your comment and readership!

Baby step by baby step, kaizen – the most painless and effective way to make real, tangible progress. We get so caught up in life, distracted by all the demands on our attention, and we end up spending all our time on the urgent but unimportant instead of the vitally important.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown [affiliate link] is one of the best books I’ve read to help get control of your time, your projects, and your priorities. I know leadership author Michael Hyatt is big on this book and the practices is teaches as well.

This is your time Allen! Make those dreams happen, five minutes at a time!

Thank you again! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


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