Teddy Roosevelt once said “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Boy, was he right! I am on a mission to stop comparing myself to others, even though I know it’s tough. I’m working to define my own photography goals as an artist and business owner, and to measure my success based on what I want to accomplish. This moment in my life — in my photography journey — is not the same for me as it is for another photographer. It’s not fair to compare.

My hope is for all of us to step outside of the comparison trap (hello social media!) and start setting our own goals, based on our own lives and what is realistic for each of us. We’re all doing our best here. Sometimes we need a little reminder that our best is good enough.

1. Recognize that we’re all in different seasons of life.

Some of us are mothers of babies while others have teens or grown children. Among us, there are stay-at-home moms, those who work full-time in another career and full-time photographers. Some of us are pregnant and others are grandmothers. We are all in different seasons of life, all with different responsibilities and photography goals. So why would we measure our own success the same way another photographer measures hers?

I’ve had a camera with me almost all the time for most of my life. I got my first DSLR in 2009, but didn’t really learn how to use it artistically until my son was born. It wasn’t until 2013 (yes, four years later!) that I learned to use my camera in manual mode. In that time, a lot happened in my life — my husband was deployed and I became a mother. And, while others may have been able to accomplish more in four years, I did what was realistic for me.

Defining photography goals and success

2. Accept that our photography businesses are not all the same.

Some photographers run a full-time business, others have a small side business, and some prefer to create photographic art of their own children. A whole lot of us are somewhere in between. It’s important to note that we start our businesses for different reasons and under different conditions. It’s counterproductive to compare our photography business goals to anyone else. Work on your own timeline and cultivate a business that works for you.

I started my business in 2013 as a way to earn extra money, but my first priority at that time was being a mom. I had worked hard to be able to stay home with my son and needed my business to work around my family. So, while other photographers may have been able to start a full-time business right away, I started out slowly. I continued to take classes on both improving my shooting skills and learning more about business and pricing. And, as I grew in my craft and learned more about what I wanted my business to look like, I increased my pricing to make sure I was profitable and that it was worth the time away from my family.

Defining photography goals and success

3. Understand that your photography journey is unique.

Just like we are all in different season of life and business, so are we on different photography journeys. Yours may look similar to mine or very different — it doesn’t matter! Stay on your own path forward. Don’t compare your timeline to someone else’s.

It wasn’t until I had been in business a few years, that I started thinking about goals for my photography and my business. I read The 12 Week Year by Brian Moran and hired creativity coach, Jennifer Kapala, to help me with my photography goals. I had all these ideas about what I wanted to accomplish and had started thinking about what it meant to be a successful photographer. Jennifer helped me organize my ideas into a plan and attainable goals to work toward. I also began talking with an accountability partner every week to keep me focused on my goals. Doing this has helped me achieve many photography goals in the last two years! This helps me feel successful.

photography goals

4. Define your own success.

It is so self-destructive to compare your success to that of another photographer when you don’t even have the same photography goals. Maybe her goal was to be published and yours was to get your first client. How can you compare the results when you didn’t set out to accomplish the same thing? You get to decide what being a successful photographer means to you.

My success is defined by the photography goals I set for myself and not how I compare to other photographers. My husband is back home now, which gives me more time to devote to my business and my craft. But, I’m also homeschooling my son (who is now 6). I can’t compare my business to someone who is in a different season of life, at a different stage with her business, or who has different photography goals.

Our lives and our goals are different and so our success will also look different. I’ve technically been in business for five years, but my business does not look like many others who have been in business for the same amount of time. I have a photographer friend who started her business before having kids. Her goal was for her business to be her full-time job with a full-time job income. Her success does not look that same as mine, but we are both successful.

With my business, I am able to contribute to my family while still being able to homeschool my son. I make time to work on personal projects that help me continue to document my own family and feed my creative soul. These were my goals. This is what success looks like for me right now.

5 Ways to avoid the comparison trap

1. Remember why you started photography in the first place.

2. Define what you want your business to look like based on what works for you and your family now.

3. Set goals for your craft or business and then judge your success based on your own goals, not what other photographers are doing.

4. Be picky with social media. If a group or person doesn’t lift you up and inspire you, it’s time to leave the group or unfollow.

5. Celebrate your achievements when you reach your goals.

photography goals

5. Celebrate the success of other photographers.

It’s important to remember that success is not a pie. Another photographer’s success does not diminish our own. We can, and should, celebrate the successes of others in our industry and learn from them! It may sting a little at first when someone achieves something you’ve been working towards, but that doesn’t mean you won’t achieve that goal — you just aren’t there yet. Reframe your thoughts so you can be happy for the other photographer. Their success does not make you a failure.

I recently entered the NAPCP Inspired Gallery Event Print Competition, where I won first place last year. My print didn’t place this year, but I was able to be in Atlanta for the event and announcement of the winners. It took me a minute to reframe my initial disappointment into celebrating with the winners. But, I was still proud of my print, even if it didn’t place. I walked the gallery and looked at the winning prints to see what it might have been about them that made them winners. I congratulated the winning photographers I met. 

When we start with curiosity instead of criticism, we can learn something that might help us on our own journey while being able to celebrate the hard work of others. Think about what you can learn from another photographer’s success that might help you succeed in your own goals. Remind yourself that you are also moving forward. Celebrate your progress, even if you haven’t achieved your final goal yet.

Defining photography goals and success

6. Be open to change.

It is OK for our goals to change over time. Sometimes we all need to take a step back or devote more time to family or another part of our lives. That’s OK! Just as our goals change, so will our definition of success.

I will continue to grow my business and set new goals for myself. My season of life will change one day, and I will be able to do some of the things I can’t fit in right now. I am embracing this moment in time and have set my goals accordingly.

We can all benefit from celebrating our achievements and cutting ourselves some slack when we fall short. We can honor our own journeys by recognizing that each one is unique. Let’s all do each other a big favor and stop comparing ourselves to anyone else.

What does success look like for you? I’d love to read your goals in the comments. Let’s share our notes so we can see how we’re not all the same, how we all have different goals. Success can have new meaning for each of us when we stop comparing ourselves to someone else’s definition.

All photos by Kimberly Tank

Yes, yes, yes to all of this! We agree with Kim — more encouraging ourselves and others, less competition. I mean, that’s kinda what we’re all about over here. Oh, and we think you’ll also love this article on How to be a mom and photo business owner without totally losing it.