Episode 185- Act Like You Belong Part I

This topic we’re going to talk about today is a pretty fun one for me because there’s a phrase that goes around all the time, which is fake it till you make it. And I have a love hate relationship with this phrase because on the surface I don’t like it. Don’t be something that you’re not. But the flip side of it is how do you get started when you have no experience? So I don’t believe in fake it till you make it. Because I don’t believe in faking something, but I say it a little differently and it goes like this. Act like you belong. Oh I guess you could challenge and say faking is acting. Maybe that same thing. But I do know that action and experience leads to confidence, which makes us able to do the work better, which in time will make us legitimate and the things that we do.

So one night during the harrowing and eyeopening, first year of me trying to become a sports photographer, I learned that it didn’t always go the way that I thought it might go. And I see so many people even afraid to try something because they’re fearful of what people are going to think about them or what’s going to happen to them or would they be found out. But you need to try things to learn and sometimes you need to push boundaries, at least nudge to see how sturdy they are. Because what we think is set in stone isn’t always that way. So for over a year, my sports photography career was built off of me buying tickets to games as cheapest possible and trying to get the best access I can. And they became kind of a dance with the different ushers. So I needed to understand the security guards and ushers were doing what they were looking out for.

And I had to be willing to risk getting thrown out of the game to be able to get close enough to be able to make an image that would maybe get the attention of somebody within my portfolio. So desperation could be a bad thing, but often it could be a motivator. So I was not in a big rush, but I remember going to some games and sitting as close as I possibly could without getting to the usher of the security and I’d watch them. But not only that I watched them, but I watched the photographers, I watched how they acted, I watched how they dressed and they didn’t act and dress the way that I thought they would, especially the acting part. To me it was the greatest job in the world. You’re literally up against the glass. You’re photographing the game. You’re as close as anybody could possibly be.

And to me at that point, it sounded so incredibly exciting. But what I knew and what I learned from watching these people was they all looked bored out of their minds. They’d saunter over to the glass, they’d grab their chair, they’d nod to the security guard, they’d make small talk that offer him a piece of gum and they just sit there doing nothing. They weren’t a rabid fan, excited wearing a tee shirt of their favorite team. They didn’t dress like they were going to a hockey game. And I also noticed they didn’t wear tee shirts and they generally wore sweaters of dark colors as one photographer was leaving one time in between periods. I said, why do all the photographers kind of dress the same? And he said, I never wear white because if you wear a white you’re sure it will be reflected in the glass.

And in those days we needed to shoot through the glass. And I was like, ah, okay. So I was kind of doing my due diligence of what it was like to be a hockey photographer. So one time I got the nerve, I saw a folding chair sitting there next to the glass. There was a security guard sitting there looking almost as bored as the photographers looked. So it just felt right. And I said, it’s time to take my chance. And now I was dressed right. I figured out what clothes to wear to look just like the other photographers looked. Instead of being excited and nervous, I got my game face to meet her on, which was to look disinterested and with access that anybody else could have taken. I walked right down with my camera of my shoulder, I grabbed the chair, I sat down in the moment of truth, I looked up at the security guard and I just nodded slowly and he just looked at me and I just had two words. “Another game.” 

And he looked at me and looked back and he goes, yup, another game. And I turned towards the ice. I started shooting warmups. He turned towards the crowd to make sure that somebody that didn’t belong didn’t walk down to ice level. And during the entire game I shot. And then in between periods just made small talk with this guy and I have everything that I needed, camera, demeanor, the clothes. The one thing I didn’t have was a press pass, but he never asked me for a press pass because I acted like I belonged. So that entire season I strategically would enter the arena and sit wherever he was guarding. And we knew each other by name. At this point we would laugh and joke around. Even one time another security guard questioned when my press pass was and he interjected and he goes, no, he’s okay.

And now I had the other guy on my side, so I got the shooting an entire season of NHL hockey and build my portfolio and actually be friend other photographers, other ushers and other security guards because I acted like I belonged. And I really believe that way too many people are just afraid to take a chance. Optics matter and success stories are piled up all over from people who in the very beginning acted like they belonged so that they can get that first break. Because if you’re ambitious enough and you’re good enough and you work hard enough, often the first break is the only one that you’re going to need. And most people underestimate the impact that having access will do for your career access get you in the game, it gets you to meet the right people. It gets you to learn the things that you never would have learned without it. And whether you’re at a cocktail party or a networking gathering or you’re trying to figure out a way how to shoot your first hockey game, understand the people around you, understanding how those people think and act and learning how to act like you belong there will help you go a long way to achieving your goals. I will talk to you tomorrow.

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