Setting Goals & Managing Goals, Not the Same Thing

My Bad Back
My Bad Back

Hello out there in the netherworld of self-employment, I have a new post for you to contemplate: achieving success and managing the achievement. Before I get into the meat of this post, a bit of personal history will hopefully clarify why I think the way I do. As a teenager my health was seriously compromised by nerve and bone tumors growing on and around my cervical spinal cord. Although the surgery to remove them was successful (as well as a repeat surgery 13 years later), according to the surgeon I  almost died on the operating table. Being a young and turgid teenager, this was devastating, it angered me for years and screwed up my life plans. Up until then my life was good and then (as I adjusted to a less physical lifestyle), not so good for many years after. I was way too angry to function in emotionally healthy ways, I was mad at the world and absolutely believed there was no point in making life plans because they were subject to change without notice. I turned my attentions to photography and plowed ahead as if my life depended on it.

Moving forward eight years, I graduate from Art Center, open up a studio on Hollywood Blvd, smack dab in the middle of all its’ craziness. I plug away at my career in Hollywood for close to two years. I move to a studio in Burbank and continue to build my business. After a new health problem pops up, I close this studio, I rehab and recover (at home) and then find work at a photographic services company for three years. This gig ends after a messy divorce (my practice marriage) and the second spinal cord surgery (referred to earlier). Through all this trauma and turmoil I continue to be successful, I remarry, move into a new studio (where I stayed put for 16 years) and started a new family. So I’m working, making money, traveling, buying a house, starting a self-employed investment plan (SEP) and generally having a good time. At one point we had enough money to begin lending to fellow artists who weren’t as well off (lucky?) as us.

I’m sitting in my office one afternoon (reflecting on my life) and it suddenly occurred to me what  I had achieved: a successful professional, self-employed photography business in Los Angeles. I was shocked at this notion because I never planned on being successful in any way, shape or form. What was the point? Just work baby and don’t look towards the future because there ain’t one. Becoming successful was just a passing fancy. They say successful people must have one, three, five and ten year plans. Where do you see yourself in three years? Five? Ten? In my mind I wasn’t making any plans beyond lunch, let alone five or ten years. Who are they kidding? Me? Successful? What a knucklehead!

Because I didn’t see myself as a successful professional (by whatever measurement I was using), I never thought about managing my success once it was achieved. I’d been in business for 13 years (at this point) and now the blood was quickly draining out of my face as I realized I now had to learn how to manage my successful photography business. I was on a windy precipice trying not to get blown into the pit of my own blindness. Truth be told, I fumbled and stumbled around, dazed and confused by this realization. I became scared that I was going to fail because I failed to plan. I became overly worried that somehow it was all going to end soon. No more work, no more money. No more fun. Stress became my closest friend, worry my new neighbor. I was going to screw this up! How could I have possibly gotten this far? How much money was in the bank? Who owed me money? Were there any jobs coming up? I need to get a real job. The proverbial chicken with its’ head cut off. Real professional.

Of course what I really needed to do was to get ahold of myself, breath deeply and think about what I had accomplished over the previous 13 years. I had to tell myself I was fine. That I was going to be fine. To lighten up and enjoy a bit of what I had accomplished and continued to accomplish, daily. I actually had a plan all along, I just didn’t realize it (sound familiar?). I was so busy working to build a sustainable photography business, I didn’t realize I was doing most of the right things, except thinking in a more positive way. Previous experiences can have a profound impact on future perspectives. I certainly got caught up in it and I let it abuse me for years.

So, be careful what you wish for, work hard to get there, practice daily the little things that define you as a working, dynamic, forward-thinking professional and you will eventually become successful. Unless you’re a total mess and unpleasant to deal with, it’ll be difficult to screw this up. Once you begin experiencing success, do the little things to manage your success: thank you notes, expressions of sincere appreciation for your vendors and clients and always, always serve them the best you can deliver. Every time. Setting goals and managing goals may not be the same thing but they are closely related. Heck, if I can do it, just about anybody can. Go for it!

Be well.


Michael Stern

My work depicts, appreciates and honors the people who build. Their specialized equipment and stunning challenges are marvels I behold and get paid to interpret. Hope you enjoy this site.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. So thank you thank you thank you for posting this. I am a self taught self employeed photographer. Along with this I have experienced a lot of self doubt and wonder often what I have gotten myself into. I struggle with the thought of success…will I achieve it, when, do I really want it? So thank you for sharing your struggles, worries and sucesses!

    FYI I am a friend of Merial’s we go back to boy’s and girls club days. hahahaha! I actually remember going to art camp and you did a photography segment. Good times!


  2. If all else fails along with your health, hey, California is where it’s at ,Baby
    “I’ll be back” just you wait. In the mean time I’ll get a Rx from Dr.”FeelGood”
    for some fine homegrown brownies, Yahhhhhh

  3. Thank you both for your time in making comments. As for you Chris, all I can say is I remember Dr.”Feelgood”. In what state was he licensed? And what was his specialty again?

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