Successful People Say No

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“Uh, you know I literally charge 10x that, right?”

This was nothing new. A friend of a friend was offering me work, and though I appreciated the gesture, $300 to shoot a wedding just wasn’t in the cards. I politely dismissed the offer, and spent the rest of my day fantasizing about what I could’ve said instead.

“Write another zero on the cheque, and we can talk.”

“I don’t need exposure. I have exposure. That’s how you fucking found me.”

“So, is this a short-term wedding?”

I’m starting to think I might be an asshole.


I used to take every photo job I could get because I wanted to shoot full-time. What ended up ACTUALLY happening was far from full-time, but photography’s still my main gig. I just spend way less time at it. Why? Well, I say no all the time now. It’s one of the most important mindsets a person can learn.

If I were to write a long-winded CV, my photography experience is wild: I’ve done weddings in Greece and China. I’ve shot more conferences than I can remember, but my favourite one was a medical conference in San Francisco. I’ve worked with world-class athletes, including an Olympian and one of the BC Lions. I’ve done boudoir, concert, event, newborn, sport, editorial, fashion, and maternity photography. I’m used to making $4,000/day. I shot for Royal Bank once in my living room. I have 10 years of experience, and there’s no doubt in my mind I’m worth what I’m paid. I’ve even sold fine art photography. And so on, and so on. You get the idea.

Well, you can’t have all those experiences and NOT learn a few things. One of the things I got hung up on was what felt ethical. I stopped doing fashion photography because shooting young girls in revealing outfits felt predatory to me. I stopped shooting nightclubs because I don’t think drunk douchebaggery should be promoted or glorified in any way. I stopped doing boudoir professionally because – and it pains me to say this – I’m not great at it, and I didn’t feel good charging for it. Doing it for free seemed even weirder and creepier. Then I asked myself, “What was worth my time?” $300 weddings were obviously out, and so were destination jobs. I can see some of you freaking out now, wondering why I’d ever turn down shooting another wedding in Europe. The reason? Time and money! I make more on local weddings, and destination weddings tend to be multiple-day commitments. I dropped editorial photography because getting paid $50/photo was too low, I stopped shooting newborn after getting my set peed on, and I stopped doing concerts because I started to hate crowds. It was just no after no after no. And you know what came out of all that?

I always shoot for thousands a day now, and most importantly, I became fucking happy.


Tim Ferriss is a big advocate for getting the largest possible gains out of the least possible work. There’s no way I can do it justice here, but you should read his “4-Hour” series, and pay special attention to the chapters on Pareto’s Law. I’m not going to spoil it here, but I live by this rule. Pareto’s Law is THE reason I say no to 80% of job opportunities and STILL make enough to live on. If you want to go full Unconbentional, this is required reading. Buy “The 4-Hour Work Week”.

I figure there are two kinds of successful people in the world: “yes people” and “no people”. The ones who say yes all the time get money because there is literally nothing they won’t do. They’ll be a footstool for a day if the money is good enough. The ones who say no are the ones who rule the world. You think Annie Leibovitz jumps on a $300 wedding? FUCK, NO. And it’s because she doesn’t that she’s able to command the rates she does. She’s now worth $20M. What you DON’T do matters more than what you do. Say yes ONLY to what matters.

Don’t EVER feel pressured into doing something you don’t want to do. Don’t EVER allow money to be the sole reason you do something. Don’t EVER compromise your integrity. LEARN TO SAY “NO”.

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For further reading, check out MMM’s article, “Making Space for Badassity”.

Hate Your 9-to-5? Start a 10-to-2!


I was hungry in 2007. I had just given up on my childhood dream of becoming a film director, and I held a diploma in Motion Picture Production that I knew would never be useful. I’d just wasted two years, and all I had was an entry-level DSLR and no plan. I knew I needed to make money, and I sure as hell wasn’t gonna do it in a Burger King. Even at 19, I thought I was too good for that shit. I was a typical millennial, full of pride and not enough shame. I was on my way to being a fuckup.

One night, I opened Craigslist. At this point, I’d been a casual photographer for seven months and was halfway through Project 365. I always had my camera on me, and took at least one picture a day that year as a sort of visual journal. I thought to myself, “What the hell, I’ll try and make some money as a photographer. Everyone else seems to be doing it.” I was naïve, but Craigslist was the ultimate equalizer. Browsing through the postings, I discovered a couple: Sarah and Russell. They were eloping in Vancouver and needed a shooter on the cheap. I had no experience and asked for $60. They said yes.

From 2010 to 2013, I had bills to pay and had a day job in a high-end liquor store. By then, I was making equal amounts in both jobs. The only difference was my liquor store took up 40 hours a week – the proverbial 9-to-5 – and my photography was relegated to 10 PM and into the night, or what I called my “10-to-2”. A mental shift happened when I was fired in 2013. If I was making the same amount of money in 20 hours a week doing photography, what was stopping me from utilizing my other 40 hours doing the same thing and making even MORE money? Maybe I could even have time to myself! Holy shit. So I started doing that, and it all began with my 10-to-2.

This isn’t a new idea. Gary Vaynerchuk talks about working on your passion from 7 PM to 2 AM in his book “Crush It!”, but I don’t know how sustainable that is. Four hours a night after a leisurely dinner was what produced the best results for me, and I’m a night owl, so 10-to-2 was what stuck. Some people, in dire need of money, might suggest taking on a SECOND full-time job similar to their 9-to-5. I’m here to tell you that’s a great way to kill your dreams. 80 hours a week? Faced with that, I’d rather swan dive into a wood chipper. 80 hours a week at jobs you’re not passionate about WILL kill you. I used to do 40 hours at my regular job and 20 at my passion, so 60 hours a week. That was tough. Within three years though, I’d moved to 20 hours at a liquor store job I don’t financially need and 8 hours at photography. Hell, throw in the 2 hours I put in every week writing for this blog for an even 30! Where some people grind out 80 hours a week wanting to die, I work way less and work for fun! And the bills all get paid!

You don’t even need to do it for the money. I fully advocate that ANYONE should have a “10-to-2”, whatever the hours. If you follow your passion and have even an iota of business sense, you CAN make money, but that’s not the point. What matters is you’re finally realizing the potential inside you to do something you actually care about. Write that novel. Fix up that old car. Learn to code. Start that personal finance blog. You’ll even be happier at your day job, knowing you can work FOR YOURSELF later in the day! It’s exhilarating.

In the movie of your life, what would you like to see? Is your narrative arc really as a photocopy jockey, or do you see yourself building a startup in your basement that will take over the world? Do you want to make someone else rich, or do you want to strive for greater and eclipse your boss? The decision is yours. What will YOU do tonight?