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”.