The Path to Success

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The Path to Success with Sal Cincotta

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As I sit here preparing to write my article this month, I am in awe of what we have accomplished in this short five years. You see, five years ago, I made a decision after my column in Rangefinder magazine was canceled that would change the course of my career and my company.

I was so pissed off when I got the news. I was told that my column was one of the most popular in the magazine. It was so popular that they’d offered me a second column. I was so proud and excited. It was still early in my speaking and educational career. Then, all of a sudden one day, I got the call about the cancelation. This was out of nowhere. I asked why, and the answer enraged me even more. I had too many companies and was becoming too successful, and that was a concern to some advertisers.

I would love to go back in time to see what I looked like when I heard that. I was so angry. I hung up that phone, looked at my team and said, “I want a solution for a digital magazine within the next 24 hours!”

Shutter Magazine was born 24 hours later. Not many people know our origin story, but there it is. Shutter would go on to be one of the largest professional photography magazines out there, with over 100,000 monthly subscribers.

So, who cares? Well, you should. There is a lot you can learn from my journey. Hell, there is a lot I have learned from my journey. Let’s dig into some of the things that I think can help you no matter where you are in your career.

Throughout the article, I will use growth and success interchangeably—to me, they are so intertwined that I am not sure how you achieve one without the other.

The path to success is painful.

Make no mistake: If you want to grow as a person or as a business, the path is going to be a painful one. It is going to make you uncomfortable and force you to do things that are way out of your comfort zone. I have to constantly remind myself and my team of that reality. If it were easy, everyone would do it. I know how cliché that sounds, but it’s true.

Most people give up when they start feeling pain. Not necessarily physical pain, but any type of physical or mental discomfort. It’s uncomfortable, it’s outside the norm, therefore it’s painful for you on some level. That’s the moment I push harder. Trust me when I tell you this is all mental. If you talk yourself out of it or if you are a pessimistic person, you will quit on yourself and your dreams.

Instead, I embrace the discomfort. I realize that if I am not uncomfortable, that means I am just coasting along, and that forces me to push harder. It’s like being an adrenaline junkie. I need to feel the pain to know I am growing and pushing myself. We can all relate to that pain.

Find that place that makes you uncomfortable, and push the gas peddle. What you will find is that over time, less and less will make you uncomfortable and the things that once made you uncomfortable are now easy for you.

The path to success is not an accident.

If you find yourself wishing and hoping for your big break or looking at others and making excuses for their success, shame on you. People show their ugly side sometimes because of their own internal issues. Don’t be that person. Don’t be the photographer who looks at other photographers in their area and says, “I am better than him!” Who cares? No one gives a shit if you are better than them. You are not entitled to success. You have to go out there and grab it by the balls. If you want it, it is there for you. I can tell you that firsthand.

If you want success and growth, it’s not going to just fall in your lap. It is not about “paying your dues.” It is not about anything other than working longer and harder than your competition. So, if you see someone who is killing it and surpassing you, maybe, just maybe, they are working harder than you are.

Growth for me was not an accident. I wanted it bad, and, to this very day, everything I do I want to be the best at. That is my mindset. It forces me to work hard and plan. Where do you want to be today, next week, next month, next year? Getting there will not just randomly happen because you put it out there in the universe. What is your plan to get there?

You need a dose of reality. You need to surround yourself with people—friends, family and peers—who will shoot straight with you and not just be “yes” men. That is useless. I love having people around who push me and challenge me to plan for bigger and better things in life.

Start planning for success and putting together the blueprint for getting where you want to be. Work harder and longer than your competition, and you will start growing in leaps and bounds while everyone else stands around scratching their head at your success.

The path to success will force you to reevaluate.

This is something I have had to go through many times over the last 10 years. There is no right or wrong answer here. Ultimately, it’s up to you. But make no mistake, you will have to ask yourself some tough questions along this journey. You will be forced to reevaluate everything you thought you knew, everything you thought you wanted. I know, because I have had to do this over and over again. Not just as a photographer, but as a college graduate who had a huge career in corporate America. I had to ask myself: Is this what I want?

The career question is the easiest of them. Are these the friends and people I want in my life? Are they cancer to my dreams, or are they lifting me up and helping me achieve them? These are all tough questions, ones that will undoubtedly impact your path.

This process is ongoing. I have to do this every few months to make sure the ship is on course. I do this for my business and my personal life. Get in the habit of searching for your own meaning. It will help give you some clarity on the path you are on and what you need to do to get to your destination. Now, you may never figure out the meaning of life, but this exercise is an important one on your journey. What is important to you? What do you want from life, career, family?

The path to success requires change.

This journey will force change upon you. There is no other way to tell you this. I look at the person, leader, employee I was 20 years ago and the person I am today, and they are very different people. I still have that fire in my belly. I am still extremely competitive, but I am also different. You will learn a lot about yourself. You will learn your strengths and weaknesses, and you will be forced to change in order to achieve those dreams.

If you are not where you want to be in your life or career right now, that means it’s not working. Translation: Something has to change. Change your mental state. Change your surroundings. Change the people in your life. Change your attitude. Change something.

If you keep running into the same wall expecting a different result, well, we all know how that story ends. So, the choice is yours. You can sit there and bitch about other people. Hate on them for their success. Be that person who posts random passive-aggressive digs on social media. Or you can make a change in your life. The latter is by far the toughest. In fact, most people can’t do this. That’s your advantage here. A majority of people are incapable of this change. It’s easier for them to blame the world and be negative.

Rise above this. Make the changes. And remember: This is a lifelong journey.

The path to success is a lonely journey.

Trust me when I tell you this journey of success and personal growth is a lonely one. I don’t say that as a bitter person reflecting negatively on his life. I couldn’t be happier with my life, career or future. I have never been so excited about where things are going.

But this journey is not for everyone. Throughout my career, I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the most talented, creative and giving people you could imagine. It’s been an amazing ride, but not everyone is going to be on this ride with you. People will come and go. It’s okay. This is not their journey, it’s yours. Don’t ever forget that.

The first thing you need to do is stop trying to make everyone happy. That has got to be one of the most exhausting endeavors known to mankind. Not only is it impossible, it’s exhausting. You spend so much time trying to make everyone happy, and in the end, you will have failed everyone, including yourself, because you are still not happy. And isn’t that the entire point of this journey—your happiness?

Whatever you do, don’t lose sight of that. I know it sounds selfish, but you have one life. Live it for you. Live it for the people in your life who matter. The rest is just noise.