As a commercial photographer I’ve heard stories of creatives bullying other creatives, but I’m grateful to say I never experienced it until recently. That recent experience inspired me to write on this topic. Unfortunately this isn’t uncommon in the photography industry, and if this ever happens to you, I hope you know that you aren’t alone, and it does NOT reflect who you are or the value and goodness of your business.
I also want to say, first and foremost, that this post is NOT meant to call specific people out or name names. Instead, it’s meant to draw attention to the fact that this is an issue in our industry. If this happens to you, please don’t get discouraged. It’s an incredibly difficult experience, but you can overcome and continue to grow and succeed both as a person and in your business. Here is a bit about my experience, and how to deal with bullying if it happens to you.
Recently, I posted in a commercial photography community Facebook group. A few months earlier, I had asked that group for advice. I wanted to make the next big jump in my business that I knew was possible, but I didn’t know how to get there. I needed guidance or a mentor to help me learn and reach my next level potential. When I shared my questions, probably twenty to thirty people responded that they were in a similar situation, and wanted to learn how to succeed. Through this discussion, I met an amazing mentor. She was kind, had the answers to my questions, and was genuinely passionate about helping me succeed. She poured her heart into creating a course to help commercial photographers succeed, and honestly, it was exactly what I needed. There’s a quote that says “If the student is ready, the teacher appears”. This was what happened to me.
Well, about halfway through the course, I started telling my friends about it. It was so helpful to me, and I was happy to share the love with my friends and people I cared about who were in a similar situation as I was. My mentor knew I was doing this, and a month or so later she asked if I’d be interested in becoming an affiliate for the course. I said yes! It was something that genuinely helped me, and I’d be happy to share the love (as I had already been doing) and my mentor wanted to make sure that she was saying thank you for my time and energy doing that.
After my conversation with her, I decided to share my success with the course in a few commercial photography Facebook groups – specifically the one I had received all that help in. I knew there were others in the group who had the same questions I had, and I knew this course would be an option available to them for help. So I wrote about my positive experience – how I’ve reached new levels of financial success and booked dream clients from this course. I was excited to share because it really helped me! And I am so grateful for the help I received. I knew other people would benefit as well.
Unfortunately, I made a mistake – in my post I didn’t mention that I was an affiliate for the course. I meant so well, but I was naive and inexperienced in this arena, most likely because I’ve never been an affiliate for anything prior to this experience. Someone in the group asked if I was an affiliate, and I said yes! Out of the innocence or naivety of my heart, I didn’t realize that people could perceive that as being dishonest. I didn’t realize it until later. Unfortunately, that was a mistake I made, and one that I definitely will not make again. Honesty is of upmost importance to me, and I felt terrible that I had made a mistake like that. However, I was honest when someone asked, so I feel like I did the best I could in this situation. Everyone makes mistakes – it’s just part of growing. I wish I could have chalked up this experience to learning the importance of always sharing when you are an affiliate for something.
Instead, unfortunately, it turned rather dark. An industry leader whose had a decades long career called me out very rudely for being dishonest. She vilified me in a way that made it seem like I was trying to take advantage of people. She tore down my success, saying that the financial achievements I had made were peanuts in the commercial photography world. She was probably right, but that didn’t mean my progress wasn’t valuable, or a huge benefit to myself and my family. She also went on to vilify my mentor. She went out of her way to research my mentor, and deliberately lied about how long my mentor been in business, where she had worked, who she had worked with, shaved years off of her experience, and more. This woman wrote paragraph long attacks on my mentor’s character, business, and course.
When this happened, I was honestly shocked. I felt absolutely terrible. Not only did I feel like I had been totally dishonest, but this person was using this honest mistake to tear down my mentor’s business, and promote her own. It was, quite frankly, disgusting to watch. A few others in the group took what she said at face value, and jumped on the negativity bandwagon. I watched the comments grow with anxiety and sadness in my heart. It hurt to be treated that way and have my reputation twisted so badly. It was painful. As someone who values honesty and integrity and does my best to care for and help others, it was humiliating to have someone tear me down like that. It was also frustrating to watch her use my mistake to tear down my mentor. As I watched, it seemed to me that this person felt threatened by my good experience with the course and mentor, and tried to tear her down to prevent people from buying from her. She also used her attacks to promote her own business. It was the opposite of a positive, collaborative experience, and quite frankly was online bullying.
I won’t go into more details about the verbal attacks, because you get the idea. I chose to leave both groups without defending myself, because I didn’t want to engage with the negativity. To me, it’s more important to protect my emotional health, than to engage with people who are intent on misunderstanding.
This experience was incredibly stressful, and negatively impacted me. The way myself and my mentor were treated was unacceptable. In the days following this incident, I did research on bullying in the industry, and I came to realize that this type of experience is not uncommon. I found some valuable resources to help deal with bullying like this when it happens.
Have you had experiences like this? I sincerely hope not because they are freaking horrible. But if you are in the midst of being bullied, here are a few ways to handle it:
Understand Common Reasons Behind Bullying
There are many reasons why people engage in bullying behavior. They might be jealous of you, or feel threatened by your success. There also might be underlying reasons in their personal lives – maybe they have low self esteem, come from a difficult family life, or have been bullied themselves. Understanding these reasons doesn’t make being bullied easier, but it does help to realize that their behavior is a reflection of their unresolved insecurities and trauma, not a reflection of you.
This quote from my favorite therapist to follow (@the.holistic.psychologist) helped me discern whose opinions to listen to, and whose not to listen to. She says:
Things to ask when weighing the value of someone’s opinion:
Does this person have a life I would want for myself?
Do they have a high emotional wellbeing?
If the answer is no to either question, their opinion likely is not true or helpful to your situation. It was also helpful for me to know that if someone’s bullying you, their bullying reputation will eventually catch up to them. It’s bad energy, and no good will come of it.
Don’t Engage with Negativity + Set Boundaries for Self Care
As tempting as it is to argue, debate, and rush in to defend yourself, this isn’t always the best reaction. Remember that their actions are a reflection of them, not of you. Also remember that your actions will ring true to who you are. If you rise above the occasion with grace and kindness, that speaks volumes about the person you are and the business you run. And remember – if they are bullying you and trying to ruin your reputation, people will recognize that. Some people will believe them, sure. But the people you want to work with and network with and have in your life will recognize the bullying taking place, and will recognize you for who you are.
That being said, also make sure you set boundaries for self care. If it’s appropriate, tell the person their behavior is unacceptable, and you will not work with them if they treat you that way. If needed, set boundaries for yourself – turn off the screens, disconnect from things that are triggering, and take time to love yourself. Whether that’s giving yourself words of affirmation, a special dinner, getting a massage, or a gift – give yourself some extra care and attention to take care of your emotional and mental needs.
If the bullying is severe, make sure you screenshot and save everything. Sometimes there is legal action you can take.
Don’t Let it Hold You Down
In my experience and the experiences of those I read about, bullying tended to happen when the person was starting to succeed. If you have critics and people trying to tear you down, it’s probably because they feel threatened by you. Even though it’s emotionally difficult to handle the stress, recognize that you can’t let a bully stop you from succeeding. Let them waste their time and ruin their own reputation, and focus on yourself and your growth and your success. Learn what you need to from the experience, and keep moving onward and upward. Don’t you dare let them stop you from reaching your full potential.
Focus On Your Support Group + Your Clients
I remember listening to a successful photographer speak once, and they talked about how they never really spent their energy in groups with other photographers. Instead, they focused their energy on improving their craft, working on their business, and finding better ways to serve their clients.
Build a support group and network that knows you and believes in you. To succeed, it’s best to have people around you who you trust and who want you to succeed. Don’t pay too much mind if some of your competitors are trying to tear you down, because they aren’t who you’re trying to serve. You are trying to serve your network and your clients.
When I took a look at the photography groups I was in, I realized that many the photographers I really look up to weren’t in them. Lindsay Adler, Joey Lawrence, Amy Shamblen, and more – they have successful careers, and I’ve learned a lot from them, and they don’t spend their time in groups like that. Instead, they spend their time serving their clients and improving themselves. They most likely spend their time building their own supportive, genuine network.
I sincerely hope you never find yourself in a situation with a bully. However, if you succeed, it’s most likely going to happen to you at some point. If you do, I hope you found this helpful. Know that you’re not alone, and your value and goodness is not changed by a bully’s behavior.