As human beings, the emotional highs and lows that we experience can be truly staggering. Perhaps that’s especially true for artists and creatives; ping-pong balls stuck between the paddles of euphoric creativity and crippling self-doubt.
Make or break. Feast or famine. On the mountain or in the valley.
When you’re riding the wave, it’s easy to look back and see how the lessons you learned from being crushed by the ocean over and over again are what gave you the knowledge and strength to move forward. When you’re in the middle of it, spinning head-over-heels underwater, those lessons don’t feel as present in your mind.
If you find yourself flailing for the surface, get your head up and take a deep breath; you’ve got this, and you’re not alone!
Jeremy Cowart has summited a few creative (and life) mountains in his time. Once he arrives at the top, he decides the summit isn’t high enough and starts building a ladder into the sky. As an accomplished and unique commercial photographer, artist, author, speaker, teacher, inventor, hotelier, and dedicated family man, Jeremy is busy. He’s won awards, set industry standards, and proved some (seemingly impossible) things possible (more on this below). Admittedly, he has also fallen down the mountain a few times.
I’ll go ahead and spoil it for you by saying Jeremy doesn't have the magic answer to solve all of your problems. What he does have are some scrapes and bruises and the tenacity to look his own fear and self-doubt in the eye and keep on climbing.
Looking for the magic answer myself, I asked him how he does it.
[Jeremy] Yeah. definitely!
I always say that balance is a ‘one day at a time’ thing. You really have to just make the best decision with the week ahead. I wish there was some overall strategy, but other than choosing family first every chance you get, there’s really not. My wife is also a real estate agent and works full-time herself. Her schedule can tend to be like a doctor’s, where she just has to up and go if a client wants to see a house. We really have to [take it] one day at a time. Thankfully, we have support from grandparents, (our parents) who live close by. They’re able to often help with the logistics.
I also say ‘no’ to a lot of things that I don’t think are ‘musts’. For example, last week I spoke in Chattanooga and there was a chance to go in the night before and go to their VIP event. When it came down to it, I just really didn't have any interest in going; it would mean missing another day with my family to go be with a bunch of random people and do a bunch of small-talk. Saying no to that meant I had another day at home. I just go in, speak and I’m out.
You just have to make decisions with every new opportunity that comes up. You have to ask “Does it demand that I be there?” “Does it demand my thought and focus?”
It’s the same with my multiple careers.
I feel like I currently have four careers: I’m building a hotel, I’m still shooting quite a bit, I’m still speaking quite a bit (which happened by accident) and I have a book that’s due to come out next April, so that's taken up a good amount of time. Getting the manuscript written, the back-and-forth with the publisher, and now we’re about to start the whole marketing plan for it. It’s going to be a very wild few months.
I’m also about to partner with a photo-education platform and will be teaching as well. I’m in the ‘calm before the storm’. My life is about to get busier than ever. The last several months have been slower, so I’ve been able to take advantage of that and enjoy my family. It’s been nice.
As far as routine, I feel like 2018 will be the year of me figuring out my health. I really changed my diet this year and am trying to work out a lot more. The whole routine of eating cleaner, taking natural, good supplements, and working out, have all been a huge benefit to my routine. I’m just more focused and feeling better overall.
Other than that, I try to truly work and be present with my family as much as possible. I wish I was one of those super-detailed and structured people that has some inspiring routine, but I really don’t. When you have four kids you’re just trying to survive sometimes and do the best you can!
Yes, fairly. The youngest is 6 and the oldest is 12. [Their ages are] 6, 7, 11, and 12. Ha! It’s always chaos! They’re all in sports and I spend a lot of time at the local fields. I’m a total soccer dad! My kids obviously play a huge role. I’m working from home today so that we can decorate our house to throw a party for our daughter’s 11th birthday; a full slumber party for her and her friends. It’s going to be a big night!
My mission is “to explore the intersection of creativity and empathy.”
Hold on, I’m saying goodbye to my wife.
[she peaks into the video chat] “Hiiii!!!”
The mission statement was kind of a realization from looking back at my projects. I realized that I really love to use creativity in times of need. We will always need hands to rebuild. We will always need to raise money, and we will always need big organizations. In a time when technology is changing [quickly], we need inventors and ‘idea people’ to think of new ways to help; new ways to respond and solve problems. I think that Elon Musk is a great example of that. He’s like, “Let’s just go rebuild and redesign Puerto Rico’s electrical grid!” I think that we need that level of thinking. So, on a much smaller scale, I love to be able to think that way on behalf of others. Being a photographer, in my Gatlinburg project, I used drones to show emotion. It was a really tricky thing to do, to show emotion from a drone perspective, but I just love to think really differently. When something bad happens I want to figure out how I can help the situation in a really new way that no one has seen before so that it can get more eyeballs and hopefully end up helping in a big way.
I can! It’s called, “I’m Possible: Jumping Into Fear and Discovering a Life of Purpose.”
It comes out next Spring. I’m super excited about that! It’s basically a book version of my video (under the same name) that went viral. That’s also what kind of launched a speaking career for me.
Oh! It’s just… gosh… It’s been a HUGE part of my life and career, even to this day. I always laugh when people say, “Hey, how did you conquer fear and get over your insecurities?”
I never did. I think that being a professional is just accepting that [fear is] part of what you’re signing up for. It’s always there. It’s ever-present. It’s like my little buddy in the passenger seat. Fear, insecurity, and doubt. The voices in your head… They just never go away. I’ve just learned to accept them for what they are, just part of the process.
Man… I don’t know, other than having ideas and trying to execute them... I look at those things as my goals. [For example] The Purpose Hotel. My goal is for the hotel to open, be a success, and [allow me to] be able to do all the things that I want it to do. That’s my goal. Obviously, within that crazy goal are a lot of miniature goals; like securing the land, investors, hotel management… You know, goals along the way to the big goal. That dream is still audacious and long-term and has kind of taken over all of my focus and energy. It is actually hard to have goals outside of that because it’s pretty all-consuming.
Funny enough, I actually pursued it right away. I started sharing the idea like crazy to try to figure out where to go. I found this guy that owned hotels, and we were moving forward, but very quickly I realized that he was NOT the right fit. He was very egocentric and was taking credit for the idea of the concept. I kind of got spooked by him, and then (after that) I just surrendered to the fear of the whole thing. I was like “What am I doing? Who just goes and builds a hotel? Especially a freelance photographer! How could you even begin to build and turn this 100 million dollar project?” It all just seemed so ridiculous. It took me three years to really come out of that.
You have to find the “peanut butter”.
As creatives, we’re jelly. We’re the messy substance that is unpredictable. We’re all over the place. We have to find that totally different person, the peanut butter, that can stick things together.
My business partner is my extreme, extreme opposite in every way. The way we talk, the way we dress, the way we think… we are total opposites, but at the same time, we share the same morals. We have to be aligned in our mission, but the way we each do and approach things is just night and day different. Especially with big ideas, I think there’s just a certain level of execution that I don’t think creatives usually have built into them. We tend to be the visionary and idea people. Another way to put it is to say that we’re the ‘What’ and the ‘Why’ but we’re not the ‘How’. We have to find somebody who can be the ‘How’. Someone that enjoys being the ‘How’ and wants to be the ‘How’. My partner has really been the genius behind figuring out how to do this.
Yeah, it’s funny, but it’s definitely an accurate analogy!
Oddly enough I feel like 2018 has been my least hyped year in a long time. Typically, I’m very motivated and driven and always doing stuff and have fun projects to talk about. I mean, the hotel is fun to talk about. That aside, it’s really just been the least productive year of my career. I get frustrated because the hotel is such a long, long, long journey and I am not a patient person. It’s been difficult to just be still and wait for this to unfold. There are even times that I’m second-guessing myself and doubting things. Meanwhile, everybody else is doing interesting things, blowing up with projects, and it can be easy to get into a comparison mode (if I’m not careful) and start asking myself if I’m doing the right thing. I’ve gone as far as to kind of put a pause on my photo career so that the hotel can take the center [of my] attention. It has not been an easy journey to figure out what that looks like. It’s actually been a pretty hard year. I know good years are ahead and I’ll get there.
I’m hyped about the hotel. I don’t even think about it as a hotel; It’s not that I have a passion for the hotel industry. The reason that I like this concept is that it’s really all of the things that I love combined into one! It’s photography, interior design, architecture, it’s technology and non-profit, it’s community, it’s food and beverage, it’s fitness, it’s health. It is everything under the literal roof of the hotel. I [also] get to combine the talents of so many of my friends, non-profit founders, CEO's, and people that I’ve known for a long time. I don’t think that anything could be more exciting. Frankly, it’s beyond exciting! I feel like this is why I was born and this is why I’m here; to pursue this vision and execute this idea. Still, in spite of that, it can still be very grueling and difficult. It’s a very very long journey.
I’d have to go back to the fear. You’re never gonna have it all together. You’re never gonna beat fear. You just have to learn that the grind is part of it. You can’t compare yourself. I know we all do it, but living in comparison is a dead-end road. You have to put your head down and put the work in. If you do good work, then people will find you. It’s not about Instagram or social media. It’s just about focusing on the work and if the work is really amazing then a lot of things will work themselves out.
It’s one of the things that I do when my schedule opens up and allows for it. I enjoy it because they’re so quick and easy and I am able to control how they’re edited and which ones are released. There are so many things about commercial photography that just kind of bums me out. When you’re doing personal work, you can control everything. It’s kind of like getting paid to do personal work, essentially.
I’d say the fact that I was a child professional backup singer. Haha! I did that for about ten years and was in a kids group. I kind of grew up in the studio and ended up on a lot of records. Even now, I can read sheet music and pretty much nail it on the first try. It was like a career before careers... and then I hit puberty and that career tanked. Haha!
That’s a fun thing that most people do not know about me.
To say that I did not find this interview personally insightful would be a lie. This interview confirmed, once again, that you can do all the hacks, follow all the secret formulas, buy the best gear, and read all the books, but nothing will ever outdo steadfastness, integrity, hard work, dedication and the bravery to face your own fear and your own self.
As Jeremy said himself, “I know the good years are ahead, and I’ll get there.” And so will you.
If you’re tired, push one more day. And another. And another if you have to. Also, remember to enjoy the journey, even when it’s tough! You’re never as alone as you might feel; I promise. If you’d like to try to prove me wrong, email me; I believe in you. We believe in you, and we’ve got your back!
I’m Chris Daniels. I’m a portrait photographer and writer, based in Seattle by way of Atlanta, Nashville, and Los Angeles.
If you ever want to speak to me about my writing, art, the best tequila, or if you just want to say hello, reach out to me at [email protected]