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Episode #055

Why You MUST Find Your Why


UPDATED: May 22, 2023
ORIGINALLY AIRED ON December 22, 2020


Are you overlooking the most important question to ask yourself as a conservation photographer? This episode helps you discover the cornerstone of your work!


The most important question you can ask yourself about your photography

There is a question that every conservation photographer needs to ask themselves and spend some quality time on answering.

It is a question that is often overlooked yet is a powerful tool to help you grow immensely on your journey of conservation photography and storytelling.

There is a caveat, though. This is not an easy question to consider, but when you find your answer, it becomes a lifeline in the toughest of times.

You will likely experience some resistance in trying to figure out the answer but, if you take the time to look inside yourself, you will discover what lies at the heart of your desire to be a conservation visual storyteller.

Your answer to this question becomes a guiding light for everything else you do. It gives you purpose and focus, but it also gives you the courage to persevere when things get hard. It helps you to stay aligned to your values and lets you know when you are veering off course.

In this episode, I explain why answering the question of your why is the first and most important step in starting and growing a career in this field.


You'll Learn

  • Examples of reasons why people get into conservation photography. 
  • Why you can expect some resistance in figuring out your why. 
  • The purpose of putting words to your inner drive and gut feeling. 
  • How your why helps you overcome challenges and regain focus. 
  • The courage your why gives you to push through discomfort, fear, and opposition. 
  • Examples of how your why keeps you aligned with your values. 
  • What you can accomplish when you know your why. 

Resources Mentioned

Episode 055: Why You MUST Find Your Why

Shownotes: ConservationVisuals.com/55

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)

Jaymi Heimbuch:
Well, hello again and welcome to another episode of Impact, the conservation photography podcast. I am so grateful that you are tuning in and I get to be here with you for another week, whether I am alongside you as you go on a walk or a drive, or maybe you are listening as you wait for those last rays of sunlight to get some really gorgeous landscape shots. Whatever the case may be, I'm really grateful that you are here and tuning in.

0:00:28.5 JH: And today, I wanna dig into a big question, a question that I really believe every conservation photographer needs to ask themselves and spend time on answering, because this is possibly the most overlooked question, and really it's a tool, and it can help you grow immensely, especially when it comes to conservation photography and storytelling, because this is pretty tough work, and this question and the answer that you come up with, it gives you a lifeline in even the toughest of times. So we're going to get into the what and the why in this episode. Let's dig in.


0:01:10.8 JH: Welcome to Impact, the conservation photography podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place. From conservation to creativity, from business to marketing, and everything in between, this podcast is for you, the conservation visual storyteller who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in.

0:01:42.0 JH: I'm hoping that you already have January 6 circled on your calendar, and if you don't, then you are opening up that calendar, finding January 6 and putting in a bell and a cheers emoji and an alert to be reminded when it is January 6th, because that is the big, big day when I open doors once again to my digital course, Conservation Photography 101. Now, in this course, I walk you step-by-step through the process of finding a conservation photo story, photographing that story and creating really powerful images and writing and sending a winning pitch email to a publication. So by the time you go through the entire course, you'll have found a photo story, photographed it and pitched it to a publication, and I am with you every step of the way.

0:02:33.0 JH: Now, I'm really excited about opening doors this time, because I've completely revamped the course. I've added in lessons, new exercises, we've even dramatically upgraded the student group and everyone's inside of this beautiful new robust platform, talking with each other and helping each other troubleshoot. It's just amazing. And on January 6, I get to open doors again and I welcome in a whole new group of students, and I hope that that includes you. So make sure to mark down on your calendar January 6, then head over to conservationphotographycourses.com and make sure you're signed up on the wait list. That way you'll be first to know when doors open.

0:03:15.2 JH: Alright, let's get into the episode. Alright, what is the most important question that gets the most overlooked? The question is, why do I do this? It's as simple as that. Why do I do this? But this is a very powerful thing to sit down with. Okay, so you've probably heard about Simon Sinek, who did this wildly popular TED talk, and he has an equally wildly popular book that's called Start With Why. And the book is made primarily for the business world, it's mostly examples of how businesses and leaders that put why at the core of what they do, they tend to have really powerful impacts, because why as that driving force helps to inform actions moving forward.

0:04:03.1 JH: Well, this is the case for conservation photographers as well, and in fact, way back at the beginning of the year, we had a member challenge in Wild Idea Lab, and the challenge was to host in the lab what your why was and, oh my goodness, it was amazing to see what members wrote. Everybody had a different why, and each one was really personal. There was a lot of reflection inside of these. For some members, their conservation visual storytelling is kind of a spiritual thing, and for others, they do it because they care about future generations and are really thinking about their children and their grandchildren and what they want to leave behind with this world.

0:04:47.4 JH: And for other members, they really wanted to be a catalyst for reconnecting humans with nature so that we can all thrive. One member, she's a photographer and an artist as well, extremely talented at both, and she made this beautiful illustration that encapsulated her why in this beautiful succinct way, and it's a perfect thing to hang above a desk, or I could even picture hanging that on the back of the front door, so you see it every time you walk out the door. So anyway, this challenge, it was not easy, and a lot of folks waited until the very last minute to post their why because they kinda grappled with it.

0:05:23.3 JH: It's kind of a gut feeling that you have and putting words to what you feel in your gut is difficult work. But here's the thing, if you can put words to it, if you can put words to that kind of core driver that you can feel, then that clarity, it takes on a whole new level of power, it becomes a tool, a very much needed tool. Conservation and visual storytelling at every level, whether you are brand new to it or you're deeply experienced, this is really difficult work, it challenges you on a lot of levels, not only creatively, but also ethically and emotionally, we grapple with a whole bunch of stuff.

0:06:09.4 JH: And when you hit a challenge inside of this work, especially if it's a big challenge, then your why, that clarity around your why, can help you to find that drive and that inner force to keep going. That motivating force will help you to get scrappy, it will help you to stay the course. You're going to hit hurdles, that will happen, it is inevitable, but your why becomes the encouragement that you need to find ways over that hurdle, so you don't come up against a hurdle and stop. That why is what will push you to figure out how to get over that hurdle. And it also helps you when your own focus kind of drifts. So let's say you get into this story idea or a project and you start to lose motivation, it happens to everyone, you started on this thing that you're all excited about, but maybe you get bored with it, or a little bit lost in the direction that you wanna go, it starts to meander or get pushed to the back burner.

0:07:09.1 JH: Well, your why, for why you started that project and why you do this work, that why can help you to stay excited, it can re-stoke the fire that you had when you first started on the project in the first place. It can help you keep going. Now, there are different types of whys. As I mentioned earlier, with that whole Wild Idea Lab challenge, there's a ton of diversity in that, and you can have a big over-arching why, but you can also have short-term whys that are born from individual story efforts. So you might have a big why on why you do this work in general, as you, who you are inside of this, but then you might even have whys on individual stories and why you wanna work on that story.

0:07:56.3 JH: When you take the time to identify your why, that gut feeling, it's actually now tangible, it's something that you could write down and see in front of you, and then that becomes a touchstone, it's a compass, and it can even be a source of courage to move forward. So let me give you an example of how this can be a source of courage as well. During our monthly mentor meeting and Wild Idea Lab, every month we have a meeting with a mentor, and they're these live Q and A sessions with experienced pros and members can bring their questions and get coaching.

0:08:31.6 JH: And we had a question come in that was so good. A member asked: Have you had any projects where exposing the truth would likely anger people in power, like government entities or big corporations, and do you ever about backlash from those in power? And the mentor's response was fantastic, and it was thorough, and the mentor went into what it was like to work in countries that don't have a very good track record on press freedom, and what it's been like to work on conservation stories that have to do with drug cartels and the kinds of worrying things that can come up with this work. When you're working in conservation, you probably will come across stories or things that will anger people in a position of power, especially governments or big corporations or organizations.

0:09:21.6 JH: This is something that is kind of unavoidable, because it's part of our job inside of this, right? When there are situations like this, even if it's you're worried about upsetting a local city council member or even a family member, a why can help you to overcome fears, and it can help you to stay focused on what it is that you're trying to accomplish, and this can also work in your favor outside of conservation photo stories, it can work inside of your role as a conservationist or as a conservation storyteller.

0:09:54.6 JH: See, I have a big overarching why. I believe that conservation stories are ultimately human stories, and because of that, conservation stories have to be told by everyone. Everyone needs a seat at the table, they need to be able to take part in this conversation, or else we don't really have much hope of accomplishing conservation goals, because it becomes too one-sided and it doesn't reflect the complexity of what's really going on. We need diversity inside of conservation, and that's a driving force for me in what I do. It's why I have this podcast, it's why I created Wild Idea Lab, it's why created Conservation Photography 101, so that I can get information and tools and resources into the hands of anyone who wants to pick up a camera and use it for conservation.

0:10:48.6 JH: I want them to feel supported, I want you to feel supported, and truly, I want anyone who works in conservation in general to feel supported, camera or not, I want them to feel supported in their effort. So earlier this year, I commented publicly about a conservation organization that I see as falling short on the issue of diversity. I definitely was not the only one speaking up, but I definitely did get pushback from doing so. I heard everything from being told that I shouldn't have said anything publicly, but should have communicated privately to the organization, to even being told that I could potentially be harming my career.

0:11:32.2 JH: Well, this was pushback from people in the organization who I really admire and respect, to this day, right now, and so that was really uncomfortable. I felt that... You know that feeling that you got when you were a little kid and you got caught by your parent and you knew you were in trouble, you know, it was that rush of uh-oh, I'm in trouble feeling. It was like I did something wrong. But what I also received at the same time were notes and comments from several people of color who appreciated that someone else had spoken up, they felt a little bit more heard, they felt recognized. They felt strengthened by the fact that they saw an ally in that public conversation.

0:12:16.0 JH: So here are these two results from my actions. On the one hand, I upset people inside of this conservation organization, people who are in a position of power, both in the organization and in conservation in general. And on the other hand, I supported people who are not in a position of power in conservation and want to be part of the conversation. So it's really uncomfortable for me to have anyone upset with me, I'm a total people pleaser, I want everyone to be happy, but when I look at my why, that I believe that conservation is for everyone, and that we do not make progress without everyone seated at the table, then I could analyze the results of me being outspoken against that core value that I have, my why.

0:13:07.5 JH: And ultimately, my why helped me to accept that discomfort, because the sum of these two results add up to something that is in line with my why. Even though it feels really uncomfortable to have anyone mad at me, my why tells me that I still acted with integrity for what I want to accomplish. My discomfort and the discomfort of people in positions of power is not more important than the positive change that the discomfort can spark, because the fact is internal change rarely ever happens without external forces. Big, important changes rarely happen when people stay quiet or inactive or have conversations behind closed doors or try and stay under the radar.

0:13:56.0 JH: And this is at the heart of what we all do as conservation visual storytellers, from backyard photo stories to these big conservation game-changer efforts, like documentaries like The Cove or Blackfish, these are things that made a lot of people really uncomfortable and ultimately they sparked positive change. So my why helped me to stay on my own path, to deal with discomfort and to make sure that I was on a path that I knew I was ethically aligned with, and that Wild Idea Labs mentor's why that helps them to stay on track, even when working on stories that could piss powerful people off, piss off dangerous, powerful people, because the change that the action causes is a bigger deal than our discomfort.

0:14:49.4 JH: And your why can help you stay on your path too, and not just ensure that you're on path, but it can also alert you to when you're going off track. So for example, and this is an example that I think a lot of us experience at some point, if you get wrapped up in the excitement and the ego that comes with getting published in big name outlets, like those big... You have those dream publications that you wanna be in, well, you might forget that your story has a conservation mission that may not be best served by those outlets, but maybe it's best served by a whole different strategy for getting out into the world.

0:15:32.1 JH: Well, your why can help you to get that flashlight out of your eyes so that you can see where you really wanna take your story for the best possible conservation impact. Your why can even help you to decide when to let go of potential images that could be really amazing, but the method by which you're capturing those images isn't ethical or how those images may portray your subject isn't honest or truthful to your story or to your subject. And your why can help you to push back the temptation to go a little too far.

0:16:08.9 JH: Finding your why is a really powerful thing to do. I don't think that I could possibly overstate how helpful really thinking about and getting clear on your why can be. Your why is your motivator, your coach, your cheerleader when things are rough, it is your compass when things are uncertain, it is your touchstone. When things are uncomfortable, it's the Swiss Army knife of tools that you 1000% have to have inside of this work.

0:16:37.9 JH: And this is why at the start of my Conservation Photography 101 course, the first exercise that students go through is an exercise that helps them define their why. The big why, the why of focusing on conservation for photography, and then even the smaller whys that lie behind each story, they're all easier to pinpoint after you go through this exercise. And having that in hand helps students to reach that goal of finishing and pitching a photo story.

0:17:11.0 JH: Conservation Photography 101 is opening again for enrollment in January 6, and I swear, one of my favorite things, like one of the things that I'm gonna be looking forward to the mos, is gonna be hearing the whys that all the new students find and carry with them as they go through this course, because think about it, what might you accomplish when you have your why figured out, when you know, when you're clear on why you do this, what might you accomplish, what might change for you once you know why you do this? Like maybe your why will help you to ensure that you finish your first photo story because the why keeps you moving forward despite feeling a little intimidated or a little uncertain; or maybe your why will help you to dream bigger on what you can create inside of a photo project because you know that you can make a huge impact if you go all in, if you're not shy and you're courageous and you think big.

0:18:10.6 JH: And your why can help you to make those big dreams happen, even if you have butterflies in your stomach, because the driving force behind that means more than those butterflies, you care more about that why than you do about the nervousness. Now, whatever it is that you may accomplish by finding your why, I would love to know what your why is. So I'd love for you to do this for me. If you could please take some time to figure out your why, write it down, get really clear on it and put it into words and then DM me on Instagram and tell me what your why is, 'cause I really want to know. Finding out the reasons why people do all of this work, it's incredibly inspiring, and I would love to hear from you about why you do this work.

0:18:57.6 JH: Alright, I cannot wait to hear your why and meanwhile, I'll talk to you next week. Before we wrap up, I would love to ask you to do one quick thing, subscribe to this podcast. As a subscriber, you'll not only know when each week's episode goes live, but you'll also get insider goodies, like bonus episodes. You might miss them unless you're subscribed and I don't want you to miss out on a thing, so please tap that subscribe button and I will talk to you next week.


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