Creating Milestones

When I first started modeling, I kept a list of “idols."  These were fellow models whose portfolios impressed me, whose work I admired, and who I wanted to emulate.  I was far too intimidated to ever contact them, but I watched all of their work, and did my best to learn from them.  At the top of this list for me was a model called Keira Grant.

You may know Keira from her own modeling, from our many tours together, or from her guest blog post.  But we didn’t actually meet until I had been modeling for a little over a year, and Keira left a comment on my portfolio.  I remember when I got the notification.  I just stared at her comment for the longest time, thinking, “Keira Grant knows I exist.  Keira Grant knows I exist!”  I could hardly believe it.  

It turns out that she was in town, so we ended up meeting in person and shooting together.  It was an absolute highlight of my modeling career, and it felt like I had achieved a huge milestone.  I had met and worked with one of my favorite models.  I couldn’t stop bouncing with excitement.  On top of all that we ended up hitting it off, and became the best of friends.  

Now I travel with Keira several times a year—we jokingly call it The KG Tour.  it’s always amazing, and something that I constantly look forward to.  But meeting up with Keira no longer feels like a milestone, like it did the first time.  

For me, I’ve noticed that milestones are easier to come by at the start of a new project or endeavor.  At first I’m learning in big leaps and bounds, and there’s lots of low-hanging fruit.  Every step forward feels like an exciting accomplishment.  As a new model, each shoot booked was a victory, and each new image in my portfolio was a cause for celebration.  Meeting another model whose work I looked up to was unbelievably good fortune.

Later on, my focus is on refining.  Improvement isn’t new and shiny, nor does it come in leaps and bounds.  Instead, it looks like doing the same thing over and over again, with incremental growth.  Booking shoots becomes a necessity, not a victory.  Meeting with other professional models is a regular part of the job.  All those milestones that previously seemed so important become normalized.  

I’ve also noticed that, as the number of milestones I feel I’ve accomplished wanes, so does my motivation.  I tend to stall in projects when I hit the refinement phase.  But I had no idea how to avoid it.  I started wondering if I could increase my forward momentum on a project by increasing the frequency that I achieved milestones.  But how could I do that?  Didn’t milestones kind of space themselves?

I decided to experiment for myself. First I tried defining frivolous things as milestones: I decided I would consider working on a project for any length of time an accomplishment.  Look, I modeled today.  Look, I wrote on my blog.  It didn’t work.  Worse, it was actually counter-productive.  I would feel like I had done enough when I was really just starting on a project.  I ended up working less hard, and gave up earlier.

Next I tried focusing on incremental improvements with easily measurable outcomes.  I concentrated on earning more money than last year, booking more shoots than last month, or getting more traction on social media than the image or blog I posted last week.  I figured this way I would always be accomplishing something and have a feeling of forward momentum, but only if I was truly working.  

Instead, it was terrible.  To feel motivated, I always needed more likes on a post than I could get, or book more shoots than I could fit into a month.  The milestones just kept getting bigger, and harder to achieve.  I was constantly on the improvement treadmill, and nothing I had previously accomplished ever felt like enough.   

These failed experiments contrasted sharply with the things that I considered milestones when I was first starting out: making a portfolio-grade image, meeting models whose work I admired, booking a shoot.  I wondered if I could change my perspective and make them fresh again.  So I made a list of all of them, and decided that I would celebrate them like a new model every time that they happened.  I’d still work on new milestones too, but maybe I could recreate the magic of being a novice.

I had never heard someone recommend that I celebrate like a beginner.

I've heard lots of people recommend learning like a beginner—be willing to fail, don’t take myself too seriously.  But I had never heard someone recommend that I celebrate like a beginner too.  It helped. 

Now when I’m meeting new models, making an awesome image, or booking a shoot, I still get that motivation boost from accomplishing something worthwhile.  They feel like milestones again.  When I visit with Keira, it’s doubly awesome: I get to meet and make art with one of my closest friends, and I’m reminded that I’m hanging out with my idol—after all, she’s still the best.