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Why shooting for the stars is very much like shooting stars.

It’s one hundred two degrees out. The sun has just dropped below the mountain range. Small, soundless bugs gather into clouds around my head. The river, lazy and slow, stretches like rubber under a few clouds. Birds perch on nearby rocks, looking for lizards peeking out from under dry bushes. A splash means early dinner for some fish, waiting just below the surface for the birds to look away. Just above the horizon appear a few hints that the show is about to begin.

Behind me lay a dozen pieces. Two camera bodies, three lenses, a pile of filters, cleaning cloths, water bottles, and so on. The tripod stands on the edge of the river, bowlegged and tense. I’ve finished the second bottle of water and a box of Mike and Ikes by the time I’ve set the camera on top and aimed it generally towards the horizon. It’s still too bright to begin, so I sit and wait.

When you’re shooting stars, it’s all about waiting. The sun has to set far enough beyond the horizon and the moon has to reach high enough in the sky to reveal its secrets: two planets and a handful of stars that align maybe once a year. You have to arrive early to clean and connect and aim and plan while there’s light left. Then you sit and sweat and swat until the time is right.

Then, you do a lot more waiting. Every shot takes painstaking minutes to setup: aiming and focusing in near-total darkness tests your patience. Every shot takes twenty or thirty or forty seconds in which you stand near the tripod, straining to hear the click of the shutter. It takes another twenty seconds for the camera to process the image, applying intricate algorithms to bring the shot to life. Three or four minutes of waiting, mostly to reveal shots that aren’t perfect. They’re too bright, too dark, too blurry. But you learn from each one, adjust your settings, and click again.

Then wait some more.

When people say to me, “You’re so successful. How did you do it?” I think of all these times shooting the stars or the moon. They remind me of the real story behind success. Investing in the right equipment. Years learning, practicing and building skills. Hours of planning for a single opportunity, staking out the right clients, arriving early, setting up for what might be just a few minutes. Then, stepping into the bright lights, and taking my best shot. Then, waiting: for the results. The applause. Sometimes not. Then heading out to do it all again.  

Shooting for the stars isn’t much different than shooting at them.

As a professional speaker, it took years to get to the point where it all “clicks” when I step on stage. As a professional anything, it might take more. You can’t do it without the planning and persistence. But most of all it takes patience – the kind of calm waiting that prepares you for the perfect shots that come along. You can’t buy your way into it. Natural talent is a start, but it’s not all. Even people with an eye for opportunity never capitalize without patience. Like a speaker who tries new materials, or a photographer who tries a new angle, every successful person throws away more failed attempts than good ones.

We live in an age where the instant has become confused with effort. We expect the internet to deliver success within moments of placing an ad. We expect clients to immediately agree to what we offer because they reached out to us. We expect our mere presence to somehow guarantee success. It’s old fashioned to think we must keep at it, follow up, build trust and maintain relationships. After all, we just posted a very popular selfie.

Whenever I get impatient with trying something new, or I encourage others to take a shot at a new idea, I show them this photo. It’s one of two I saved from six hours of shooting one evening in Nevada. I deleted dozens of attempts that night. I’m not sad about it: I learned so much from each one – about what it takes to capture a star. Even this one is barely acceptable to me. But it’s better than the last time and it has prepared me to do even better next time.

Shooting stars is hard; shooting for them is even harder.

The good news is that eventually, you get there.