Don’t Fleece Yourself


I was recently chatting with a fellow photographer about my trip to Rajasthan. He was trying to convince me I should get into the teaching/workshop leading game. It’s a conversation I’ve had a after almost every workshop I’ve attended and I always swat away the idea. This time, I was trying to close down the topic with a polite “not now, maybe later” when he suggested maybe I should drop the hint, online and via email that I’m available to co-lead a workshop and see what happens.

I understand his logic. Test the waters, lay out a fleece, if it happens it happens. Maybe this works for some folks but, for me, not so much.

Gideon’s Fleece

The phrase, “lay out a fleece,” comes from an Old Testament story. God told Gideon to lead his troops into battle. But, Gideon was unsure and asked God to give him a sign. He placed a fleece (a woollen coat) on the ground and if it was wet in the morning, while the surrounding ground was dry, he would take that as a sign to start the battle. The next morning he got his sign, but just to be sure, he asked for another sign! This time, the fleece was to stay dry while the ground around it was wet. Again, he got his sign.

Theologians and preachers have wrestled with the meaning of this story for years. I don’t want to debate the original story right now. Instead I’d like to bring it forward and ask, what does this idea, of laying down a fleece and asking for a sign say about our motivations and potential for success?

Put Your Best Fleece, I Mean Foot, Forward

The fleece approach, to me at least begs at least two questions. Are we really committed to doing well and are meeting opportunity with intention?

Let me ask you, who would you rather get photography lessons from? A competent photographer who says “if someone asks, I’ll think about teaching.” Or, a competent photographer who says, “teaching is a great responsibility, so I will prepare by making a lesson plan and working out how to explain the basics of photography.”

I don’t know if the latter would be the better teacher in every circumstance. Sometimes people rise to the challenge at the last minute in amazing ways. But, I do know the second option sits better with me and my skills. I believe the success we derive from something, be it a project, career, or even a relationship is proportional, or at least connected to, the effort we put in. That’s what I mean by meeting opportunity with intention.

Don’t Fleece For Permission

A second, perhaps even larger issue is the way putting down a fleece seems to be a covert way of asking for permission. It’s like what happens when creatives, at the start of their career, are asked how much they charge for something, and in answering, they upturn the last syllable of the price they quote, turning a statement into a question.

So, the answer to the question, how much for that print, goes from $500 with a full stop, to $500 with a pleading, make me an offer question at the end of it.

If this really is the right time for you to be doing something new, like teaching workshops, for example, then it makes little sense to beg for permission. It’s either right, or it isn’t. There’s either a market for your services, or there isn’t.

By all means, I believe in starting small, testing things out, working in beta and so on. But, if something needs to be done, or doing it is the right thing, then commit, put the effort in, chance the opportunity intently and in no way, stop to beg for permission.

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  • Toni - 28th March 2014

    Interesting take on things – as usual!

    When I read through the conversation at face value, my reaction was that he was suggesting you research the market to see if there were a business opportunity. So much is dependent on how we say things, as you correctly point out, and I’d guess this to be the case in this situation.

    But taking another point you hinted at, generally creatives aren’t sales & marketing types, and when they are it rather invites disdain and disbelief in how they appear to value their work (Damien Hurst is a good example). It is almost as though having a hard nose and sharp business acumen devalues the creativity of the individual. Or maybe that’s the manufacturer in me talking. It’s an interesting thing to tussle with, as I’m seriously considering the potential of photography as a business venture (again) too.

  • Paul Fox (Foxlore) - 31st March 2014

    Interesting post. I had not heard the phrase ‘lay out a fleece’ before and it was enlightening to read about its origins. When I hear the term fleece, my mind immediately is driven to the more negative connotations of the word fleece ( ) which is indicative of getting ripped off. It’s a bit ironic to think that one could semiotically use both together (e.g. She planned to lay out a fleece that would ultimately fleece those who came onboard.)

    With regards to your own approach, I see nothing wrong with doing a pilot approach (or testing the waters). As an educator, I think that there is great benefit from working from a well structured lesson plan. However it has also been my experience that sometimes lesson plans don’t work as intended (especially the first time). At times you have to throw the plan out and work more to the needs of the student(s) rather than sticking to the rigid design of the plan.

    As a student, I do appreciate a well planned approach. That’s just my learning style. But not everyone learns the same way. So flexibility from the teacher can also be important.

    As for permission…I think there the only ones you need to consider getting ‘permission’ from would be yourself and your family. 🙂

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In his Tokyo studio Fernando combines his life-long passions for art and technology. On the road, he is always looking to take the next wrong turn, just to see what kind of images and stories might unfold. A photographer & writer, with a background in music, Fernando has lived in Chile, Australia, the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. Read More.


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