I apologize in advance for this lengthy post. It may be too ethereal for some of you. But when I get the urge to write these sorts of posts, I’ve learned to just go ahead and let it rip. I usually get feedback later on that someone has been helped and that is always my goal.
I’ve been studying (almost from the standpoint of an anthropologist) why photographers fail. Why? Because I’ve dedicated the last 15 years of my life to helping photographers improve. But there are some who just can’t make the cut. And I wanted to know why.
While I am not in a position to write a white paper on the subject, I do have a few ideas that I’d like to share.
My empirical research leads me to believe that most photographers fail for one of these similar reasons.
1. They have very low self-esteem.
2. They lack confidence.
3. They focus on what they don’t have or what they don’t do well instead of what they do have and do well.
You can see these are all related. You see the evidence of them in things like a Nikon v. Canon discussion. The photographers who shoot Nikon are concerned by the photographers who shoot Canon because the fact that someone else picked another camera brand threatens the validation they need. Same thing happens with Canon shooters worrying about why someone else shoots Nikon.
Another thing I’ve noticed is the photographers who loudly demand purity. I made some flower photographs the other day. I did them in my studio so I could test a new light at the same time I was making the flower shots. The photographers who commented that I wasn’t a REAL flower photographer were those who demand purity. I should have made those shots outdoors they claimed. When you see or hear photographers attacking because you aren’t pure enough, then you have a sure sign of insecurity.
The film shooters went nuts when I said I preferred digital. They loudly proclaimed that REAL photographers use film and anyone who doesn’t can’t call what they do photography, etc., etc., etc. I could go on and on and on and on and on but you get the idea.
If you’re a regular reader here, you know that one of my core beliefs is that photographers who are more concerned about the process than the picture are failing. This concern over process is also a sign of someone who is insecure. Most of the people who do fail at photography fail because they used some sort of excuse to let themselves off the hook. But this again comes from a lack of confidence.
So now that I have established what I believe to be the root of the problem is, I want to talk about where did those insecurities, low self-esteem and lack of confidence come from? I haven’t studied enough psychology to be absolutely sure, but I am certain that “comparison” plays a major part in the creation of these problems.
Theodore Roosevelt once said that comparing your work, your life, or anything else will only steal your joy. Why? Because when you think about your situation, you have all the data on what you lack. All your ugly habits, your lack of knowledge, your lack of skill, your fear, etc. But when you compare against someone or something else you only see the good side of their work. You only see their best side. It’s like always seeing someone when they are youthful, well-kept, wearing their best clothes every day instead of seeing them old and tired by the side of the road, on a hot day, when they are wearing jeans and covered with oil from fixing their car. You have an unrealistic view of the other person, but a realistic view of yourself. Or at least your opinion of a realistic view of yourself.
It makes no sense to hold yourself up against someone else’s definition of greatness. You should only judge yourself based on your own ideals and principles. Leave everything and everyone else out of it. It’s your life so live it. Nobody else can do that for you, nor can you live anyone else’s life. This is very important because otherwise you will be denied your joy.
Joseph Campbell has come up with a principle called THE HEROS JOURNEY (or The Heroines Journey). This is the cycle of personal rising and falling. He concludes that our power to succeed lies within and we tap into it when we learn to venture into the unknown, leave those we would compare ourselves with, and go off to do our work.
The Hero’s journey is often the basic theme of motion pictures, novels, plays and even photographs. And it’s heady stuff. But you don’t need to read all of Campbell’s work to understand where he is going with his thesis. If you focus on YOUR work. If you focus on what YOU think you should do in your heart. If you focus on YOUR calling, versus your competition (or perceived competition) then you will triumph.
It’s been my experience that people who fail, or are unhappy, etc, are people who focus on their opinion of their circumstances, rather than their actual circumstances. There is a difference. Sometimes you can’t change your circumstances, but you can change your opinion. And you can start that process by today, this instant, making an agreement to stop comparing yourself, your photography, your camera gear, your life with others. Just do you. That’s the person we’ve been waiting to see behind the camera in the first place.
Comparison steals joy. Don’t let this happen to you.
I’m rooting for you.