Recently, I wrote a brief post on my blog that was titled, Create For Yourself, which serves as the impetus for this story. Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my own growth as a photographer and, to a broader extent, as a creator. This introspection invariably led me to look at how others qualify growth for themselves. More specifically, I began analyzing what people are doing to grow and how they measure their success towards that. A lot of what I found felt troubling and resulted in me re-evaluating my own benchmarks. The more I thought about it, the more frustrated I became until the other morning, when it dawned on me that so much of what I thought I was doing to contribute to my self-growth was actually just applying a candy-coated glaze meant to appease others around me.
I recently had a really nice conversation with Melissa Niu and during our chat, she asked me one of the all-time great existential questions: “What do you want for yourself?” It’s such a simple and straightforward question and yet I stumbled as I thought about it. Of course, at a high level, I know what I want for myself: to create. But the more I thought about it, the more granular the answer became and it was through this process of self-auditing that I realized what I had been doing, from the photos I posted to the the way I wrote, was squarely aimed at maximizing your attention. It became less about putting forth my creations in a natural way and more about tuning and timing my work for maximum Likes, +1s, Comments, and Reshares. I was jockeying my work to all of you in a way that stunted my true creative process and it finally caught up with me in a wave of self-loathing and self-doubt.
So, why am I sharing all of this with you now? It is because of what I’ve seen through my analysis of others and their own growth. What I found was that I was not alone, not by a long shot. I found that most everyone hitched their own growth as photographers to the same wagon as I had and this must stop. There is great tragedy with correlating your personal growth or the success of your photo to arbitrary measurements (read: Likes, +1s, Comments, Reshares). I will never forget what a former friend once told me when I expressed how much I liked one of the photos that he shared. He said, “yeah, but it didn’t get as many Likes as this other photo”. It was one of the sadder things that I’d ever heard a creative person say to me.
In the wake of all this, I began thinking about what I need to do to ensure true growth around what I want for myself: as a photographer, as a writer, as a creator. What I found are three lessons that are so straight forward, they really smacked me in the face. Essentially, self growth requires discipline, detachment, and mentorship.
- Discipline is probably the most important ingredient in growing yourself. You have to want it with such laser-tuned drive that nothing else can prevent you from it. Passive pursuit is great if you are looking for a hobby or past time but real growth comes from infusing discipline so that every free minute is allocated to the study, practice, and execution of your goal.
- Detachment is a product of what brought to me this point in the first place. It is why I am writing this article. In order to grow, you have to detach yourself from the fleeting saccharine high of social media engagement. You have to detach yourself from the idea that more followers, more views and more likes equals more success. You must also detach yourself from the emotional responses of positive comments and negative criticism, which is a perfect segue to my third and final lesson.
- Mentorship is a special bond between you and another individual who shares the same interest in your pursuit of growth. It is a humbling relationship that requires total trust and is filled with brutal honesty. I cannot recommend enough the importance of finding a mentor who you can pour all of your creative energy into and who, in turn, will help you distill it down to its purest form. I’ve been very fortunate to have some amazing mentors in my past and I realize now that it’s time to find a new one.
Once you are true to your creative process and purge yourself of the need for the admiration of others, then you can begin down the path of self-growth. The key is to keep reminding yourself of what you are doing, how you’re doing it, and who you’re doing it for.