I, Creator: Growing On Your Terms

By |2017-08-13T12:39:28+00:00Oct 13th, 2014|

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.

Keep The Flock

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.

Awake at sunrise

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.



  1. Jack Larson October 13, 2014 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    Mentorship is so crucial. We all need someone who has both excellent artistic judgment and is committed to helping us to stay focused on our goals. We need someone who will tell us the truth (at least from his or her perspective) but who is more committed to us as a person than to his or her opinions. (Personally, I do social media for no other reason than that I like to share my work. For the most part, what others have to say goes in one ear and out the other. However, every now and then, I get some dynamite advice.)

  2. Matt Payne October 13, 2014 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    I can dig this post so much… and often I find myself (and my fellow photographers) getting into this rut.

  3. Tom Kappel October 14, 2014 at 1:53 am - Reply

    And there is joy every time you press the button and create the image you saw in your mind and felt in your heart when you create for you.

  4. Adam October 15, 2014 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    4) Mentoring (being the mentor) provides similar benefits to being mentored.

  5. paulie October 16, 2014 at 1:00 am - Reply

    adam brings up a great point but I dont think it needs its own number, It follows everything said in number 3 just on the other side of the fence. I know from my job, when I started, there were many guys ahead of me, showing me the ropes, but once I had a new guy under me who wanted to learn, the tables were turned. Now I was responsible to show him what I know while still learning more everyday. When your in the position as the senior guy, you thrive to become better both to show the new guy how things are done by example and also so i can answer any questions about the craft that may come down the pike. So from my experience in life, I have learned as much from being the “mentor” as I did from having one.

  6. Three Dot Lounge for November 2, 2014 November 2, 2014 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    […] I, Creator: Growing On Your Terms […]

  7. […] Brian Matiash (Brian Matiash,2014) talks about how mentorship is important as a creator, and this is what I’m trying to point out. […]

  8. Leo Roomets August 14, 2017 at 11:01 am - Reply

    If you’re a professional photographer it should be clear that one of the main reasons you do this is because you’re making a living. If you’re someone like me who does it purely as a serious hobby, then the question of “why” is a little harder to answer. I like to think that my images are good and that spending time learning from others helps me make them even better. But then what? I like to create photo books that I give as gifts. I like to share some of my images on Facebook (and admit that I appreciate the occasional comments and likes). I make prints and hang them around my home. I put some prints into digital photo viewers to “impress” my guests. Ultimately, I create images because I love the act of creation, even if I am the only person to ever look at them. The fact that it keeps me engaged and challenged now that I’m retired also makes life that much more interesting.

    • Brian Matiash August 15, 2017 at 11:50 am - Reply

      I love the act of creation, even if I am the only person to ever look at them.

      That pretty much sums up what drives me as a photographer, too. The fact that I make a living out of it is a benefit, it is never a means to an end.

  9. Ulrich Tutsch August 14, 2017 at 12:32 pm - Reply

    Mentorship is so important for he creative growth. I’ve been a self taught photographer for many years. I took classes at community colleges in photography. Yes, I learned a lot in techniques, but not very much in the creative field. And then I hit the glass ceiling, and it seemed that there was no way to break through. Then, a couple of years ago, I joined a photo community with different masters/mentors. With the other members we shared our images gave and received feed back, and our mentor helped us along the way by positive critiques. I made some great strides in my photography only by the feed back of fellow photographers and the guidance of our mentor.

    • Brian Matiash August 15, 2017 at 10:51 am - Reply

      Both sides of mentorships can be SO rewarding with the right participants. The mentor is in a place where they genuinely want to lend their experiences to benefit the recipient in the form of constructive criticism and the mentee is in a place where that criticism will be received with an open heart and mind. And lest anyone think that they’re too pro to be mentored, let me attest that true growth is a lifelong journey with no set finish line.

  10. John Wearing August 15, 2017 at 8:13 am - Reply

    I really enjoyed this Brian, excellent article and very timely in my case having got bogged down with social media. It has certainly given me food for thought to do what I want to do and not to feed off the ‘likes’, etc from other people.

    By the way should this Inbox Inspiration be #29, #28 was received on 2nd August.

    • Brian Matiash August 15, 2017 at 10:55 am - Reply

      That makes me so happy to hear, John! Listen, most people—myself included—will fall into that trap of paying a bit too much attention to vanity metrics and, even worse, associating our own strengths as photographers to them. It takes discipline and confidence to set all of that aside and focus on finding the tracks where true growth resides.

      And you’ve got eagle eyes re: the II issue numbers. Awhile back, I accidentally skipped Issue 19, so it went from 18 to 20. It kept bothering me so I finally decided to rip the bandage off and roll them back. Going forward, we’ll be on the proper numerical track. ;)

  11. Megan Kwasniak August 15, 2017 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    Thanks Brian for this super important introspection. I too am definitely plagued by similar thoughts and questions such as why exactly am I doing this and what is the purpose of my creativity? Photography is not a source of income for me and yet I feel like I devote more time to it than almost anything else in my life. I too, on more than one occasion have judged my photos based on the number of likes I received and felt very upset if I’ve lost a few followers in a day. I am not proud of those moments and I challenge myself daily to forgo all that and continue taking photos for the sole purpose of creating and fulfilling my inner artist. It may be a struggle for more of us than we are willing to admit, but as long we are aware of it, our art should not suffer. Absolutely love the dog/sheep photo btw :)

  12. JC August 29, 2017 at 8:38 pm - Reply

    Just read your post for the first time and must say it is inspiring, eye and mind opening, with the potential to drive to an espiritual awakening. Thanks you!

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