Recently, I came across a blog post from one of my favorite working photographers out there today, David duChemin. The post itself was written in the style and caliber that I’ve come to expect from someone as prolific and in tune as David. On the off chance that you don’t follow David’s work, I strongly recommend you rectify that and consider picking up a few of his books. They are each gems in and of themselves. But returning to the aforementioned post, there was a part of it that resonated especially clearly with me and it serves as the impetus for this very post. To quote David:
[x_blockquote cite=”David duChemin” type=”right”]Better. I love that word. I love seeing people touted by others or their own PR, as “the best landscape photographer” or some version of the same. Better than you. Better than me. Nothing makes me want to drink gin from the cat bowl more than hearing about so and so who made this years best photographs in such and such a category. Move over, Fluffy, I’m draining this drink and calling for more, and then I’m going to figure out whether Monet was better than Picasso, whether U2 is better than Bob Dylan, and whether butterflies are better than birds, and pasta is better than pizza. Somewhere out there, right now, two nerds are gathered in their parents’ basement arguing about whether a tribble is better than an ewok. And you know who cares? Exactly.[/x_blockquote]
It cuts right through you, doesn’t it? It certainly cut through me and as I sat there, taking stock of why I was so affected by this passage in particular, I had a bonafide revelation about something that has been bothering me for some time but that I couldn’t identify. It hit me that I was gauging my own qualities and successes as a photographer against everyone except the one person who actually counts—ME! For a while now, I’ve been battling with a very weird, almost inexplicable identity crisis (which I’ll talk about more in another post) and I hadn’t been able to pinpoint why this was happening… until I read this passage. For one reason or another, I no longer strove to be the best version of myself but rather looked at the affairs of other photographers, my contemporaries, and calibrated my success gauge to their arbitrary level. When you attach the value of your own success on what other people are doing, you are immediately setting yourself up for failure. Period.
Despite being so fortunate in my own endeavors and finding success at a level that, by any measure, I should be so thankful for, I got sucked into “keeping up with the Joneses,” paying more attention to what other photographers were doing at the moment instead of focusing on what I should be doing tomorrow. I never asked the important question of “How does whatever Person X achieves impact me?” And it’s a very important question to ask. Not in a cynical or opportunistic way, but in a true and matter of fact manner. So Photographer X got to travel to this country. Or they got paid to do that campaign. Or they have a billion followers. Does that make them better than me? Nope. Not better. Not worse, either. Just different.
Different is something I can get behind. Different is tangible, good, and healthy. We should all strive to be different. Not to serve ourselves up excuses for not accomplishing or excelling, but to remind ourselves the no two people have the same circumstances and that in this rapidly growing DIY generation, you have an unprecedented amount of opportunity to stake a claim and grab your own slice of success pie. In all likelihood, your circumstances will be different than mine and it may mean that you have to work ten times harder to achieve success but I have to believe that it is all worth it so long as you define success according to yourself and not to me or anyone else.
For the first time in a long time, I feel really good about things. It’s easy to forget about the fruits of labor that were borne from years of hard, consistent and honest work when you’re constantly looking at the fortunates of others. So, why bother? Invest in yourself and take the time to figure out what you want to achieve, then plot a course to achieve it. Don’t busy your mind with the flotsam of who is better than you and don’t trip into that rabbit hole of judging whether others are worthy of their successes.
Be excited about the burn and effort that it will take to achieve the goals you set upon your head. Also remember to be tempered and cognizant of the hard truth that not all efforts, even herculean ones, guarantee success. The world simply isn’t fair all the time. Embrace that fact. Finally, be grateful for all of the experiences that your efforts will bring about, in success and in failure, because that is truly where the best of you will be forged.
With that, I’d like to leave you with a video recorded by one of YouTube’s most successful content creators, Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie. Recently, it was reported that his in 2014 from the videos he produced approached $7.5million. In response to this information being surfaced, a slew of people attacked him… for being successful at what he does. In response, Felix recorded this rather charming video that encapsulates a good chunk of the spirit of this post. Watch it, take the right parts to heart, and resume living.