Have you noticed how many great photographers there are?
Every photographer is great these days.
And award-winning. Especially award-winning.
The space for self-perceived great, award-winning* photographers is a very crowded place. Everyone is there. Standing room only.
There is a lot more room in the tiers below – room to breathe, room to flex some muscles, room to run, room to jump, room to play, room to screw up, room to try, room to shout, room to laugh, room to fail, room to develop.
Doesn’t that sound like an awfully attractive place to be?
From great to good
I’ve started to understand that seeing yourself as Great, and allowing others to tell you that you are, is toxic. Good is better.
Good keeps you grounded; Great makes you pretentious.
Good leaves the ego checked at the door; Great is ego.
Good is a station on a journey; Great is a destination**.
Good is a great place to be.
Or so I thought.
Aim as low as you can
I explained my thinking to one of my mentors. He thought I was being unambitious and told me I should be aiming lower.
He suggested I move my self-perception all the way down the ladder to “Mediocre”.
That hurts. That feels like too much of a step down.
But that’s merely ego talking.
Just imagine the room to frolic down in the Mediocre space. You’d have the place virtually to yourself.
A journey in two directions
Shouldn’t we all have a dual goal?
We should strive to be the best photographer we can. But we should avoid the pitfall of putting too much stock in our progress.
As soon as we start to see ourselves as Great, as soon as we start believing what people say about our work, as soon as we start vesting too much significance in the awards bestowed on us, as soon as we get overly fond of the work we’re producing, we stop growing.
It’s better to aim to be Great, or even better aim to be Good, but never allow ourselves to get there in our own perception – regardless of how accomplished we might feel we’ve become.
So while we are working to become the best photographers we can be, we need to cultivate a self-perception that puts ourselves in the Mediocre tier. That’s where we live. We like it because we have so much freedom there to become better photographers.
Why not come on down? There’s plenty of space.
*Surely being award-winning is less to do with self-perception than it is to do with actually receiving an award, you ask? True. But you’d be surprised at the achievements that photographers themselves promote to the status of a full-blown award.
**You’d be right to say that beyond Great lies Greatest. Isn’t that the destination, the end of the line? Actually, Great is where you come off the rails. It stifles your progress and you never get to Greatest. Besides, are you really going to tell everyone you are The Greatest? According to whom? You? Even if you believe it, it’ll kill you as a photographer faster than thinking you are Great.