Someone asked recently in a photography thread whether others had experienced moments of doubt about one’s own work or whether the pursuit of such a dream was pointless. The response from most individuals was a resounding yes. I think it’s pretty natural for most to go through periods of feeling confident about the path we are taking followed by times in which we question everything that we are doing and suddenly feel lost, semi-delusional and even hopeless. And this doesn’t only apply to an art form like photography or writing, it could be about our careers or lack thereof, our relationships, our bank accounts, in truth, it can be about any aspect of this experience that we call life.
One thing that triggers these doubting periods for me is when I compare myself to others and feel less – less accomplished, less worthy, less lovable, just less. This can stem from an internal judgement that I make – my own insecurity raising its trembling head. Regarding my photography, I might look at someone’s else work and think, wow, that is so good, I’ll never be that good! I have to remind myself that for me that it’s about my process, my journey. I usually will take the time to look back, cringing at some of my earlier work, but I also see the overall improvement I’ve made and hope that I will continue to improve. I also have to think about what it is I want from the pursuit. Am I aiming to be the best photographer ever? NO! I’m not that delusional. I photograph to capture the beauty I see around me in order to share that natural world with others thereby expressing my love for it. I also photograph as a way of taking in one moment and examining it later and using it as inspiration to put my own mark on it. I photograph because the creative process puts me in a zone or state of mind where I feel connected, conscious but not self-conscious. This can be while I’m taking photographs or whether I’m sitting in front of the computer working on a photograph.
There are also external factors that can trigger insecurities. The job I just left was one in which the workers never could reach the carrot. There were so many hoops we had to jump through for the sadly underwhelming privilege of getting what this year worked out to be a $10 raise per week. I believe the supervisors were taught to constantly correct us or emphasize what we could improve. For instance, if I needed an override, I’d call up a supervisor and link them remotely. This time I explained I needed an override and said I’ll connect you. And in a very patient, somewhat exasperated tone, the supervisor said, “You mean you’ll link me?” It’s a small thing, but really? I was once emailed and asked how I would like to make up the minute I was late by (despite the majority of times I started early). When I questioned this, they said I wouldn’t have to, but still emphasized that they could make me make it up! Then there were the monthly stat meets and the monthly monitoring. This was for a part-time job without benefits and whose pay I’ve since learned is about the same as an average Wal-Mart wage. Very Orwellian – 1984ish.
I’m fortunate or unfortunate to always have had a strong sense of self worth that emanates from within me. So although I can be affected by behavior that seeks to either denigrate or keep me in control, I tend either to rebel against it or try to effect change. That definitely has made my life harder in many ways.
Everyone is going to have their own opinion about the right or wrong way to deal with periods where one is experiencing self-doubt or is just plain uninspired. You can just keep plodding through the feeling. Generally the feeling is just a feeling and the continuity of coping despite these feelings drains the power from that monster. Perseverance and resiliency are an amazing character traits as long as the feeling does change or you do get re-inspired.
Often when I feel uninspired by my photography I will take a break. I will go on walks without my camera or I’ll just play around with it. I release myself from the feeling that it’s a duty. I wait to get re-inspired. I do something different to replace the time that I spent on it, like read or just be lazy or clean house (yuck). Then I begin to miss it!
Then you can do something more drastic to change it up by either making a complete break or starting something that changes your usual life patterns/habits in a big way. I’ve moved across the country to New York City and that move was an amazing thing in my life. I’ve also moved back, and in retrospect I think that move was not so great. I wish I could say I live my life without regrets but that wouldn’t be true. I do have regrets. But at the same time I’m thankful for the things that the path I chose has brought me and I realize that the path not taken has all the shine of possibility and none of the grime of a path tread and weathered. I’ve had friends who’ve suddenly taken up salsa dancing or starting singing with their church or taken scuba diving lessons. Sometimes fear, depression or boredom can lead people to make some amazing decisions and take chances they would not have taken otherwise.
I’m sure there are some who would never admit to these periods of insecurity. There are people who go around with a constant smile on their face and an annoyingly perky temperament. They seem to float through life with never a care or a false step. Suffice it to say I trust none of them! 🙂
An optimum process might be to combine various elements to suss out what works to regenerate inspiration and connectedness and make the changes as needed. If the first thing doesn’t work it can be changed again. The future is changeable. I don’t think there’s one right or wrong process to combat the feelings of insecurity or lack of inspiration – but it is important to make it your own and one that is true to you. Listen to others, but more importantly listen to your intuition.
These final two photographs reflect two sides of me. The one on the right is more certain to please, while the one on the left was born from boredom, an exposure that was off, a conscious decision to shoot directly into the sun. Most will probably like the one on the right – I like the one on the left. It’s a personal choice.
It may be considered a weakness by many to display uncertainty, but I say embrace it. It’s part of the process.