When I was 17 and exiting my senior year of high school, I applied to a specific university in my hometown because my first love, a fiery girl named Gabrielle, received a full-ride scholarship to the school for Theatre Arts. I hoped more than anything to get in to the school. A blossoming photographer at the time, but not able to see the practicality of photography in a business setting due to my lack of understanding, I relegated any dream to the plan of, instead, staying my home town, studying business at school, becoming a “rich businessman” (my 17 year-old wording), and having the option to shoot photos whenever I wanted to, if I wanted to.
I ended up getting in to the school, breaking up with the girl two weeks before classes started, choosing a photography major instead of business, subsequently falling asleep in every 101 class I took, gen-ed or otherwise, racking up over $15,000 in debt, and then quitting school. I have a lot to say about education in art and pursuing portfolio and building business skill-sets in the real world, but I’ll save that conversation for another time.
For now, I want to talk about my misplaced sense of what it meant to be passionate, play to my strengths, and pursue a dream, rather than an outcome, because it's infecting us like the plague.
You see, as a creative, my number-one strength is BEING CREATIVE. It’s not even photography, but that’s the mode I’m trained in, the art form I intuitively found to be the most appropriate for my brain. It’s the form of art I’ve pursued, and it’s the form of art I grow in with every photograph I take. And yet, for most of my career, I’ve tried to escape the definition of “photographer” at every turn I get.
I watched Simon Sinek's video last night on YouTube on millennials in the workplace, and many of the points he addressed in the conversation were appropriate for my personal and entrepreneurial growth from the time I picked up a camera. The thing that’s crazy to me is that I NEVER understood the sheer disdain I felt from the generations above me as I pursued my career in photography - and probably for the better, too. My ignorance helped me shrug off anything that would have brought me down at the time and caused me not to pursue my passion of creating.
Let’s rewind a bit: when I first started my journey as a photographer and fell in love with the creative process, I didn’t think it would pan out as anything worth my time in the end, mostly because I didn’t become “famous” or get enough likes in the first 3 or 4 months of my pursuing the art form to show me that I was capable.
That way of thinking - the “I’ll take it down if it doesn’t get enough likes” way of creativity is so massively destructive, because it entirely skips the need for creative growth and boils our creative work down to one, streamlined, it-always-looks-good style.
In this generation, you’re only growing as a creative if your likes grow, too. And that's a problem.
That’s the way culture, companies, and even our peers have led us to believe. I was fortunate enough to be old enough by the age of the internet to have the upper-hand on tech. I *do* remember getting our first family computer, using dial-up, and not having a cell phone for a vasty majority of my youth.
Sadly, the generation we live in now was not built on this freedom, but instead, we’ve evolved in to a new being with a third limb known as the iPhone.
That’s not to say it’s all bad. I wouldn’t be the photographer you know and you wouldn’t be reading this blog post if it weren’t for the incredible advances we’ve made in technology over the last 10 years. I wouldn’t have a career I love, or a passion I pursue, or a vision that I seek to live out without the power of the internet. It is an incredible gift.
Sadly, gifts can become warped, mistreated, and misused by people with terrible intentions for personal self-gain. As Simon Sinek would relate in the video, it’s the fault of the companies that we owe to this issue - a seeking of profit, massively, over the growth of the individual. Over the growth of children.
And so, if we don’t get enough likes on our post, if we’re not famous by 15, we don’t have what it takes to pursue our passion, live our dream, live our life’s calling out, because it probably only got 57 likes on Instagram, anyway.
Here’s what we’re missing: Patience.
By pursuing our passion, we build a unique version of impact through hard work, time spent, and decisions made - not over days, but over months, years, decades and lifetimes. There is no one-size-fits-all-in-one-set-amount-of-time version of impact.
It just doesn’t work that way.
And yet, because of this cultural shift, we have the massive issue of so many amazing creatives choosing instead to not pursue their passion, because I got 5,000 likes on my newest photo,and they only got 200.
We MUST separate ourselves from the emotional addiction of social media - the constant self-defining by the amount of likes we get, the approval of our peers, the approval of complete strangers. I’ve spent more time in my life than I like to admit thinking about how to build a bigger audience than I have about how to be a good photographer. Most days, I would rather pay for website hosting to recycle old content and build my audience, rather than buy props or a new camera to create NEW content. It's a bad habit I'm trying to break.
Photographers of the millennial age, please remember this: You are first and foremost a creative, and creativity takes time, experience, and passion to develop.
If your photos aren’t performing well online, it doesn’t matter. We need to learn instead how to share our unique vision with the world through our own lens.
We need to learn how to provide true value to our audience.
We need to learn how to provide an effective and desirable service to our clients.
We need to separate ourselves from the idea that our future and our worth is wrapped up in our Facebook page’s social strategy or an Instagram "K" or the number of retweets we get.
This is our opportunity to change the conversation. Put down your phone and spend an hour today working on photos, working on concepts, working on your business model, working on creating art, and then don’t even post it. We need to separate ourselves from the gratification we get when we make something and instantly want the satisfaction of recognition. The pat on the head of social media feels nice, but the calling of a lifetime feels a lot better. The latter doesn't require the justification of strangers on the internet.
Let’s take a look at where we are as creatives and where we’re putting our energy and our heart. If it’s anywhere but creating amazing content and providing massive value, then we’ve done something wrong and we need to put ourselves back on the right track towards a more creative, beautiful future where we're living out our unique calling the world. It comes through hard work, patience, self-awareness, and practicing our craft, day, after day, after day.
Pursue your passion, but don’t pursue the fame or fortune that comes with it. In that, creativity will blossom and unique vision will form, and we can break the cycle of needing a double-tap permission to pursue our dreams.
Feel the same way as I do in this article? As always, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you ever want to chat about this stuff. And if you're ever stopping through Portland, Oregon, please reach out and we can grab a coffee together.
Stock image by Adrian Sava on Unsplash.
I'm on a mission to show that the light will always pierce through the darkness.