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Being embarrassed by your previous efforts is healthy

Being embarrassed by your previous efforts is healthy

The Art of Adventure - Bruce Percy

If you’re at a cross-roads with your photography, or perhaps just feeling unsatisfied with what you are doing, then don’t worry. It’s not only natural, it’s also very healthy.

Being unsatisfied with what you do, is often a sign of growth. Congratulations are in order, because it means that you are no longer satisfied doing what you were doing before: you have moved on, or at the very least, realised that you no longer wish to keep doing what you were doing before, and you have gained awareness that maybe it isn’t quite as good as you once thought it was.

dunning-kruger-effect.png

I’m sure you know the feeling of looking back, and realising that although you thought you knew a lot when you started out, you knew very little.

If we look at the above graph, we will see that beginners or less experienced people tend to overestimate their abilities. I think this is a case of ‘if you don’t know much, you don’t know what you’re missing’ in terms of experience. When we know little, we have nothing to measure it against so we often feel quite confident about our abilities.

In the middle portion of the graph, once we have gained some experience we begin to realise just how little we know, or how inexperienced we are. This is where a sense of dissatisfaction can creep in, because a little bit more knowledge about where we are in our abilities makes us realise we still have a long way to go.

I’d much rather be at this point, than at the beginning of the curve. Beginners, through knowing very little, tend to have very false views of their abilities and don’t see problems in their work as much as someone who is in the middle of the graph.

Dunning-Kruger-Effect.jpg

A word on creativity

I’d like to say though, that regardless of where you are on this curve, when trying to be creative, there is no ideal place to be.

Creativity comes from experimentation. And to experiment, means you have to try things you haven’t tried before, and that means being open to failure. Because if you’re not open to failure, you’re not open to the chances of failing. Besides, I don’t believe in failure. Everything you do, even the bad photos, are just part of the process in getting you to where you want to be. Failure can be viewed as ‘prototypes’. Of trying things out.

What I find most interesting, is that if you have little experience, you are more apt to experiment. No one has told you that what you are trying to do won’t work, so you’re more likely going to give something a go. You’re more likely to experiment, through a lack of experience.

Conversely, more experienced photographers experiment less and less, because they learn key techniques and skills. They build up a repertoire of tried and tested things that work, and it can become very easy to stay within the confines of those safe boundaries. Stay there too long, and things become formulaic and boring.

So creativity and improvement are things that ebb and flow, and I think that progress is really about ‘continual assessment’. It’s about building self awareness. It’s about understanding where you are and where you have been. It’s about noticing that you are changing.

If I were to think I was a guru, or that I knew everything, then I would just give up. I still want to be surprised, to delight in things I have not seen before. To find a new way of seeing. To do this, I have to go through periods of self doubt, of feeling that my photography has plateau’d for a period.

Growth often comes after a period of stagnation, or when you feel dissatisfied with what you do. Embrace those times. They are not only very normal, but also very instructive. Being embarrassed about your older work means you are improving. It’s a sign that you are no longer happy with what you were once doing, and that you are ready to let something new come in to your work.

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