I have long been getting the vibe throughout the artistic community and more specifically the photography industry of great dissatisfaction. I sense it on Twitter, photography forums, in conversations with other artists and even within myself. I wrote this post several years ago when I was wildly thrashing around in the “comparison pit” myself. And I tend to wonder, why are we constantly tormented with thoughts that we aren’t good enough, we aren’t rockstar enough, we aren’t winning enough? From personal experience, I would say it is partly driven by high expectations. So many of us are after all the generation that was told we were amazing. So when our own mediocrity shows up we get frustrated, think “I should be way above the pack by now.” And it’s been said a million times already that social media contributes a great deal to this sickness. We no longer have just a handful of neighbours to compare ourselves to but millions. Even when we think we can separate ourselves, make ourselves distinct we can still find a doppelgänger out there. Someone who is already doing what we are and doing it better.
I’m just going to be honest here and admit, mostly to myself, that it’s not likely that I will ever be “found” as some great photographic genius. Odds are, I will never get on the cover of National Geographic, win a Pulitzer Prize, or even ever have more than a smattering of Twitter followers. And I am more than ok with this. Something tells me that even if I had made fame and recognition my only goal from the outset, achieving any level of that would have never satisfied. Just like money, praise and accolades are great, but more is always better. So if I have already walked away from the idea of greatness, what is the point in creating at all?
I claim to call myself a follower of Christ and so all my pondering eventually leads to him. I remember in my early days of shooting when every thought I had was about cameras and photography, weddings and pricing (my Days of Obsession as I call them), I would read in scripture of selfish ambition as being anti-Kingdom and my internal conflict would rear its head. (Philippians 2.3, James 3.16) How am I to have a passion that drives excellence without selfish ambition? They feel inseparable. And then I came across the Oswald Chambers quote “Discouragement is disillusioned self-love, and self-love may be love for my devotion to Jesus–not my love for Jesus Himself.” This one has echoed within my heart and mind ever since I read it and I can now see the line between selfish ambition and working as though for the Lord.(Colossians 3.23) I had defined greatness as how high I could rise above those around me, how far I could stand out as exceptional. But what if greatness is defined rather by how much I grow into God’s original purpose for me. I was created as God’s image-bearer, so it is my mandate to reflect God into the world whether the world accepts me or not. Therefore it matters not if I toil and muddle about creating something of beauty no one notices, telling a story no one listens to. Flowers have bloomed, trees have grown up, all creation has erupted in times and places where no human eye has seen and yet it was not wasted. It was all for the glory of God. May my work have the same motivation. May it erupt from a place of gratitude that I have been given much. And that where much is given much is required.