Know Your Place. A Sermon in Two Parts.
As a child I asked my parents to let me study Judo. Begged them. They conceded, I assume, because the last time I was beaten up it had been the day after I got my braces removed only to have my front two teeth broken by a bully using a wall as a weapon. My wimpyness was getting expensive.
So I went to Judo earned a couple belts, went competitive, got my skinny orange-belted butt handed to me on a platter by a guy with a brown-belt and I promptly retired. My competitive Judo career lasted less than a minute, if you count the time it took to peel me off the mat. Future historians will look back at that time in my life as “the wussy period.” Shoulda eased into it, should have fough someone with whom I was on level ground. Come to think of it, what the heck were they thinking putting me up against someone as close to the top of his game as I was to the bottom of mine?
I’ve since been more careful to fight my weight. It’s helpful to know your place. Keeps the dental bills down, for one. As a photographer knowing where your craft is at is important. Spend a couple hours on the internet and you’ll find green photographers talking trash about the more established ones. “I don’t know why that guy’s shooting for National Geographic and I’m not, I can shoot that stuff better anyways.” Really? But you aren’t are you? Instead of going out and shooting, you’re bitching and whining. I’m guilty of this too, but when I catch myself I remember that talking trash is not the same as working on your chops and getting the gigs. Comparing yourself to others doesn’t get the gigs, working does. Pay your dues, work the gigs at the level of your talent. As your talent and craft grows, so will the types of work you get. The only thing worse than not getting that big dream assignment is getting it long before you’re ready, and totally blowing it. Not alot of chances for a second round when you get whooped in the first. Sure, dream big, take on a little more than you think you can chew. But be smart about it. Not really alot of difference between a can of Whoop-ass and a can of Dumb-ass.
Know your place.
But don’t be limited by it.
Knowing your place means not only knowing where you’re at, but also knowing that your place is a constantly growing, and evolving, vector on your journey as a craftsman. Knowing your place means you take the gigs you know you can rock, it means learning from those that have gone before you and mentoring those that are coming up behind you. It means you take courage from how far you’ve come and find humility in how far you’ve yet to go. It means you constantly assess your strengths and you play to them, and you don’t flinch from your weakness, you find ways to strengthen them. How’s your lighting knowledge? Is it lacking? Read up. How’s your composition? Needs work? Take a course. How’s your ability to work with people and create compelling portraits? Never better? Make sure your market knows it, but don’t rest on your laurels.
The flipside is ugly. Not knowing your place leads either to arrogance or “I am a worm for I am small of talent and large of belly and ugly of face” false humility/self-loathing. It leads to comparing ourselves with others and envying their talent, their contracts, and their success. It’s a downward spiral and it will kill that beautiful, unique spark within you that’s evident in the best of your work. Don’t let it get a foothold.
Tomorrow; Know Your Place, Part Two. Finding Your Niche.