Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What Are Friends For?

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Recently, I whimpered in public about what I put myself through when faced with the challenge of completing a photography project. I admit that I sat on that post for some time, reluctant to share such personal doubts and the particular fears that I confessed. It turns out that it was one of the best things that I could have done for myself. Some bloggers left comments on my site and a number of others posted commentary on the topic at their blogs. All of it was incredibly helpful. This experience was another reminder that if you would like a little help, you might try asking for it.

Not surprisingly, the oft-repeated theme in the responses was “simply get on with the work.” I admit that it’s an annoyance to need reminders of this simple fact, but there we are. There are times, thank goodness, when I simply need to remind myself. Then again, there are times when the reminder has more impact coming from others. That’s especially true when colleagues share that they have occasionally needed to jog their memory, as well.

What I am celebrating is that this spilling of my doubts and admissions to getting blocked spurred even more than the invaluable reminders that there is no way around the wisdom of just doing the work. I got a welcome chorus of admonitions to “Buck up and get on with it”. (I felt a little like one of those characters in a movie who is falling apart and when slapped by the common-sense hero, the now clear-eyed fellow says, “Thanks, I needed that.”)

The bonus was that I got more in the way of coping techniques than I hoped for. A major contribution came in the form of an excellent and most helpful statement by Martin Doonan. I’ve pulled a few lines from his post, but you really need to read the entire thing (along with a number of other posts, by the way). Martin says that starting is never a problem for him and adds that like some others he likes to “get going, prove stuff can be done, extract the goodness and move on.” He goes so far as to say that he is “not a completer.” Then he pulls it all together with this first-class lesson.
"I've learnt that to complete stuff, I need to make the end run easy on myself. Line everything up ready for a quick blast for the finish line…
thus my key strategies for getting projects done: having confidence in my ability to do the thing and clearing the path for an easy finish." (emphasis, mine)

Bingo. The simple, and ever so smart strategy, of anticipating the potholes near the finish line is useful enough, but what had the most impact on me was that reminder that confidence plays a critical role.

Then, the full “Whack on the Side of the Head” came while chatting (in comments) with Niels Henriksen about his
February 17 post:

“I don't know why I tend to criticize myself for learning when I know that I am still a beginner and therefore I shouldn’t expect so much. Part maybe that in other activities I am better and therefore subconsciously I tend to think the next activity should go as well.”

Duh. I knew better than to compare myself to others. But, I have been making a mistake that is just as disastrous. While I haven’t done it consciously, on some level I have been measuring my skills as a photographer against my skills as an actor and teacher. Never mind that I had spent multiple decades honing those skills.

Now, thanks to Niels and Martin, I know that when I wrote (in that whine) about missing teaching, part of what I was missing. I craved that confidence that I had earned over decades while working in one field. Even though I continued to work hard at honing my skills as an actor, then teacher, I knew for a long time that I was building on a solid foundation. Of course, what’s most embarrassing is that I seem to remember giving advice very much like this to people I coached in the past. Lesson learned and re-learned.

After chewing on these revelations for a few days, I thought about the many books on productivity and creativity that I have consumed. Those books made a major difference in my teaching career and have thus far served me well in my new passion. But, this business of carrying on conversations with individuals who are currently more involved in doing the work rather than talking about the process from the position of the instructor have something to offer that is difficult to find in books. There is a freshness and rawness to these conversations that rarely makes its way into books. The book-editing process is a valuable one, but sometimes it sucks part of the energy and flavor out of the material. The academic voice often creeps in and stifles the humanity of the speaker. There are some amazing people writing on the web, and I am learning more than I ever expected to by following a few of the passionate photographers who are willing to write about their process.