Competing with myself

June 06, 2017

    I met my buddy, Brian, in the Army. I was into CB radios at the time.. back in the day or two that it was a thing. Brian "introduced" himself by going down to his car and clobbering my signal. It was on! At some point, he bought one of the early Timex computers. This was shortly after WarGames was popular and we were all jacked up on how you could program the computer to "require" passwords. Of course, you could also hit the Break key or just reset it. But.. shhh.. don't rain on my wonder. Well, I had to get a better computer. Brian responded with a better one. I had to upgrade to an even better one. And this friendly, unspoken competition propelled me into a career that has paid the bills and kept the lights on for decades. Brian was my best man at my first wedding but I don't hold that against him. He was my trusted confidant. He kept me from getting in trouble and/or arrested when I might have overdone my personal research into better living through chemistry. When I occasionally needed a place to crash, after we were both out of the military and living in California, Brian had a spare room for me. Sure, there was always this underlying competition but he was my friend. And I'm better for it.

    It turns out I have quite the competitive streak in me. (This is the moment my family would roll their eyes and shake their heads to the affirmative.) Much of it is competition with myself. You'd think I'd be further in life. Richer. More established. Better at everything I do. Maybe even famous. But.. nope. If it works that way, it's only in small, unnoticeable increments. Competition can be healthy in moderate doses. One of my best friends of the past immeasurably helped shape my life as it is today.Sometimes, what drives us to improvement is a competition with ourselves. In proper balance, we become better for it. But that balance can be a task.

    I take pictures because I enjoy it. Most technically minded people have some artistic outlet. The release that comes with art counteracts the rigidity of science and tech. It was no different for writing. It's an interaction, of sorts, with others. With you. When I decided I wanted to photograph and write for money, I started looking at other people's work more closely. The real goal was just to get a direction for specifically the kind of work I wanted to do or ideas for improvement.

    But a competitive nature is sneaky and it's easy to find yourself comparing your work to others. And from there, it's easy for resentment and/or discouragement to slip in. I've never found any situation in life where that's healthy or helpful. "Why can't my photos look like that?" Maybe they just got off a lucky shot. Maybe they have more experience. Maybe they've put more time into it figuring it out. It's like saying, "I picked up this guitar 6 months ago. How come Eric Clapton is so much better?". I wish my logical side would speak up a little sooner. It usually lets my whiny, competitive, emotional, artistic brain prattle on for far too long before it pipes up and reminds me that the only way I can hope to do work like that is to keep going. Keep developing. (no pun intended)

    One thing I've noticed lately is that it's painfully harder for me to even get a good picture. Could it be that I'm more aware of what a good picture looks like now? Sure. Is it possible that, now that I rarely shoot on automatic anymore, I need more practice and experience using the manual settings? Probably. Could it be the pressure to get multiple perfect shots in every situation? Absolutely. I know that when I'm writing, things flow miraculously easier if I'm not under pressure to write. I can write under deadline. But it flows from me like a kidney stone.

    Of course, there are a lot of things I still need to do. There always will be. You NEVER stop learning. You never stop creating art. There's no "finish line". There are techniques I want to explore. I want to do some model photography (with motorcycles, of course). I want to do better pictures in camera and less time in post production. I need to build and refine my portfolio. I need to get better at lighting. Gosh, I can't afford better lighting right now! And that's not even taking the business aspect into consideration. <sigh>

    This frustration and pressure, even if self-imposed, swirl around in my head and tends to build up until I start thinking about the "good 'ol days" when I just grabbed a camera and took pictures. Or sat down and poured my heart out onto the keyboard. Back when it was just... fun. But I still love doing it. Maybe, to make sure I keep having "fun", I just need to dial back, relax and do what I do. Being competitive can be useful if it doesn't rule is. Maybe it's time to call a truce with myself. Besides.. it's quite possible that relaxing and just having fun at it is one of the most productive things I can do to improve my art. And maybe life in general.