Last week, I had a personality evaluation with a company called Hogan Assessments. I was selected to participate in a study they were doing on young professionals, and with that, I was required to take a series of three personality tests and be a part of a one-on-one feedback session following the tests that went over my results. It was in this feedback session that my evaluator told me something point blank that I had known for a while about myself but that I hadn’t told anyone:
“You’re not necessarily a creative of the visual arts; You just appreciate the visual arts.”
The other day at work, I looked out the window to see a what looked like a 15-year-old kid operating a DSLR camera on his own in downtown Oklahoma City. He was out with his friends taking portraits, photographing the cityscape around him and executing a flawless photoshoot . . . as a 15-year-old. When I was 15, the only thing I could execute was mowing our backyard, and even that got a little dodgy around the edges. Here this kid was handling a piece of equipment worth thousands of dollars and probably getting some great experience, and he probably had to have his parents drop him off downtown to do so.
As I watched he and his friends, I couldn’t help but wonder how the sales of cameras have trended since the development of Instagram and other photo sharing outlets. I wouldn’t know if they would have increased or not with everyone, as well as their dog, owning a camera phone, but either way, 2018 feels like a time when everyone has the chance to be a photographer. As a guy who, up until recently, thought of himself as a photographer, a world full of photographers seems weird.
As of late, photography, among other things, has been a part of a weird identity crisis that I’ve been having. For example, up until recently, I held the job title of ‘Graphic Designer.’ I took on that identity. However, here’s the catch - I didn’t feel like a graphic designer because in my mind, even with the title, I was not a graphic designer. I know my fair share of graphic designers, and according to the calculations I was running in my head, what they were and what I was were not matching up.
To break that down a bit more for the sake of example, in my mind, a graphic designer is a creator - one who is able to make something out of nothing. One who can take what’s in the mind and turn it into a tangible piece of art that communicates feeling, meaning and beauty. Now, what was it that I was doing? I was replicating. I could look through designs, find one that I liked and use a design program to replicate what was done before me in a manner that fit what I needed, but I was never able to create from scratch. I felt more like a graphic replicator, not a designer. In other words, I felt more like I had been making pre-made frozen dinners in the microwave, rather than creating my own recipes for homemade meals.
It’s hard to place when I started having my weird identity crisis, but I think a good place to look back to is when I started following epic photographers on Instagram. These folks had thousands of followers, captured spectacular imagery and traveled to the coolest places. After following those accounts, I made sure to follow some great graphic design accounts as well because photography and graphic design go hand-in-hand, right? (right? . . .) Anyway, the more I looked into these accounts and the lifestyle of these artists, the cooler it seemed. The work seemed cool, the people seemed cool and all of the Insta-cred seemed groovy too.
For a long time, I think I got confused and lost through social media and in the lives of others. I found myself trying to conform to a lifestyle that others might deem cool, and I even went to the lengths of taking on new identities to do so. Would I have ever liked photography without Instagram? Probably not. Would I have ever strived to achieve the title of graphic designer if I hadn’t seen a lot of cool hipsters online carrying that title? I kind of doubt it. Falling into comparison is a scary trap to get snagged in, and you can lose who you are and what you like along the way.
Now, I’m in the process of trying to get back to what I like, what I want to do and who I’m supposed to be. Now more than ever, I’m terrified of falling back into the trap of comparison and into another identity crisis along the way, and while this current, mini identity crisis has had it’s wake-up calls, it’s also had it’s perks.
For one, I appreciate art now. I appreciate design and its process, I appreciate photography and those who do it for more than a double-tap, and I appreciate aesthetic more than I could have ever imagined. I have learned to appreciate what I’m not, rather than to covet it, and I have (hopefully) learned to embrace who I am, rather than compare myself to what others are.
While living in a world full of photographers may feel weird at times, it’s also pretty cool because I know it’s giving others the chance to appreciate things they never would have appreciated before. It’s giving folks new inspiration and the chance to find a new hobby and new art, just like it did for me. Chalk it up to a new lesson learned, a new chance to be vulnerable and another chance to write.
Cliff’s Note: Comparison is the thief of joy, so don’t covet what we aren’t, but appreciate it.