I always used to think that one day I would “become” a photographer when someone told me I was, or validated my lame attempts at legitimacy by plucking me from the wayward hands of fate and slapping a big, fat “real deal” sticker on my work. I had a problem saying “I’m a photographer” like it was a stutter that interrupted my speech. In my mind, when those words came out of my mouth I felt sure they would be met with exchanged glances of skepticism and stifled secondhand embarrassment. I felt like I was constantly reaching for a title I had trifled with accepting, but would never quite let myself have. It was the ever-vanishing finish line looming in the distance, and I was running a race that I had purposely rigged for failure. Does this sound familiar to you? If it doesn’t, then DAMN let me borrow some of your self-confidence.
I know what you’re thinking. Why take advice from me, a girl who struggles – herself – with owning the title “photographer,” or even “journalist” – and the latter I have an actual degree in. I’m working on the other one. But one could say that means I know a thing or two about the struggle. I feel like particularly those of us in creative fields feel further pressure to legitimize our “craft,” but these feelings of doubt can happen to anyone.
So what makes you a (insert profession/passion/thing you do for the majority of daylight hours here)? Well, are you actively pursuing whatever it is that you do? Otherwise said: do you actually do it? Then that is a start. Couple that with a vow to constantly strive to better yourself and your practice, and you’re pretty much there. Since when have you allowed anyone to dictate what you do and do not do? Would you let someone tell you that you’re not a bi-weekly jogger? Or a sometime ice-cream eater? How about an occasional ultimate frisbee participator? Aside from the fact that there is probably something wrong with someone who doesn’t believe in your ability to occasionally consume delicious frozen treats, the only person who should be an authority on you and what you do is you.
Comparison is the thief of joy. I’ve said it before (usually to myself, and in mantra-like form) and I’ll say it again. The beauty of a world filled with all kinds of people is that everyone is at a different stage in their lives and journeys toward pursuing what they love. You simply cannot compare yourself to somebody already so far along on a path they forged for themselves. You can certainly look up to these individuals, and even reach out to them for guidance, as long as you can acknowledge that you are on your own track, and going at your own pace. If everyone skipped ahead on life like they did in create-your-own-story novels (yeah, remember those) then everyone would live the same one-sided wildly successful life. Just imagine a world full of people who had never had to overcome setbacks or hardship or even just extreme mediocrity. Kinda messed up.
A final note on originality RE: your concerns about it. If you are worried about making work that is truly original – a real Harry Potter masterpiece in a sea of astoundingly average literature – just remember that J.K. Rowling did not invent the fantasy novel genre, she was merely a woman with an incredibly vivid dream and the gumption to draw it out into seven very long books. The truth is that a lot of borrowing and feeding off of others’ brilliant ideas goes on behind the scenes. Probably a lot more than you think. I am not giving you license to plagiarize and steal ideas; this is never ok, and I’d like to think most of us learned this in school. What I am saying is that a lot of successful people might not be where they are today without first having been inspired by the work or ideas of someone else.
My social specialties still include making awkward eye contact with strangers while stopped at red lights, and walking in the same direction as people after we’ve exchanged goodbyes, but I can happily say that I feel comfortable in my own creative shell, whether others think so or not. And sometimes, you just have to fake it till you make it anyway.