The first time I walked into a portfolio review in New York City I was terrified. I wandered past a dozen or more of my peers who had their amazing books beautifully displayed on tables for two with decision makers on the other side of the table. They seemed prepared, confident and incredibly talented. My whole life I always thought I was that person, yet on this day, what felt like the most important day in my creative life, I felt like a complete fraud.
When I left my former life in sales/marketing/management for a creative/freelance lifestyle I knew I had a very big learning curve to catch up on. I felt like I had some marginal talent with a camera, however I had no idea how to monetize or evaluate that talent. I knew how to network, work hard and leverage life experience in my favor. What I didn’t know was how to evaluate my own work and accept the realities of the creative world.
I had a beautiful custom made portfolio by Scott Mullenberg, the best printing I’ve seen by Push Dot Studios in Portland and a solid roster of clients showcased in the book curated by Amanda Sosa Stone, my Agency Access consultant. I “looked” the part. I had shot advertisement campaigns for BOSE and JBL, editorials for FORBES and Garden & Gun and was generating plenty of regional corporate work. I felt like this was the next step for my career and it was New York’s move.
I was overwhelmed by the incredible work of the photographers in this room. I felt like once the reviewers, art buyers and photo editors saw my work they would judge me like I was judging myself. While sitting in the room waiting for my meetings with the other photographers sharing their work, all I could think was, “what am I doing here?” The funny thing is….they were mostly thinking the same thing after seeing my work and the work of others. I felt like the compliments (and sometimes still do) were simply people being polite. It’s definitely flattering but hard to accept when deep down I’m continually critical of my own work.
I met some amazing photographers there, many I am proud to now call friends. While we all act content in the present where we are as creatives, we are always comparing ourselves to each other. We constantly judge ourselves based on the work make, our gear, our lighting, our clients etc. We see people shooting for clients we want to work with and wonder “why not me?” We see the work of others and have no idea how they made it. We see the success of others and momentarily forget they spent years if not decades honing their craft. We all aspire to be successful whatever that truly means these days. Is it fame? Is it our legacy? Is it money or material things or is it simply enjoying the fact that we get to create things for a living? I’m leaning towards the latter.
There have only been a handful of assignments where I didn’t leave thinking I could have or should have done something different. I judge my own work and rarely see it as great. It’s taken me some time to accept this is my new normal. Feeling I could have done something better and not being content makes me realize I am committed to getting better. It reminds me that there is always someone out there more talented and harder working. It makes me feel like a creative.
I think if you don’t ever have doubt about something you’re making whether it’s photographs, art, music or anything else you create – you might as well hang it up. Realize your clients are hiring you because they DO like your work. Your style suits their needs or captivates them and that is important to embrace. Know that you aren’t going to get every assignment from your current clients either. This stings and it’s something you have to accept. The times you plan everything out and absolutely nothing goes the way you planned will continue to happen. Accept it and keep moving forward.
I realize I will always be my own worst critic and I’m comfortable with it. I still feel like a fraud most of the time but realize now I AM NOT. Feeling like a fraud and actually being one are two completely different things. Living in Nashville where there are so many creative people pushes me to keep moving forward. Surrounding yourself with other talented people is how the most successful companies and individuals get better. Embrace your fears, realize everyone else is experiencing them too and you’ll start enjoying your career more and making better work. Honesty and fear are the most valuable assets for any creative person to embrace in my opinion. Anything else is disingenuous to real creative growth.
To view more work by Jason Myers, visit his site.
Jason Myers is an award winning commercial advertising and editorial photographer based in Nashville, Tennessee.
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