We all fear falling. Creatively, falling and failure stops us from trying. But falling down and failing may be the best thing for us.
No one likes failing
Look, I get it. The process of trying, falling down, having to pull yourself back up again is demoralizing. I’ve been there before and honestly I am there right now. I get it and I’m with you. We are all in this together. For me, life has served up a couple of the most difficult years of my life recently.
It. Really. Sucks.
My creative juices have at times kept me going and at times slowed to barely a trickle. With so much pain and negativity happening it’s real hard to find the will to explore creative endeavors. Especially when it begins to feel frivolous in the face of the real issues life has dealt us.
We all struggle and play the hand we are dealt
While it may not feel like it as we watch one attempt after another come falling down, crashing in a fiery explosion, we all face it. No one is immune to failure. The world today is full of highlight reels. Social media, while I’m not going to get into that discussion again, is typically people doing what we all wish for…sharing their perpetual success and happiness. It’s a lie. You aren’t going to see the struggles and dark periods people go through to get to those happy places. Everyone is so secretive, so scared to show you their struggle and their failures.
We all fail and we all fall down.
How many times have you wished you could travel to somewhere amazing because the scenery you see everyday just “doesn’t allow for interesting art”? Have you scrolled through your social media feeds and felt a bit jealous of all the great things your friends are doing, big vacations, exciting adventures and a life that seems like it isn’t burdened by what YOU are dealing with?
Do me a favor, will you? I want you to do an exercise with me. First stand in front of a mirror. Now, look down at your hands, really look hard at them. Then slap your self in the face and quit making excuses.
No one is in control of your ability to create your art but you. Sure, some people may have it made. They may be in a “better” position to do things like travel or take big fancy vacations. While it’s true that you don’t know how hard or how little they had to work to be able to do those things, it’s also poison to start dwelling on it. It’s time to focus on you. The good, the bad and the ugly, it’s all you.
Wipe away those tears from the slapping and look hard at yourself in that mirror. Tell yourself that you are not alone. Creative juices ebb and flow, just like a river.
Rivers have many faces
You see a river can be calm and smooth, water lazily flowing down stream. Lazy rivers like that are dangerous to an artist. They make us feel comfortable, maybe too comfortable, and we stop pushing ourselves and our vision. While it feels good to be floating along living the easy life, we lose our mental edge and get lazy. It’s the home of things being “good enough”. That’s where projecting the always great, perpetually amazing lifestyle I mentioned earlier is more important than being real with our art. The lazy surface hides the sinister trap of creating for followers/likes/subscribers and losing our own vision and what matters most to us.
Just around the bend, however, the river gets difficult. We see the rapids forming and things are spiraling downward, picking up speed as we lose control. Our lazy float now finds us at a low point, smashing against the rocks. We were caught off guard by a life sized curveball. In life, everything seems to be going wrong. Each and every twist and turn of the river greets you with a gut punch. It’s hard to breathe let alone think of creating. As we struggle just to hold on and keep our heads above water it’s easy to push creative thinking to the back of our minds, after all we have more important things to worry about, right?!
The thing is, the longer we struggle in the rocks and rushing water, the more we get the hang of it. We figure out the language of the river and begin to navigate the rocks rather than just smash against them blindly. Life adjustments are being made as we adapt to the changing circumstances. While we are still struggling and the water is still dangerous, we are also able to start seeing things we had missed before. The struggle has brought some clarity to what is important, if we are lucky, and while we begin to feel that slightest sense of control in the rushing water and rocks of life, there is a moment where we figure things out.
Then, the bottom drops out from under us.
We look down to see the raft we were desperately clinging to disappear down a huge waterfall, roaring and shrouded in the mist of obscured uncertainty below. Falling and failing once again, will we land in a safe pool of water or dashed across the rocks of life? Once more having to crawl and claw our way back to safety and the remnants of that little raft. Rebuilding it enough to hopefully make it float once again.
Waterfall’s can be full of fury and power. Natural destruction slowly eroding the river bed below it before rushing on to the next moment of falling and furious failure.
Yet, the waterfall, for all of it’s might, is also full of beauty and grace. The water doesn’t worry about falling as it tumbles over that edge. It flows along and moves forward no matter what. Those rocks in the rapids are nothing more than detours. Water will always new ways to flow. If it can’t find a new way to flow it persists. Eventually wearing down and breaking through the obstacle in it’s path. Continuing it’s march forward.
I’ve come to think of that waterfall in a different way. Instead of the bottom dropping out and the world coming crashing down, it’s a moment of free fall. A time to gather a breath and absorb the lessons learned up to that point. I imagine the water rushing over the ledge of that waterfall in pure joy, laughing all the way to the bottom where it picks up it’s never ending flow forward.
It can be terrifying and exhilarating, dark and unpleasant.
Life isn’t always happy and your photography or art isn’t either. But to stay moving forward why fight creativity and try to show only the happy, easy side of things when we are in the midst of smashing off those rocks? The pretending leads to insincerity in your work and it will be recognized. Even if you have other peopled fooled with your upbeat work showing your never ending positivity and perfectly happy life, YOU will see through it. Eventually you’ll feel no creative satisfaction or connection to your own work and your creative spark is snuffed out.
Life is complex so embrace it
I’ve talked about it some here already, how I am in the midst of a change. Both my creative vision and as a person in general, and I have no idea where this journey is leading. It’s a bit unsettling but it’s also kind of exciting.
What have I always been saying here?
Stay true to yourself.
The only way to really do that is to embrace the dark moments as much as the happy ones. Let that personal connection to the world around you, no matter your mood or mindset, shine through in your work. It’s really the core of what makes your work reflect your “style”. That’s a conversation for another time, the whole idea of a photographic style and what that is made of, but for now let’s just say that embracing this complex life is how YOU show up in your work.
It won’t always lead to success
As we embrace the crazy changes life will always throw at us, good, bad, dark, or happy, we are going to have a lot more failures than successes. That’s by design and it’s not a bad thing. We can’t score a game winning touchdown on every attempt. But with each failure we get more and more to the core of who we truly are as creatives or artists in that moment of our lives.
Failure will never stop stinging. It can always cut you and hurt. But it makes those successes that much deeper, more satisfying and sweeter.
Don’t be afraid of falling down the waterfall. Embrace failures and obstacles as new ways to discover more about your art.
Failure is just a rock or obstacle in the river of creativity, learn from it. Let it show you new paths forward and when necessary, push through the failure until you find yourself moving forward on your creative journey once again. Falling, failing, adapting.
Don’t wait for creative inspiration to just appear. Put in the work, embrace life and be truthful with yourself at all times. Amazing ideas and fantastically satisfying work can come out of the least expected, darkest places in your life.
Keep moving forward. There’s always another waterfall of change coming just around the next bend in the river. It just might be the one with the amazing ideas at the bottom.
Photos made with Fuji X-T1 cameras and the Fuji XF 10-24mm and Fuji XF 52mm lenses
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