Saturday, March 25, 2017

Never the Best: On Living for the Joy of It

"It must be hard hearing you're not the best."

Someone I respect told me this a few years ago in a moment of his own weakness.  He had an excuse for saying "No" to me, but he knew that the excuse was invalid; so, he told me this instead. The real reason came out much later, but in that moment, the words stung.


I'm not the best. Never have been.

Being the best at something would have required a lot more than I had or was willing to give, at various points in my life.  My parents didn't have the resources or the time for me to be the best at a sport. Nor did I have coaches who saw some underdog potential in me that they felt compelled to cultivate.  Other students were better at school than me and were willing to sleep less to make sure that stayed true for them.

Cleaning out my parents' house, I've found my piles of certificates. They show that I had great grades, that I made it into honors programs and clubs, that I earned scholarships.  I also found essays scored with a careless A or A- and a couple of condescending comments about how I could probably change up my tone every now and again.  Yep. Not the best.


I tried to be the best, or so I thought. I wanted it (perhaps not enough). In that quest for the best, which looking back, I had zero chance of completing, I lost a lot. Or I should say, I missed a lot.

I missed parties or adventures with friends to stay home and write was was, apparently, basically the same essay 140 times. I avoided classes I would potentially not ace, because I didn't see the value in education for the sake of education.

I do now. I see it.


Even when I know it's true, it's still hard to not be the best. It's hard when someone signs up for a photo session, either through casual talk or through actual, written down, yes, I'll work with you, and then, before solidifying a date, posts photos exclaiming how awesome this photographer is and how I'll only ever work with her. And it's not me.  

It's challenging when people I trust go around talking about how incredible someone's photography is and how grateful they are to have such an awesome photographer around to take all their photos and how lucky they are to have found them. And it's not me.  Oh. Gotcha.

It's hard hearing I'm not the one chosen.

I love photography.

But I also know my limits. I know that I have some serious gaps in my maturity.

I'm not really great at handling these rejections with grace.

Beyond the rejections, for whatever those unspoken reasons from people I know and love might be, I also know I'm not at the same level the photographers I admire.

Aside from the occasional missed dinner or trip to the grocery store, I haven't sacrificed in the ways that a lot of professional photographers have, and I know I never will.

I want to grow as an artist without also worrying about growing a business.

I want to enjoy the light of a perfect spring evening without worrying if I'm going to place my clients the right way to avoid the shadow on their faces. I want to learn how the pros I admire get those perfect edits without feeling like some weird little competitor.

I want to nourish myself as an artist. End of story.

I'm incredibly grateful that my mom bought me Bittersweet. I keep coming back to the idea of seasons.  Trying to turn my photography into a business was a season. In that season, I felt foggy and like I had something to prove about my identity beyond motherhood. That season has ended.  

An hour or so after I posted my announcement, feeling lighter than I have in months, I took my kids to a local park. I buckled my daughter in the Tula, and she looked at me, smiled, and hugged me around the neck.   My son rode his bike and practiced going down hills, insisting that I watch him as he demonstrated his skills.

For what time I have with them while they're little, and for what time I have while they think I'm the best, well, I want to focus on that and not let my thoughts and my energy dwell on anything else.

I feel a new season starting, and I welcome its arrival.

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