It was a great night. I had hugged, shaken hands with, and taken photos with people that had been coming and going for hours. Looking back, the whole evening was a blur of drinking wine, connecting with friends, family, colleagues, new faces of the community, and listening to live music. People were literally spilling into the streets. My first gallery was finally opening!
July 14th was the culmination of months-long investments of time, money, and emotion that eventually resulted in my long-awaited dream.
Needless to say, being my first gallery and all, I was filled with a nervous excitement about everything I was doing. I was nervous because I was working on something unfamiliar and new, and excited because I couldn’t wait to see the fruits of my labor. Fortunately, the stars aligned and the turnout that night was huge. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. In fact, Rudy Fischer, a Pacific Grove city councilman said during the ribbon cutting that this is one of “biggest openings he’s seen.”
But there’s another side to this story that I feel compelled to share with you. And by compelled I really mean scared as hell. Despite outward appearances during the evening of my opening, leading up to the big event, and even the next day to some degree, I didn’t feel like a success. I say I’m scared because who likes admitting they don’t feel successful? That they aren’t smart enough, good enough, not accomplished enough, or weak in any way? And why should I feel like that after such a great night? What the hell is wrong with me?
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that all my concerns, insecurities, fears, and failures were not part of that event. They were, and they were in full force. If I’m honest, I think they always are.
The reason I feel compelled to share both sides of this coin is because of a text I received recently from a friend, fellow artist, and photographer. For all intents and purposes, my friend is named Catherine, and she asked: “When should a person come to the conclusion that they have peaked and just won’t improve with their photo skills because what they have gone is a high as they can go?”
Beyond her text, Catherine and I talked and I learned that she intended to sell all her gear and quit photography. Catherine was officially burnt out. The craft she invested so much time and money into, that she poured so much emotion and soul into, was no longer fun. In fact, it was offering quite the opposite.
And why should any of us continue a thing if it offers no joy?
The reasons she felt discouraged had their roots in seeing others around her that have spent less time, money, and effort, and maybe even care than her; yet, they seemingly had accomplished more. She was comparing herself and coming up empty.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt
So, what do Catherine’s text and feelings have to do with me? Well, Catherine is me, and may even be you. I’m scared to admit this too, but for a fair chunk of my life over the last five years. I’ve hated all of my nature and underwater photography, and frankly, hated looking at the work of others. I too had burned out, got no joy out of what I was doing, and was deeply discouraged. I, like Catherine, felt I had plateaued, peaked, and that I couldn’t go any higher.
We are all our own worst critics. We see all of our imperfections that no one else pays attention to; we spend countless hours thinking about those perceived deficiencies and allow them to preoccupy our thoughts, making them bigger than they are.
Yes, my opening was a success. But the fact of the matter is I haven’t yet talked about how two weeks before the opening I had a huge construction problem occur. At one point, I KNEW I needed to cancel my opening. And it was the second opening date that I had announced (which would certainly make me a bigger fool than if I canceled just one). I KNEW that I was going to have to move if I could even afford to, and possibly give up on this foolish gallery idea altogether. I haven’t yet pointed out the flaws in how we painted the walls, how the paper isn’t hanging on the walls exactly as I hoped, how my images in the front windows are terribly hard to see during the day because the glass is sooo reflective. I could go on.
Ultimately, I don’t have the perfect answer for Catherine, or even myself. But through experience, through trial and error, by feeling discouraged from comparing myself to others who look like they’ve achieved more, I KNOW that negative feelings and thoughts are temporary.
In contrast, I also know that so are thoughts of success. But, they go hand in hand. Success and failure must dance together. It’s a balance. And regardless of one’s level of talent or their list of accomplishments, life is a constant ebb and flow of successes and failures.
Nothing is ever perfect, but jumping in before you feel ready is always better than not jumping in at all.
I’m thrilled I decided not to quit photography when I felt stuck. I wasn’t done being creative, I was just done creating in the way I was creating. I needed to simply find new ways to express myself and engage my work. I needed to experience other techniques, styles, approaches, subjects, feelings, and narratives.
Hitting walls is inevitable. Feeling discouraged is going to happen. Making mistakes and failing is certainly in your future and mine.
We have two choices in engaging our art (and our lives): we learn to adapt and change as time goes on, or we quit.
So, let’s not stop. Expect the obstacles, and embrace them. Let’s tell ourselves that this is me being a part of the process that I must go through in order to find the wins that are just as inevitable the loses. Here’s a quote I love:
“Failure is an event, not a person.” – Zig Ziglar
These emails, like my gallery itself, are a way for me to support you and the photographic community. I want my gallery to be a center for creative thought, learning craft, and building community, and I want these emails to support that. To support you.
Have you ever felt stuck, discouraged, disenchanted, or that you’ve peaked? What helped you get out of that rut? Have you got creative or technical struggles or challenges? Did you break out of it? Or are you still stuck?
What can I do to help you take the next steps on your creative path?
Your replies to these emails come directly to me; no gatekeepers keep me from seeing your message. Want a more personal connection? Contact me any way you choose through the info below. I’d love to see you in person and talk about all of this and show you the new gallery.
Stay outside, stay engaged, stay playful
– Jason Bradley
PS – The gallery is open Tuesday and Thursday from 10:00 to 5:00, or by appointment. Call me ahead of time to make sure I’m there working with my wing-man Joe Platko, but reach out to me, to us.