On occasion our four year old gets really discouraged. We ask him to try something and he just wants me to do it for him instead.
As he learns which shoe goes on the right foot, how to spell words, or how to pronounce certain syllables that he finds difficult, he will often get discouraged and say, “I just can’t do it!”
No matter the task, I have the same response: “The way to get good at anything is simply to practice. The more you try, the better you will be and the easier it will become.”
A lot of times as artists or as business owners we like to say, “I’m just not good at that part.” Or “wow, you really have an eye for this stuff.”
We like to think that gifts are natural, that we are born an artist or we are born with a mind for business. However, I’d like to propose that we are good at the things that we invest our time, money, and energy into.
As a young photography student I can remember wanting my teacher to look at me and say, “Wow, you are so gifted! I’ve never seen a student with so much potential.”
When that over-inflated support didn’t show up, I simply started learning. I figured out how to work with my camera to get the result that I wanted, I took thousands of terrible images, I asked for help, and I improved my craft every single year.
By the time I graduated I was already pulling in income for my photography business. Not because I was born a naturally gifted photographer, but because I calmed down and dedicated myself to learning.
I believe that we can all be great at anything. You don’t need a natural eye or a mathematical brain. You just have to follow the recipe I’ve laid out for you below:
Step One: Be honest with yourself.
Often as artists we have over-inflated egos. We believe that we must enter into the field as one of the greatest or one with potential to be the greatest.
But the truth is that we are all entering into it the same. The difference between those that become successful and those that die with their work never gaining appreciation is often whether you follow the steps in this list or not.
It has nothing to do with whether you were born talented — everything can be learned.
Step Two: Seek out knowledge.
Surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing, ask them questions, and offer them support in the ways that you can. Read everything and anything that you can about the subject. Seek out constructive criticism and try to approach it as a learning experience, not as an attack on your work.
You are here to learn after all. Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions.
Step Three: Practice and refine.
Practice the work regularly. The more you do anything, the more natural it will become, the more subtleties that you will pick up on, and the better that you will be.
Once you’ve practiced for a while, look at the work that you admire, ask what they are doing differently than you and start practicing those techniques. Refine your work based off of the information that you receive.
Step Four: Ask yourself what makes you different.
Often the difference between being good and great is figuring out what you bring to the table that others don’t. Infuse your personality and your life experience into your work.
During my senior portfolio class I had a student completely copy my project. As an art student it was discouraging. As a professional, I feel bad for them.
You will never be able to find your own path in an industry if you are mimicking the work of others. Learn from them, yes. But, differentiate yourself.
Maybe you take light and airy photographs, but your real talent is pulling out the emotion of your clients. There may be a million light and airy photographers out there, but your combination will be specific to you. Embrace that.
Step Five: Never stop learning.
There is no finish line. There is no “finally made it.” Even the people who are teaching you how to do the work are still constantly seeking wisdom and knowledge.
Keep up with the times and track the trends of your industry. The day we stop seeking knowledge is the day that we stop getting better and you will watch others zoom past you. Keep your eye on the people you look up to, learn from them, keep trying, and never stop growing.
You’ve got this, no matter who you are or where you start!