14 – On Mediocrity

In today’s over-competitive world, the word mediocrity has taken on a decidedly negative connotation. When we say something is mediocre, we mean it is not good, even worse than average.

In reality, on any scale by which we can measure the quality of what we produce, something that is of median quality is, by definition, better than 50% of the rest. Is that such a bad place to be? We don’t think so.

There are some photographers whose work we admire greatly. Looking at our bookshelves right now we can see books by Steve McCurry, Sebastião Salgado, Nick Brandt, Art Wolfe, and others. If we put our work besides theirs, we can’t help feeling that ours is so much inferior that the only word to define it is mediocre, in comparison.

Our first advice to those who feel the same is the following: if you want to overcome your mediocrity, do more work. Study the work of the masters and practice deliberately. If it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient at anything, as Malcolm Gladwell says, then start rolling up your sleeves.

There are no shortcuts, but we can guarantee you that you will become better, if you don’t give up.

“I know that to paint the sea really well, you need to look at it every hour of every day in the same place, so that you can understand its way.”

Claude Monet

In the end, however, you will never be completely satisfied with whatever goal you have achieved, because dissatisfaction is part of human nature and is what drives us to reach even loftier goals.

Another piece of advice that we feel we should share is this:

Stop comparing your work to that of others.

Most of all, never ever compare your work to what you see posted online by those who rake in thousands of likes for each photo they post on Facebook or 500px. That is just a popularity contest and the factors that determine popularity have little or nothing to do with quality.

If you do and if you make your satisfaction depend on popularity, we can assure you that you will never be satisfied.

“I’ve been woken from enlightened man’s dream / Checkin’ Instagram comments to crowdsource my self esteem.”

Kanye West

Appreciate what you have, do not compare yourself to others and every achievement will be more meaningful.

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“Mind the gap” audio sample courtesy of bbc.co.uk – © 2018 BBC. Click here to download the original file.

  • May 15, 2019
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