There is a problem we all face as creatives in one way or another, and that is either being too hard on ourselves, or too happy about our own work that we take critique very personally. Both of these sides are toxic and they aren’t the essential zone we need to be in to promote and nurture growth with our work and our lives.
Over the last eight years, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know photographers who I have seen become very successful. I met them on their journey and they asked for my help in improving their retouching through one on one consultations. I noticed a trend among those that made it during our time spent together, and it wasn’t just the relentless drive they had in order to succeed, but the exceptional balance of knowing their worth while also being aware that they had room to grow.
Being an introvert, I rarely spent time with creatives in person so I was amazed at how much I could learn by seeing people work. I immediately found value in it. (Another reason why assisting is important!) It was odd to me because I couldn’t understand how that was possible. I always felt hurt when someone didn’t like my work! I took that opportunity to study them. They knew they had substance, but also welcomed ideas of improvement without taking any personal offense to it. No retaliation or distress, just appreciation.
It sounds contrary, sharing what you create because you are proud of it, but not being hurt when someone says it’s not up to par.
Progression is a balance of simultaneously being your worst critic and your biggest fan.
Knowing that you have a lot to improve upon, while being proud of what you’ve producing. Not being afraid to share what you create because you love it, while also being detached enough to welcome critique.
It sounds like multiple-personality disorder when you think about it.
“It’s like a free rollercoaster ride that your mental state has an annual pass for” – Austin Burke
Growth truly happens in this rare, nurtured zone in between the two regions. You use your joy to propel yourself forward, but not fast enough that words of opposition halt your momentum. You also don’t want to be so self-deprecating that you end up taking everyone’s advice to heart. As they say, too many cooks spoil the broth.
I have found that optimal growth really comes from a top down approach. Learning how to rise up from yourself and look at your work objectively. See the value in it and why it’s great, and then be open to the fact that it can be better but you don’t know how yet.
In a way, it’s just like traveling. I often travel because I am excited about it. I don’t particularly know what to expect when I get there, but I keep an open mind because I will find something that I will take away from it that I never thought about before going. If I kept a closed mind about what I am definitely going to expect, I will surely be proven wrong. A closed minded mentality is very sad to see in others.
Similarly, know that the destination you actually take with your work will be different than what you have in mind at this current moment. The opportunities that open up and the critiques you receive from people will be different than what you would otherwise consider. It will open your mind to possibilities of expanding your work in a way that you may not have considered before. Just know that there’s no reason to be hurt by it.
When you put your work out there, the unknown can be met with fear or excitement. With fear, comments from the public can deter your progress. If met with excitement, any feedback can be taken and used to your advantage. If most people say they do not like something, you’ve found something to consider in future pieces. As a bonus, it’s free information on how to improve. People pay for this stuff!
Another important tip I learned in growing is that you have to consider the source before considering the gravity of their opinion. Don’t let the comments of trolls impact you the same way as advice from professionals do. Or if someone is simply commenting on their own preference, it is different to how you use that versus a comment about something technically inaccurate.
Lastly, it’s all about practice. I have found that most people who have become successful spend a lot of time in this perfect zone. It’s okay to deter now and then, it’s normal. They may not have started that way either, and it may take years to reach there, but knowing that this is a place to aim for is the perfect barometer of how you are doing.
If you find yourself being overly critical, you’ll know it’s the right time to practice letting go. If you realize you’re being overly sensitive by everyone’s comments, realize that it’s happening and try adjusting accordingly by breaking down what they’re saying, who is saying it, and what you can learn from it. In time, you’ll also naturally learn to let it go over your head and move on.
I’ve been in this place in the past and I believe many of you have as well. I hope this insight will help you grow as a creative because we all deserve to live up to our potential.
About the Author
Pratik Naik is a high-end retoucher, photographer, and retouching teacher under his Solstice Retouch brand, he also runs the succesful Retouchist Blog. You can catch Pratik on social media on his Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. This article was also published here and shared with permission