For a highly competitive culture obsessed with early success
Do you ever look at your life and ask, “Is this all I’m going to be?”
When I was 17, all I wanted was to become a photographer. There were many things I wasn’t sure of—my friends, my emotions and my self—but this, I was certain of. With my shiny pink digital camera—a gift for my sweet 16th many moons ago—I could conquer the world. (Note: It was so low-res that my photographs looked like it was produced with a film camera.) Now, I didn’t have an end goal; I just wanted to shoot every chance I could.
Everything made complete sense when I could document it. If words weren’t enough, I had this memory made tangible handed to me; this happened. They say your first 10,000 photographs are your worst, mine were my favorite. They were honest and vulnerable—fueled by passion and innocence—completely devoid of any societal pressure for it to mean something.
I took every opportunity I could to learn. When I had long breaks, I would go around campus and find light. Every summer, I’d gather my friends in forgotten lots and empty garages to produce DIY shoots. At 18, I started taking in jobs with a camera upgrade after months of pleading. I would be taken advantage of but for every added layout, my skill and character both grew. Time was not wasted.
This dream was planted inside my heart and it bore fruit through well-intentioned labor. When I pray for something, it usually comes with an active pursuit of something else. When I wanted God to move, He was waiting for me to start doing the work.
What’s the Rush?
Nowadays, it seems that everybody is doing everything at such a young age. Adapting to everybody else’s version of “progress” in this (digital) age is so exhausting. I can’t keep up and it’s okay. Maybe we need to lift off that weight and just realize that, simply put, good things take time. Not everyone awakens to his or her own potential so early in the game. As years pass by, it seems that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to yield to childlike wonder (because life happens).
An Ode to Late Bloomers
Forbes Magazine publisher Rich Karlgaard argues the case for blooming late in his bestselling book Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement. He believes that our culture’s fixation with early achievement deters us from pursuing our passions. He writes, “So what exactly does it mean to be a late bloomer? Simply put, a late bloomer is a person who fulfills their potential later than expected; they often have talents that aren’t visible to others initially… And they fulfill their potential frequently in novel and unexpected ways, surprising even those closest to them. They are not attempting to satisfy, with gritted teeth, the expectations of their parents or society, a false path that leads to burnout and brittleness, or even to depression and illness… Late bloomers are those who find their supreme destiny on their own schedule, in their own way.
The popular advice is we just need more confidence, more assurance, more chutzpah. But the issue with confidence is how we try to achieve it. Too often we try to win high self-regard in cheap ways. We undermine others, or we compare our achievements to those of the weakest around us. We conform to cultural norms, believing that what society values are what we value and that how society defines success is how we must define success.”
There’s something liberating about overcoming your fear of creating something mediocre. It’s okay to free yourself from self-made expectations and standards once in a while. You’ll eventually get to the good and the great when you make peace with “okay lang” and “pwede na.” If you expect to always create work you can be proud of, you’ll end up not creating anything at all.
American public radio personality Ira Glass perfectly encapsulates our desire for greatness. He shares, “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, [this is what] I wish someone told me. [For] all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap.
For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste—the thing that got you into the game—is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this.
If you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Art Alexandra Lara