Monday, 21 March 2011

motivation, satisfaction, expectation and success

Four separate words, all linked, but somehow all jostling for position in a hierarchy hidden in the depths of my psyche. Time to have a small peek I think.

I have had this post sat here in draft for several months, more as an unanswered train of thought than any informative nuggets I can share with you. But still I think it is worthy of raising, as the thoughts surrounding these words engulf me frequently and affect my attitude towards my own photography work.

Money isn't a motivator for me. Whilst it is a necessity, as an end in itself it seems a hollow ambition and in this line of work would be pretty hopeless. It isn't the degree either, although it does provide a direction of travel. And I don't necessarily want to be a commercial photographer. Dipping my toe in on a number of occasions hasn't whet my appetite. So why the hell am I investing so much of my energy in to photography? And it does concern me that I may look back and think 'why did I spend so much time on all that'.  Most things in life are done for a purpose.  Your education, your career, your financial stability, family and lots of other things too. This isn't.

I do it because I like creating and I study because I want to create more interesting, developed ideas. When I am creating, I am absorbed in the moment. It provides my escapism, therapy even - a selfish indulgence.  I do it, because I love doing it, period.

But, there is something else. I don't know how this will sound and don't want to come across conceited.  I do not have an over-inflated view of my own work, but there is an irritating desire or niggle I can't dispel. I don't want to leave this life without having left some sort of creative legacy or achievement. As I haven't quantified 'success', 'achievement' or 'legacy' it is a fairly woolly notion. Why I feel the need to do this perplexes me. My parents were not pushy, no one has ever put any pressure on all comes from me...and creates a significant disquiet in me.  This definitely is a big motivator that drives me on...possibly too much, I need to let the wu wei take hold and believe...this all sounds very waffly and I don't quite know where I'm going with it...but sometimes by proclaiming your thoughts, they start to make more sense. So this is the internal 'driver', I haven't articulated what this means in terms of an external output.

Strangely, the process of creating the imagery is where I gain most satisfaction.  Viewing my finished work I derive frustratingly limited pleasure.  This is tied in with expectations which I'll come on to next.

This is, in my life in general, where I am my own worst enemy.  I have always set myself ridiculously high standards.  I indirectly set myself up to fail, as no matter what I achieve I cannot 'please me'. Boy, can you imagine being married to me!!! I don't plague others with these targets I must add. I am an optimist, but I neglect my progress and focus on how far I haven't reached.  I compare myself to the greats and fall short.  In other words, my expectations exceed both my confidence and level of skill. This is a problem as I am disappointed more often than not.  I do need to learn to set myself realistic expectations so that I have a chance of reaching them.

Setting parameters for success is in my mind really important and its absence a cause of internal turmoil.  I haven't, and I think this is the root of some of my own anxiety.  It is time I clarified to myself what I would consider 'a success'.  At what point could I look at my work and say 'yes, I'm pleased, this has been a success'.  What are the boxes I need to tick, for me to consider my work 'a success'. Otherwise I could continue endlessly without acknowledging any milestones or achievements.

I don't know if I'm alone in this and feel slightly exposed. But again, this process to me has always been about honesty with myself and therefore anyone who cares to read.  I haven't thought any of this through fully, but think it is time...

There are various articles I have read on this subject, largely related to street photography. See below: and here


  1. I've spent a large part of my career in sales, or in environments where sales played a significant part in success. As a consequence, I have lived by targets - probably for most of the last 30+ years. Whatever some of the so-called gurus might say, trying to motivate people by setting them extremely challenging goals is nonsense (even if it might occasionally provide good entertainment on reality TV shows!) - it just causes stress and frustration without delivering a result. However, having targets and objectives, which enable you to measure your own success, and which you learn from and develop as you understand more about the way you work, can be a genuine source of motivation - and satisfaction, of course.

    You're not alone - Penny, or Rob!

  2. Thanks Rob and Stan. Sounds like you might have had enough of targets then Stan after 30 years - good advice though - difficult to quantify success in art but I think its worth a stab!!

  3. As Rob says, you're not alone Penny. I look forward to hearing how you get on with your success criteria. I was too tired last night to comment on your post but thought your tutor's suggestion that you show your work a very good one. I also think that the fact that he thinks you are ready to exhibit is in itself a very great compliment.

  4. Hi Penny - yes I'm still here, lurking and digesting all that is said and enjoying your photographs. That's a wonderful post and I think you've just highlighted how most creative people feel. I have to agree with stanOCA's comments 100% - I also work in sales and lately, my own appraisals have less and less to do with personal development and are all to do with money. If I don't hit target then I get marked down, miss target for a 2nd year I become a subject for "performance management"! ie, improve or be fired!! and I just get stressed and frustrated. Although I've kinda decided that photography is not the medium for me at this stage of my life, I am getting huge satisfaction from my writing. My motivation is that I know this stuff needs to be recorded now before memories are lost, and my success is measured really by my own satisfaction. If I get a postive comment from a reader then I'm over the moon, cos that usually means that other people like it too but haven't bothered to tell me, if I get a dozen or more comments then wow... That then motivates me to do more, develop my style and research more. No money involved here either, it's all for the love of doing something I really enjoy.

  5. It is strange what motivates us all - but there is clearly pitfalls both professionally and personally that badly affect our enjoyment, satisfaction or indeed sales targets that we have to watch out for.

    Eileen, the success criteria may be a while in coming I think, as may the exhibition...really not sure what my tutor would want to exhibit - definitely not the street photography, lol!!

    Good to see you around again Adey - I'm sorry I cannot contribute more to your blog but my knowledge on bike heritage is, well, crap. How is the book going? It sounds like you have a real talent for the writing. Even if photography isn't your chosen medium, don't stop taking pictures, even if its just the children...

    on my way out now...see ya later.

  6. Penny, I need to think more before I write. Back later when head is working.

  7. OK. Sunday morning and head not hurting. I am not convinced that I am at all well placed to reply to your posting Penny, because I am probably as confused as you are.
    Motivation. Being motivated starts like any journey I guess and that’s with the first step. Walking Blencathra needs that first step away from the car, when it would be so cosy just to sit in a pub and spend all day talking about how good it would be. We have taken that first step, via L1 or APEL and we choose to "do something" rather that just talk about it. The level of motivation may vary during the steep bits but that is just a way of measuring our resistance to the work. We aren’t all as clever as say Steven Fry, who would just walk through it.
    Satisfaction, Expectation and Success.
    These are almost impossible to measure as we have chosen art as our medium. There are elements of success that can be verified by our tutor and that may give us comfort or concern especially about technical issues but beyond that I am not sure we have the answers. You may have read "Photography - A Critical Introduction by Liz Wells" and if like me have more questions after every chapter. I am still relying upon my own instincts rather than getting too "geekish" about the photographic elite. I enjoy planning and shooting but I hate looking at my own work and find myself trying to explain the photographs in an apologetic style, even before I receive comment from a viewer.
    The only tangible "success" may be one day being handed a scroll with BA(Hons) Photography written upon it, but that wont change us as individuals, or will it ?

  8. Hi Nigel, there is a feeling of being in a quagmire when it comes to the theoretical and critical side of the studies. Some of the stuff is really heavy going and just seems to create, as you say, more questions and confusion, than assistance. With regards instinct, I think we all have to rely on this to a certain extent for the want of greater understanding. However, one of the tutors made no allowances for the reliance on instincts, see this post regarding Cindy Sherman, . The tutors, I have read in the past, have made the distinction between what is good and what you like, but then it is hard to know what type of work you need to produce yourself and how do you really know!! With regards success, the tutor's comments, whilst helpful and instructive, aren't an end in themselves, even the degree only means something if you do something with it. I sort of wonder about competitions or profile, would that be an indicator?? Really tricky...

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Nigel...