What my photography tutor taught me about people pleasing

I worked my tail off on that project. I didn’t feel I had a natural affinity for photography, not the professional kind. I was more point and shoot. Apertures and F stops put my head in a spin. So every one of my brain cells was working overtime. I’d even been to B&Q to buy a bathroom cabinet to paint. That’s what you do at college isn’t it, think outside the box?

I cut up my studio photographs and arranged them as a tableau inside the cupboard, staying up all night working on it.

Photography was just one module of the Graphic Design HNC I was taking part time while I worked. The perfectionist in me wanted to do my very best so I put everything into it and I felt quietly confident when I handed it in for marking.

“It’s great. I love it” my photography tutor said. I was so relieved and pleased with myself as he went into detail about all the parts he particularly liked. And then he gave me my grade.

‘B’.

Not a bad score for a field which admittedly wasn’t my strength but the tutor had said he really liked it. He’d only pointed out good things, no mistakes or areas for improvement. I was a bit confused. Then came the kicker. “I would have given you an A but then you’d have nothing to strive for” the tutor told me.

I was speechless.

For a start photography wasn’t on the curriculum again so there would be no opportunity to do any better. And anyway what would be the point? I now knew the tutor was never going to give me an A no matter what I did for fear of stopping me from ‘striving’ for more. How he thought this was going to inspire me to greater heights I have no idea.

Surely if something is worth an A it should get an A, was my thinking. I was absolutely fuming at the time but looking back the guy did actually teach me a few lessons, even if it didn’t include the one he thought -

You can stay up all night coming up with your creative best, worthy of an A and still not get an A. Some people are never going to give you the credit even if they know your work is great. And that’s the people who love your work, others are not even going to like what you do as anything creative is subjective. So don’t sweat it. Good enough is good enough. Save your energy for the stuff which is important to you.

When you create your art, writing or design it comes from the heart of you. It’s a joyous thing to be a creative in the flow of making and you want to share some of that feeling with others when you show them your work. But not everyone is going to get it the way you do.

It could be that your parents don’t think of your creative career as ‘a proper job’. It might be that a colleague in your industry who you admire shows no interest in your work. Are you flogging a dead horse trying to impress them? Because some people just aren’t capable of giving you an A anyway, no matter how hard you try.

You can’t rely on other people for your sense of worth or how you feel about your work. You need to be careful about whose opinions you allow to matter to you. You know deep down that what you create is important and has value, even if you doubt yourself sometimes. If it didn’t you wouldn’t be doing it and thinking about it all the time. You are really the most important person in this equation. It’s more important that you are satisfied with the work you produce rather than anyone else (unless they’re paying, then compromises have to be made). Sometimes you have to be your own cheerleader.

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rachel@rachelgoth.com