Lessons Learned

I’ve always been the type of person who tries to see each experience and situation as a potential learning opportunity. I like to analyze things and find ways to make something better, to try something new or to see how it can change things in my own life. This year has been one of the biggest learning lessons for me. I’ve felt that in the past 11 months I’ve had a lot of opportunities to learn more about myself, to learn about the world around me, to learn how to be better and do better and how to move towards the goals I have in life.

I learned not to take everything so seriously and that it’s ok to take a break. For the past few years I’ve put myself into the habit of creating an image or photograph every single day. Mostly because I liked it, but also because I’m stubborn and don’t like to feel like I’ve missed a goal. Eventually, the need to create started to creep up on my desire to create and I found myself scrambling to come up with ideas and making photographs that  I wasn’t proud of. I was shooting in the wrong light, in the wrong location, editing too quickly and making errors..all because I felt my own internal pressure to have something to produce for that day. It was as though my day didn’t amount to anything if I didn’t post a photograph. Combine that with working a full-time job, being in a relationship, training for a marathon and the regular daily stuff I was starting to burn out. Thankfully, I went on a trip to Indiana to meet and photograph with friends and photographers and the trip truly changed my outlook. I was forced to take a break from my self-imposed pressure and I began to feel as though tiny weights were  being unclipped from my mind. Suddenly I felt more passionate about photography, I felt like my world slowed down for  a second and that I had time to look and see and feel again. When I came home from that trip I saw my own photography journey as less of a sprint to get photos out and more of a marathon a long journey with many miles and views. I learned that it was not the end of the world if I didn’t post a photo each day, that if I wanted to go for a hike or meet a friend for coffee or simply stay in and watch tv all day, I could and that didn’t make me less of a photographer or put a negative mark on me in any way. It seems silly to me now to say that I once felt like that but I did and I’m thankful to have learned the lesson to slow down.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/joel_r/7049510635/in/set-72157629005806697

I learned to distance myself from “the online bad guys”. I’ve spent much of my time in the last year trying to build up my photography business and online presence. Posting on Flickr, Facebook, Instagram and other websites has been the main driving point to where I am today and I wouldn’t have any many of the amazing opportunities had I not been so active in these social outlets. But, as I’ve learned this year, for every positive note and comment there can be someone looking to bring to you down. A few months ago I posted a blog post on my feelings around copyright infringement and uncredited sharing of my work. I wrote it solely for the purpose of sharing my own personal feelings and to get my mind clear on the subject.  Shortly after, an image of mine (which was taken and edited without permission) was posted on a popular Facebook page and things took a bit of a nasty turn. My friends and supporters of my work, quickly began linking my photography page and the post I wrote in the comments and by the time I became aware of the whole situation,  a sort of wildfire had broken out. While I appreciate people standing up for me, the other people posting comments on the post were not so enthusiastic and I started to receive some pretty nasty comments, messages and emails. Up until this point I hadn’t ever really experienced much of the negative side of social media. It took the wind out of my sail for a few days and I wasn’t sure how to respond.  It was my older brother who finally said something that helped. He said that “there are people in the world who have nothing to do  than to enjoy the anonymous act of making other people feel bad, because they can. They won’t think about it the next day or the next week even though you’ve been hurt. These aren’t the people who you should spend your energy on, it’s the people who support you that you should focus on”. Even though it seemed totally obvious, it made sense and it changed the way I looked at social media and my interactions with it. Now, when I get a comment or a negative message, I either try to ignore it or I try to find something positive to focus on instead,. This image below was inspired by a message that I received a few weeks ago telling me that I was self-centered and that I shouldn’t believe that the world revolves around me (I don’t think that at all…) so instead of feeling hurt, I turned it into inspiration to create.  The lesson of distancing myself from ‘haters’ is one that has taken a while and one that I’ve struggled with the most, but it’s helped me to become a more positive and focussed person.

I’ve learned to be more organized. If you know me, you will know that I am unorganized, a bit messy, and sometimes a little forgetful. I’ve always been that way and while I know that it drives some people crazy, it’s not something that I find I can fix easily. With that said, this year I’ve had to learn to become more organized. It started around March when, after being featured on a popular literature blog, I had a few busy days in my Etsy print shop. I found myself one day looking at our living room floor which was now covered in envelopes, prints, address labels and business cards and having a mild panic attack. I knew at that point that I was going to have to be more organized. Shortly after that I started making a weekly list, inspired by Alex Beadon. Each sunday I spend about 30 minutes going over the next week and all the things I have to do that week, broken down into categories:  mailing stuff, photo stuff, random stuff, emailing stuff.  I star the ones that have to be done right away and I highlight them as I finish them. It’s rather neat to be able to go back in the book and see all the things that I’ve managed to get done (or put off) for the past few months and even though I’m still fighting the messy desk and scattered email inbox, I feel much more in charge of my photography business.

And finally, I’ve learned the true value of friendship (cue “awwwwws”). I’ve always had a difficult time feeling totally comfortable around people and in most cases feeling like my friendships were working. I’ve distanced myself from a lot of people in the last few years and through this have found myself rather isolated. Thankfully, this year I’ve been so fortunate to make and build some truly incredible friendships with people who I feel not only understand me but also think in the same way I do. Through the benefits of social media I’ve been able to collaborate and have incredible conversations with friends from around the world and I’m so thankful to have been able to attend three meetups (soon to be four) and be able to build these friendships in real life. I think I started to forget the value in friendship and the value in not being totally introverted. I don’t think I can ever say thank you enough to the hilarious and inspiring friends that I’ve been so fortunate to make this year.

So, as this year comes to a close I look back and feel that as difficult as it was (even though some of it was self-imposed) I’ve come out of it all with a better understanding of myself, of what I want in my life and how I can get there. I feel that I’ve grown up this year, that I’ve validated myself and become more confident in my own mind and in my photography and that I’m heading in the right direction.
Thank you to all of you, who read this blog, who leave me positive and uplifting comments and messages and who continue to help me learn and grow.

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11 thoughts on “Lessons Learned

  1. Fantastic my friend! Thank you for sharing your story. Always have enjoyed viewing your work and the change in your work over time. Thanks for being an inspiration. Hope we can meet up one day soon!!!

  2. You continue to inspire me Joel. I’m lucky to have such warm and caring man to look up to. Not to mention talented. xoxo

  3. Joel, it’s been a weeks since I discovered your Blog and everything I have read from you so far feels so sincere and clear. When I am reading, I really identify with you, and it’s so good knowing that there’s somewhere in the world that shares those feelings. Just wanted to thank you for your beautiful posts, and cheer you up in everything you do in your life.

    Greetings from Spain and sorry for my bad English!

    Marina Gondra

  4. I just made a cup of tea and sat down reading your latest blogposts :) Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences from this year. You are a wonderful person and I think it´s amazing that so many of you flickr-people got the chance to meet up this year. I wish you all the best in 2013, and I´m looking forward to following you on your journey!

  5. Thank you. Your post was an inspiring read. Social media can be a rough ride, especially when others are unkind or take advantage of your learning curve. On the other hand it is a wonderful way to meet like-minded and new friends.

    One wish for those that create in the digital realm is to please have a page that explains your share policy and how you would prefer that be done. Some create a special album page in Google+ for this and others on their own site. Some ask for a link back to a specific page. This is where photo metadata and naming are important. I think that Google+ authorship is worth looking into.

    Another is a website page designed so that a primary image shows up when the link is posted.

    We all get excited about what we see and would love to share it but there can be consequences to the creator.

    I found that links to Stipple.com helpful in this regard after I read a post by photographer Colby Brown about his distress over sharing.

    Wishing everyone the best in this New Year & beyond :)

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