I am a big proponent of sharing both wins and losses. I get the rationale behind only ever wanting to showcase success, and only ever speaking about struggles when they are framed within a motivational narrative. There’s this idea that if you want to look attractive to peers and clients, you must exude a positive mindset at all times; that being critical of things that don’t work is counterproductive and a bummer to be around. I do not agree with this line of thinking, and I hope to explain why.
I’ve been photographing live music for years now. When I looked for motivation, there was no shortage of people giving an encouraging word. There was an abundance of anecdotal evidence provided by people who were succeeding, so why shouldn’t I think it’s possible for me to do the same? Just work hard, be kind, and keep trying, right? Well…yes, but there’s a ton of info missing. There’s so much missing, in fact, that I think it would be unfair to consider it nuance or minutiae. Sometimes, you will work hard, be kind, and be persistent, and things will still not pan out the way you expect. Sometimes, those things are out of your control. It isn’t a poor reflection of you or your talent if things don’t work out once, twice, or ten times, and that’s something I wish I could have heard. When I would feel defeated and exhausted, it was incredibly difficult to find a word of reassurance, or someone who would relate to the frustration I was experiencing. It was just more of the same “keep on going” language, and while I think that has its place, it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted someone to tell me they understood, and that they’ve been there. I didn’t want to feel like I was wrong for being unhappy with the way things were. I wanted to feel seen.
It has been a challenge thinking of how to phrase this post, because I definitely don’t want to stifle anyone’s motivation. However, I do think that I am not alone in wanting encouragement that can still acknowledge how much of a mess things can be and how things can fall through. So, if you’ve felt like no one responds to your pitches, or that it’s difficult to have your contributions taken seriously, you are not alone. If you have had artists claim to want to work with you, only to vanish when the time comes, you are not alone. If you feel like it’s difficult to make a lasting impression, you are not alone. If you have ever felt like your time and talent have been exploited, you are not alone. The industry has its rough patches, and maybe there are more of them than we are comfortable to admit, but it isn’t all rough. There will be people who believe in you and advocate for you, and who won’t uphold the worst parts of this experience. It can be really difficult to keep that in mind when you are just starting out, or if you’ve been doing this for a while and you’ve encountered a dry spell. I have felt this way, and will feel this way again.
When I sat down to write this, I didn’t want it to become an “it gets better” post, and I didn’t want it to become an advice column—I don’t have the answers. In my experience, there isn’t some threshold you reach where you only ever get the best gigs and everyone is lovely. There will be wins, but they won’t all be wins. There will be kind, helpful people, but not everyone you encounter will be that way. There are people who misrepresent themselves, there are people who will lie, and there are people who will try to take advantage of you. More importantly, your peers have experienced this, much in the same way that you have. This is anecdotal, but I can say there have been several occasions where an opportunity presented itself after I was transparent about my frustrations. It is entirely possible to be honest about your disappointments and frustrations, and also foster the positive relationships that you have and build new ones. It is possible (and if you ask me, necessary) to be critical of things you enjoy. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.