Above: Image by Gina Milicia
Do you remember the last time you were embarrassed? Did you accidentally call your teacher Mum, discover that you just walked five blocks with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe, or accidentally shaved an eyebrow off when you were nine? I’ve been guilty of all of these and many more. It’s perfectly normal to be a klutz, make mistakes, do dumb things.
Now I want you to try and remember a time that someone you know personally, a family member, friend, or workmate went through an embarrassing experience? I’ll wait…
It’s a lot harder to think of someone, isn’t it? I’m racking my brains, and I can remember someone in grade two pooped in their pants, but I can’t for the life of me remember their name, or what they look like. The rest is kind of hazy.
“You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realise how seldom they do.” —David Foster Wallace
That person I remember pooping their pants in grade two probably still feels the shame and humiliation of that experience but the reality is most of us who were there to witness the event can barely remember it.
When we feel embarrassed, it’s a reaction to being judged by others. If you do something embarrassing and nobody sees it, then it’s not really that embarrassing, is it? So to feel embarrassed we need an audience. Feeling ashamed is a reaction based on fear. We live in fear of being judged by others.
The fear of being judged is a reaction to the fact that we all just want to be liked by other people, to be accepted as part of the tribe. We were programmed this way back in the caveman days to keep us safe. Back then if you if you were rejected by ‘The Tribe’ it meant that you’d be excluded and on your own and if you’re on your own you are in danger. I mean the real danger of being eaten by a lion or trampled by a dinosaur, so it was a matter of life or death.
My biggest regret is that I spent so many years caring about what other people thought about me. When I was an assistant, I was lucky enough to work with some of the best photographers in the country. There were countless opportunities for me to ask them questions to further my education. I never asked. Why? I worried more about what these people thought of me then I cared about advancing my photography education.
It was my fear of being judged that stopped me from asking. I wanted to be seen as cool and knowing it all. In my mind, anything I asked these photographers would be seen as dumb, or something that I should already know. I didn’t want to be seen as stupid incompetent so I never asked and I missed so many great opportunities to learn and evolve.
We spend our lives comparing our work in progress to everyone else finished product. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone that is successful at their craft was once an amateur trying to figure out how everything works.
Great artists are not born that way. It takes years of work, failure and rejection. The most successful ones seek out mentors, ask questions and keep experimenting.
Next time you feel embarrassed about asking a question or seeking critique remind yourself that this reaction is perfectly normal and “If you don’t ask, you don’t get!”
What has been your greatest photography regret? I’d love to hear from you.