You can’t really follow someone else’s path through life, certainly not step for step. But a part of us always wants to try.
“Other people, in whatever context they are found, are a tough place in which to find yourself and discover your own path. In groups, it is even harder. Groups tend to encourage a certain level of conformity. They don’t do it to be mean. They don’t do it to kill your spirit. It just happens. It’s hard to do otherwise because when we’re all trying to find our own way in a group, the only real common ground is where our images are similar rather than where they are unique. It is much easier and much more comfortable to focus on what lies in the middle — in that small area where our photographs overlap, like the middle of a Venn diagram.”
– Photographer, David duChemin, “Clubs, Competitions, & Critiques”
He’s talking about camera clubs and photographs, but this applies to all of life.
There is a part of us that is undeniably attracted to the center of the Venn diagram — the place where we all overlap. It dreams of formulas, well-worn paths, and cookie cutter factory molds. This aspect of our being pushes us toward center, because it believes that little space is where safety lies:
When I am just like everyone else, I will be okay.
But if we give in to the pull of sameness, look at all the color we’ll miss out on.
You are not a factory stamp model. You are a unique being on your own journey through life. And there is so much of you that exists beyond the center. How sad for the rest of us if we never get to experience your color. Giving up the fullness of who you are is not the way to safety; it’s the path that leads to boredom and resentment.
Safety, if there is such a thing, lies beyond center — in the land of your uniqueness. In this place, we’re all the same, and all different; and that’s wonderful. This is the land where there is no competition, because who could be a better you than you? It’s the place where other people’s criticism has only as much meaning as you choose to give it. As ruler of this land, the right way to do things is the way you do them.
It’s a far more challenging place, because no one can tell you what to do or where to go. They can offer help and suggestions, but in the end, you write the guidebook.
Journeying through this realm, I’m convinced, is the only way to find true satisfaction in life. Because if you think about it, that place in the center, the one we’re all wanting to cram ourselves into; it’s not real. For the most part, it’s just a place some people, at some point in time, agreed on. They decided: this is the right way to make a photograph, cook a meal, raise a child, live a life, and some other people agreed to followed along.
The Venn diagram is a useful visual, but it’s a tool of logic. The only way to journey through the land of your uniqueness is with your instincts — your heart and your intuition. Your inner voice is your guide, and the only security that really exists.
Have you listened to it today?
P.S. David duChemin writes one of the few photography blogs I subscribe to. If you need some encouragement to continue following your creative instincts, the article I quoted is well worth reading. He also writes an interesting newsletter on marketing for artists and creators.