They must have changed their algorithm at Instagram, because I used to put up random snapshots and get likes from a lot of non-followers and my follower list grew slowly but surely. Then one day, things changed. Now I hardly get a like from anyone but my followers, which is not a bad thing of course, but if one wants her photos to be seen by a wider audience, that’s not going to cut it.
Instagram is a game of numbers. The more followers you have, the higher you are on the algorithm and the more people see your photos. However, I’m not willing to play the “get 10,000 followers instantly” game. I want people to actually like what I do. And since I don’t have 10,000 followers or even 200, then it’s not likely that I’m going to get new followers anytime soon, well, except for the ones who are playing the “get 10,000 followers instantly” game. I get a few of them, but they unfollow me pretty quickly if I don’t follow them back. I know that’s the game, but I’m not interested. Maybe I should be.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I started a 365 challenge on April 1 and I think it’s going pretty well. Some photos are good, others not so much. To experiment and see what works, what doesn’t, and to stretch my boundaries is why I’m doing the challenge in the first place, so I accept the good with the not so much.
I’ve never been good at being a beginner. After reading an article by Amy Clover on perfectionism — check out her website Strong Inside Out — I realized that I’ve always thought that you were either good at something or not. If I wasn’t good when I first tried something, I would quit, assuming I would never be good at it so why bother.
I also based my self-worth on whether or not I was good at something right away. Obviously, since I quit before I could get good, my self-worth has suffered quite a bit. My self-worth has also been affected by the number of likes, comments, and followers I got or more often, didn’t get. Basing your self-worth on external validation is a losing battle. It’s about time to validate my own damn self, right?
I’m sticking with this blog and my photography because I enjoy it, whether anyone sees it or not. I’m trying my hand at allowing myself to be a beginner and maybe one day I’ll get better at it. Maybe one day, I’ll be good at it. I’m “doing it different”. That’s my mantra and I’m sticking to it.
The Not So Much
Don’t think you’re on the right road just because it’s a well-beaten path.
A few days ago, I was stuck in my head. You see, I still don’t have a job. I’ve applied for about twenty jobs and not a nibble. I’m trying to be pickier than I have in the past, because I want to do something that will be interesting, challenging, and/or fun. Apparently my résumé doesn’t have the keywords for the fun, interesting jobs. My résumé only shows that I have experience at jobs I don’t want to do anymore, which makes me either over-qualified or under-qualified for all the jobs I’ve applied for.
My goal is not to dwell on the lack of job, but to do things I enjoy doing, so I’ve been working on my photography skills, remembering how to play the piano, and doing a little reading. I’m doing what makes me happy in the hope of bringing more enjoyment into my life, including a fun job. Like begets like, right?
However, sometimes my brain gets stuck in a downward spiral of fear and gloom. When that happens, I go for a hike. (I’ve been hiking a lot lately.) Luckily, hiking takes me out of my head and into my body, which, I have to say, is much more level-headed and intelligent than my brain. I should spend more time there.
I was following a moderately easy trail which begins with a long, slow, steady incline and doesn’t let up until you get to the top. I spent most of the way up talking to the universe. I explained to the universe that I know it gives us signs all the time, but I can’t see any signs, because my fear of scarcity, money in particular, blinds me to any signs the universe may give me. I told the universe it was going to have to make my signs a little more obvious, maybe a big flashing neon arrow pointing HERE’S YOUR SIGN because apparently I’m missing them all.
When I got close to the top of the incline though, my mind started to slow and my body took over. Lack of oxygen will take you out of your head every time. As I focused on my breathing, I watched as my feet moved steadily along the trail, one step after the other, in rhythm with my breath. I noticed then that I had a bit of tunnel vision. I wasn’t seeing anything other than the trail right in front of me. So I decided to look up, when suddenly a flash of color caught my eye. It was a line of tiny yellow flowers.
The flowers weren’t on the main trail, but on a steep side trail. I had to scramble a little bit to get to them. As I headed up, I also noticed to my right, a tiny lavender flower growing all by itself. I’m like a kid in a candy shop when it comes to flowers. My eyes get wide and I even giggle a little with glee. (There’s a reason I’m called a plant nerd.)
It was then that I realized that these flowers were my sign. I had been so focused on what was directly in front of me that I almost missed it. Come over this way. Look at this beauty that was right here the whole time. Go see what’s at the top of the hill. Turn around. Here’s a view you never would have seen if you hadn’t followed the signs. I reveled in the beauty and gave the universe a big cosmic hug and a thank you.
What was the sign, you say? Stop following someone else’s path.
I’ve never been one to enjoy the well-beaten path. I’ve tried my whole life because I thought that’s what I supposed to do, but there’s a reason they call it a well-beaten path. It’s already trampled down and smoothed out. It’s been walked by billions of other people. I’ve felt like a failure my whole life, because I couldn’t stay on that damn well-beaten path, no matter how hard I tried. I’ve come to realize though, that the people who move society forward and make a difference in the world are those who create their own path. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.
Most of the beauty is off the beaten path. It’s where the wildflowers grow. It’s where the extraordinary view is. There may be big boulders on the path, but it’s kind of fun to figure out how to get around them. Should I go this way through the brush? Should I go that way through the water? Or should I try my hand at bouldering and just climb over?
We all have a choice. We can choose the smooth trail with most of the obstacles worn down or removed, where we simply have to put one foot in front of the other to get where we want to go and that’s okay. Or we can choose to head off onto a side trail even though we’re not exactly sure where it’s going. Perhaps it’ll end up somewhere amazing and give us lots of fun and interesting challenges. Perhaps it will take us somewhere the world has never been. Or perhaps it will lead us back to the well-beaten path eventually, but life is an adventure and that’s what makes it fun.
I’m accepting that I actually like my little side trail. It’s helped me to heal. It’s helped me to help others to heal. It’s led me toward self-acceptance and dare I say, a wee bit of confidence in who I am. It’s led me back to who I truly am. It’s shown me my soul.
I want to be a photographer. There. I said it. I try to keep my deepest desires close to the vest, because I don’t want anyone to tell me the “reality” of trying to break into the photography biz. How “everybody’s a photographer” or how their brother has 15,000 followers on Instagram or how I’d better have a back-up plan. I’m not confident enough for that yet.
My goal is to quietly teach myself the art of photography. I’ve been taking photos for quite a while now, but I’ve been living in my comfort zone of landscapes and macros of flowers, so I started a 365 photo challenge in the hopes of breaking out of my rut. I’m posting them on Instagram (@stefaniejones365), but I’m not pushing the hash tags. I’m doing this project for me, to challenge myself and to have a record of my progress. And it is challenging me. It’s not so much a technical challenge, but a composition challenge. My ultimate subject is people. Hopefully, somewhere along the way during this challenge, I’ll get over my fear of photographing people which I know will open an avenue to the real purpose of my photography. That, however, I will keep to myself.
I get a lot of my learnin’ from YouTube and a vlog I particularly like is Ted Forbes’ The Art of Photography. Ted is a true lover of photography and has introduced me to tons of photographers I’ve never heard of. The video I watched today was called If Ansel Adams Used Instagram, in which he spoke about being a part of one’s time. Adams was an innovator in his time. He was doing things no one else was doing and pushing the boundaries of the technology of his time. Ted says (and I would agree), Adams would surely embrace the technology we have today. He would have been one of the first to try drones and the latest camera technology and would still make amazing images. So, yes, everybody these days is a photographer, but not everybody is an innovator and making unique and interesting photos. As with any art, you have to think outside the box and more importantly in photography, you have to learn to see.
Peter McKinnon is another vlogger I enjoy. His videos are mostly concerned with teaching technique and how to do cool things with the latest technology, but today he posted a video called Stop Taking The Same Boring Photos. In this video, he encouraged people to delve a little deeper in their subject. His example was a salad. You could take a picture of the finished salad and that would be okay or you could take a photo of the prep work or the ingredients before it is all put together or present it in a wine glass or even show the empty bowl with a little dressing and tiny bits of salad leftover. Those images are far more interesting than simply a picture of a salad. In order for your work to stand out, you have to do it different. (See what I did there. Maybe I should rename this blog “Doing It Different”). You have to give your viewer or client that little something extra, so that they’ll be more likely to use you again or recommend you to their friends.
So, that’s what I’m working on right now. Learning to see more, to see differently. My challenge is definitely a challenge and sometimes I fear I won’t be able to come up with a decent image, but that’s what trying new things is all about. My photos may not always great and my ideas might flop, but it sure is fun trying.
I’ve been having a hard time lately. This whole “do it different” thing isn’t working as quickly as I wanted it to. It’s not easy to change who I’ve been for longer than I care to admit.
Yesterday, I got triggered and I reacted in the same way I always have: with a bout of kick-me-in-the-gut, spit-in-my-face depression. I’ve been trying so hard to believe that you get what you most desire if you stop doing the things you do that stop those things from coming to you. It seems so easy for everyone else. Since I’m “doing it different”, I thought that surely I would get at least a little bit of what I wanted. However, I’m not and someone else is and it feels as if the Universe is refusing to conspire to help me.
Disappointment is the catalyst for my depression. If I have a big desire, I expect the Universe will help me get it. Instead, the Universe gives it to someone else or at least doesn’t give it to me. Then I become deeply disappointed which leads to a big depression and then I give up. I announce to the Universe-very dramatically I might add-that I’m done trying, hoping, wishing, and expecting for anything to get better for me. I feel like I’m the cosmic joke. I want something. The Universe holds out its hand, offering me what I want. I reach out to take it, then it yanks its hand back and yells, “Psych!!” and laughs in my face. I’m pretty sure this is an accurate description of what happens.
Now, I don’t really believe this is how things work. I believe that the Universe has my best interest in mind, just as it does for all of us. I don’t believe in a vengeful Universe. I know it’s me that keeps me from getting what I want, but it seems like there are rules to life and no one gave me the rule book. And certainly no one taught me how to play the game.
I’ve found that movement, be it yoga, biking, hiking, or even weight lifting, is the only thing that helps when I am in deep despair. It helps take me out of my head for a while. Luckily, I live near the mountains and have access to some great hiking trails, so to make myself feel better, I went for a hike. I took the hardest trail the park has and walked without any plan, except to knock the edge off the sadness. I ended up taking a trail that went higher into the hills than I have gone before. I put in my earbuds and listened to Abraham for some words of wisdom. I took pictures of the pasqueflowers that were blooming along the trail. I caught whiffs of the warm pine scented air I love so much and most importantly, I breathed deep and hard.
After walking as far as I felt like going, I turned around and headed back toward the parking lot. I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention and found myself on a side trail that seemed to go nowhere. Just ten feet away, I saw the easy trail. It was flat and smooth and wide. No boulders. But I was doing the hard trail, dang it, so I backtracked a little and got back on the trail. Soon, I was off in the weeds again and there was the easy trail right in front of me. Again. This time, I started laughing. I realized that that is what I do in life. I choose to do it the hard way. I force and push. I demand that the Universe give me what I want. I cling stubbornly to how I think things are supposed to go, even though my way has never worked before. The easy path is right there for me and yet I turn away because life isn’t easy, right? It’s supposed to be hard and we’re supposed to work for everything we get.
Well, this time, I gave up and took the easy trail for a while. When I came upon a crossroads, I knew that I didn’t have to choose to go the hard way. I knew it was okay to keep taking the easy way, but I also knew that sometimes the challenging way is more fun. Knowing that I could choose which path I wanted to take, I decided to take the more challenging trail, not because I needed to prove something, but because it was more fun.
I don’t know what taking the easy path in life is supposed to look like, but I do know that when I give up the struggle, things tend to go smoother. I’m going to take the pressure off myself, not try so damn hard all the time, and quit trying to tell the Universe how to do its job. The Universe knows what I want and it knows the easiest, most fun way to get it. I think I’ll try that for a while.
I have a confession to make. I’ve forgotten how to have fun. Sometimes, I’m not even sure I remember what it feels like to have fun. Maybe I have fun and don’t know it. At any rate, I want more fun in my life.
It’s said that midlife is where fun goes to die, but I don’t think that’s totally true. I know people who have quite a lot of fun. Maybe it’s just me.
fun: noun – enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure.
I enjoy things, like surfing the internet or watching TV, but I wouldn’t call that fun. I’m often amused by things, like when I saw a deer trying to put her front hooves on the swinging bird feeder and sticking out her tongue trying to reach the seed. It was funny, but I wouldn’t call it fun.
I guess when I think of fun, I think of running around screaming and laughing, climbing trees, playing red light/green light, and running through the sprinklers on a hot summer day. When I think of fun, I think of friends and play.
play: verb – engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.
In other words, fun equals play. Have I forgotten how to play or has my idea of play changed now that I’m well past the age where running around screaming and playing tag is acceptable?
I know what I consider fun: drawing, taking photos, hiking, reading (Most of my reading, however, is for learning, which, while fun, tends to make me a little bit obsessive. So much so, that I have to stop reading altogether for a little while). I also put a lot of “serious and practical” on it. I’m not just doing it for fun. I have an ulterior motive. How can I make money doing something I feel is fun? Money takes all the fun out of everything. I don’t do anything for the pure enjoyment of it and that may be why I don’t feel like I get to have any fun.
So I did a little research. (PS I enjoy researching things, so I’ll consider that fun. I’m winning already.)
Why do we need to play?
The National Institute for Play – yes, there is such a thing – studies the transformative power of play. Turns out, play isn’t just for kids. As adults, we need play to help us maintain our social nature, which in turn keeps us from feeling lonely. It also helps us build community. And as a bonus, it’s good for our brains.
“What you begin to see when there’s major play deprivation in an otherwise competent adult is that they’re not much fun to be around,” [says Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the institute.] “You begin to see that the perseverance and joy in work is lessened and that life is much more laborious.” (See full NPR article with Dr. Brown here)
The opposite of play is not work, but depression. – Brian Sutton-Smith
Aha! So that’s why I’m a boring old sad-sack who never feels like she has any fun. I am play-deprived.
So, what constitutes play?
According to Dr. Brown, “Play is something done for its own sake, [. . .] It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”
Play looks different to everybody. What I consider play, like trudging up a 14,000 foot mountain, may sound like torture to others. However, when I’m hiking up a mountain, I enjoy it so much that I make it a point to be present for every moment. I want to enjoy the lack of noise, the smell of the pine trees, the sight of a lone raven playing in the thermals. I even want to enjoy the fact that my legs are completely spent from carrying me up and down the mountain, my lungs are working hard to keep the oxygen flowing so I don’t die, and my heart is pounding so loud that I often wonder if someone is walking behind me, beating a drum. I am most certainly proud of making it to the summit, but even if I have to turn back early due to weather or sickness, I enjoyed every part of the journey and that’s enough.
So how do I work more fun into my life?
It caught my attention when Dr. Brown said, “it takes you out of time.” I took a drawing class not long ago and when I worked on homework, I lost all track of time. After a while, I would look up and notice that the sun had gone down and wonder how the heck that had happened. It felt like I had just started working even though six hours had gone by.
The same thing happens when I go out to take photos. At one point, I was taking photos of old churches in town. I find the architecture profoundly beautiful and I’m intrigued by how the style of architecture changed as the city grew west. I would start out with one church, then remember another up the street and go photograph it. Then I’d drive toward a steeple I’d see off in the distance, but also stop to photograph the churches along the way. I’d spend hours “chasing churches” and then wonder where the time went. (FYI, the architecture gets less interesting and the churches more utilitarian and sprawling much as the city sprawled. However, I still find chasing churches interesting. As I drive through rural America, I can spot the towering steeple of a church that was built on the highest point in any small town. I’ll go miles out of my way to take a look and I’m never disappointed.)
As we grow up and enter the adult world, life gets serious. We have careers to manage, homes to keep up, and kids to raise. But we were kids once and believe it or not, we remember what it feels like to have fun. Maybe we aren’t going to invite the neighborhood mom’s and dad’s over for a rousing game of freeze tag, but we can find something we enjoy, that takes us out of our heads for a few hours, and that is not time wasted.
The most important part, I believe, is to recognize and appreciate when you’re having fun and let yourself be okay to play for a little bit. You don’t have to run through the park like Phoebe did in the Friends episode “The One Where Phoebe Runs” (but why not?) And you don’t have to run naked through the sprinklers (but why not?) All you have to do is decide what you consider fun, whether it be golfing with your buddies or quilting with your girlfriends or mountain biking with your girlfriends or playing scrabble with your buddies. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re having fun, because life really is supposed to be fun.
Just an impromptu poll to see which of these images you like better. I love both of them. The top image is cropped black and white and the bottom is full color, although there wasn’t a lot of color with all the snow. Leave a comment below if you have an opinion either way. Also, I’m doing a 365 challenge to improve my skills and push me out of my comfort zone. If you want to follow my progression (hopefully there will be one), you can find me at Instagram handle @stefaniejones365.