For when your best isn't enough

Photo courtesy of  Jacob Roberts    

Photo courtesy of Jacob Roberts


I’m in a state of serious discontent. I’m in a phase in my career where nothing I do is good enough, and every photo I take leaves me in some ways, disappointed. Not to say that the photos I’ve been taking lately are bad, or that I’ve not been bringing my best to my shoots… It just seems like my best isn’t good enough for me right now. 

I just submitted a 75 photo sample portfolio for review this week. When they asked for 75 photos my heart sank. 75??? I can barely count on two hands the photos I’m truly proud of right now . Sure, I have hundreds of photos to choose from for this submission but I don’t think I can come up with 75 that speak well of me as an artist. 

Why am I so dissatisfied with my work? Why am I ALWAYS dissatisfied with my work? Can you relate? Do you shoot a series, and find that a few weeks later the pride you had in that work has vanished? Do you find yourself picking apart your portfolio and thinking “man, I should have done this differently”?

Here’s the thing. I know where this divide comes from. I know where it is in our brains and hearts that creates such a strong apprehension towards work we JUST created. See, there’s a disconnect between our personal taste and our current ability. Our personal taste is incredible. It always has been. That’s why we got into art in the first place! We knew we could create great things. Our brains are geared towards knowing what is beautiful, unique and compelling. But turning those visions into tangible work… That’s the tough part. That’s where our ability lets us down. Our ability to create the work we want to create isn’t always there. That is why we get discouraged. 

I’ve been thinking about this subject for years, but only recently I stumbled upon a quote from This American Life host Ira Glass that sums up my sentiments all too well:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”


Have you ever had these thoughts?

“I deserve better”

“I should be shooting for better, more reputable clients”

“No one appreciates my work”


Stay far, far away from thoughts like these. Sure, they can be a driving force towards bettering yourself as an artist, but they’re also a fast track towards bitterness. You can get swallowed up in thoughts like these, and find yourself giving up on yourself and your work. I should know, I had to pull myself out of that pit today. The truth is, you deserve only what you make happen for yourself.

The solution to this gap between taste and ability is as simple as Mr. Glass says it is. Shoot. More. Shoot as often as possible. The only way to catch up to your impeccable taste is to hone your ability. Break down the barriers that are holding you back from creating the work you want to create. Solve problems, study those who are further in their career that you are, and above all, take it easy on yourself. 

You’re not alone. We’re all here right beside you struggling, trying to be better than our best.