When We Don’t Get What We Wanted

February 12th, 2013 by Theodore A. Stark

Photo contests/shows are part of any photographer’s journey. Another stage as they hone their craft. For many, it is a wonderful foray into learning how to show your work. It’s also an opportunity to learn about honest perception from strangers. 

 It is not always easy. Many times, it can be quite eye opening. Your experiences from this will be invaluable to you going forward.   

 Understanding perception is important. It is a topic I will cover in a future post. This post focuses on lessons that must be mastered before we get to perception. This is the lesson of dealing with rejection. 

Allow me to introduce Uncle Harry (If your name is Harry and you are an uncle, no I am not writing this specifically about you). Good old Harry has just submitted images to his first photo contest. Harry did research. He made sure the contest was reputable and read all of the fine print (something you should ALWAYS do). He found some images (some of his very very very best) and hit the submit button. 

 Harry is excited. He has even found himself daydreaming of what he’s going to do with whatever prize the contest is awarding. He knows his work is good. He has been told it repeatedly. He has the confidence (very important) and feels strongly about the images he has submitted.  

 The anticipation for Harry builds as the notification date approaches. Despite having done some research on the contest, Harry opted not to review the contest’s winning pieces from pervious years. None-the-less, Harry likes his chances. 

 Notification day finally arrives. Harry constantly checks his e-mail in anticipation of getting the congratulatory e-mail. Throughout the day, he is anxious. The hours pass on and Harry’s anticipation is now mixed with some confusion, some fear, and a tinge of anger. The day has come… and gone. Nothing from the contest. Confused and scared, Harry goes to bed. In the middle of the night, his computer dings indicating a new email. Harry leaps from his bed, runs to the computer, and finds the e-mail. He opens the e-mail only to discover it is a standard blast thanking everyone for entering. But, those receiving this e-mail did not have photographs selected (all together now… awww).

Like most, Uncle Harry is disappointed. Hell, he’s downright upset. Seeking further explanation, he goes to the contest’s website to see what photographs beat him out. This little exercise proves to be counterproductive. His frustration escalates and he instinctively begins deconstructing the photographs that made the cut. His diatribe to no one other than his monitor (and possibly a pet, if he has one..) begins as he professes ‘This one is over exposed’ and ‘…that one reeks of Photoshop,’ and ‘what the hell were they thinking on this one?!? That’s blatant HDR!’ 

 After anger and frustration, disappointment sets in. This includes (but is not limited to) sulking along with a period of questioning why he got into photography at all…  

 What Harry doesn’t realize, in his current state, is how much he is learning by not having his work selected. 

 The act of a photograph not being selected is not implying you are a bad photographer. Rather, your submission did not mesh with what the juror(s) were looking for. This is nothing more than another experience that can make you a better photographer.

 “Experience is what you get, when you didn’t get what you wanted.” This line from Randy Pausch has always rung true with me over the years, and it certainly applies to Harry. 

 The more you try, the more you will realize the impact of the aforementioned quote. Yes, you enter a photo contest because you hope to win. We all get that. Nevertheless, you lose more often than you win. 

 We tend to be more self-reflective when things don’t go our way. Not having a photograph selected does not imply you failed – far from it. Instead, we learn more and become better at our craft. The moments of critical analysis and self-reflection, once you (or Uncle Harry) have achieved a more level head, will help you grow as a photographer and as a person.

 A couple of weeks pass with good old Uncle Harry. He first does a search and finds the juror’s website. Harry, now more lucid in thought, begins to study the work of the juror (something everyone should do before submitting to any contest). With this perspective in mind, he re-examines the photos selected in the contest. Patterns begin to emerge. Harry is finally connecting the dots. He’s kicking himself for not looking at the juror’s work before. Even more, he wishes he had looked at previous winners. Don’t look now, he’s learning… More important, he’s growing as a photographer. 

 We all see the world differently. These sorts of experiences influence (consciously or sub-consciously) your future decisions. We are all here to experience life… especially when we don’t get what we wanted. Grab hold of the opportunity of rejection and learn from it.

Experiences along our journey shape who we are. The only way to learn to deal with rejection is to experience it. 

Now go out there and chase the light.

Check out Ted’s work on his website and follow him on Twitter.



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