Three Things This Middle-aged Photographer is Teaching Her Kids About Disappointment

Once upon a time, a middle-aged photographer was named Photographer of the Year. She had submitted her best images and they did better than she ever imagined. The middle-aged photographer twirled and danced in her denim capris and sensible shoes as if Starbucks had just announced home delivery.

More than a year later, she worried that trying again was risky (particularly for her fragile ego and her temperamental thyroid) but when she asked herself, “What would you tell your children to do?” The answer came back, “Keep at it! Just start younger.”

She knew this time around would be tougher. More talented people entered. The pool of images had more than doubled in size. The ballroom filled mostly with young, skinny-jean clad women in high boots and big camera bags, and the middle-aged photographer sat, in her sensible shoes, waiting for the decisions to come down one by one.

And, as she suspected, the crushing blows came, one by one. She sank deeper in her seat, marking each image as it passed. While five out of six images landed in the upper end of the “above average” category this time, not one of them was deemed excellent or earned a merit.

So, the middle-aged photographer ordered a really good beer and cried in it. Then she called her family. And during that conversation, she was reminded of what she would tell her children if they were ever delivered such a setback:

1. Are you absolutely sure you know it all?

The lighting ratio with this image is complicated, and while it’s okay, it’s not excellent. I was schooled on this image. I learned that taking the time to step back and learn your craft is the mark of any true professional. I could really benefit from some more intense training, but the most important thing I recognized here is the fact that I’m not done learning. I can do better. Even the judges are constantly working to improve themselves. They, too, are striving for that perfect image where the elements of lighting, composure, color balance, and intrigue intertwine and tell a story that no one else has ever told. I might be middle-aged, but I certainly don’t know it all.

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2. Words can hurt.

If I had been thinking clearly, this super terrifical kid would have been titled “My Mama Still Thinks I’m Cute”. Instead, I think I called it “Sk8r Boy”, but even though the image is sharp and technically excellent, the judges thought his cute-but-awkward tooth really needed to be addressed. And, of course, they were right. My bad. Can I get a do-over?

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3. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter.

Just because this image didn’t earn me a ginormous pat on the back from a group of strangers doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful. I love this image. I shouldn’t need someone to tell me it’s beautiful. I already know how it makes me feel and some number on a rubric can’t take that away. Now, make no mistake, I still seek to know what I could do to make it better, but this image will make me happy either way.

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Bottom line, the middle-aged photographer will pick herself up, brush herself off and (after finding some really smokin’ hot boots) try again. And that’s exactly what she would tell her kids to do too. (Except for the part about the boots.)

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