Every year, the aspiring photographer brought a stack of his photos to an old, honored photographer for his judgment. The old photographer carefully studied all photos and ordered them in two stacks – good and bad.
Every year, the elder photographer put a specific landscape photo on the ‘bad’ stack. One day, he said to the young photographer, “Every year you submit this landscape photo and I put it on the bad stack. Why do you like it so much?”
The young photographer said, “Because I had to climb a mountain to get it.”
What is the worth of something we own or put effort in? To us, it means the world even if the world thinks nothing of it.
I’ve seen such scenarios play out over and over again in my life. For instance, when I worked in the corporate world, I often got tasked with writing content for marketing material – websites, brochures, and presentations.
I drafted content with the customer in mind. Short, easy to digest sentences and simple words. Yet, my seniors would bend, twist, and crumple the content to make it boring.
Maybe their content was better. Maybe mine was. We’ll never know. The point is everyone thought their version was the best because of the effort we invested.
Which brings me to the question: Who decides the quality of our work? Who decides what we should continue doing and what we should stop?
Is it us? Or someone else?
Steve Pressfield wrote for twenty-eight years before his first novel got published. The Harry Potter book got rejected twelve times before a publisher said “yes.” Abe Lincoln repeatedly suffered setbacks in personal life and career before he was elected President of the United States.
But for every Rowling and Lincoln, tens of thousands – people we never heard about – failed.
How much does your work mean to you? What will you turn into if you no longer do it?
If what you do matters deeply, you have three choices.
One, stick to it. You might succeed in this life, like Rowling. Or your work might become popular after your death, like Ayn Rand and Van Gogh. Or it might never get discovered, like the millions of stories we’ve never heard.
Two, you accept that now might not be the time for it. You step away and do something else that pays the bills while toiling away on what you’re passionate about at night. Maybe it will catch someone’s eye after you’ve gained traction with other work.
Three, you accept that the ship isn’t leaving the harbor. You tap here and there, examine faults, and fix them. When the ship finally sails, you refine your mental models based on what you learned.
You can use any of the three options above. There is no right or wrong. There are only actions and consequences. Learn to be okay with the consequences of your actions.
How you spend each day dictates how you’ll spend your life. The present moment is all you have. Commit to it, and don’t look back.
Life’s simple. You make choices and you don’t look back. – Han