The Expectations Game

White Tree No. 4 (Know Your Heart)I don’t know about you, but every time I begin to work on a new image – or write a new blog post, or post something on social media, or generally do anything that requires a degree of effort and creativity – I play the expectations game.  The image in this post, “Know Your Heart (White Tree No. 4),” was no exception.  What is the expectations game?  It’s having an expectation for an end result, and being intimidated by that expectation as you begin to work on the task.

The expectations game can take many forms.  Sometimes it’s internal:  my last image was good, will this one be?  The capture was perfect, are my editing skills sufficient to realize that potential?  Sometimes it’s external:  my last image was well received, will this one be?  I usually work in this kind of subject matter, will people abandon me if I try something new?

The intimidation created by the expectations game can be a real problem.  Sometimes it hinders creativity, such as wherein you use the same, safe methods and practices over and over again, because they’ve worked for you in the past.  Other times it closes you off to potential avenues for growth and learning, such as wherein you don’t share your work with other people for fear of rejection.  In its worst form, it can stop you from working at all.

How do you win the expectations game?  Don’t play.

Easier said than done!  In fact, I doubt that I personally ever will be able to eliminate the expectations game entirely.  But, expectations can be managed.  One way I manage expectations is to realize that not every image I make will be the best image I’ve ever made.  Not every new image needs to be better than the previous one.  If you pause to consider for a moment, hopefully you will conclude (as I have) it’s unlikely this could ever be the case for anyone, and it’s unreasonable to expect it to be so.  Instead, if an image I make meets a minimum threshold of quality – a threshold set by me, designed to reflect both my own objective and subjective considerations of what satisfies me – then I consider it a success.  I find this approach has worked well for me, allowing me both to keep my expectations in check for any individual image I’m working on, and to produce a body of work that, if it pleases no one else, at least has pleased me.

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