High achievements demand some other unusual qualification besides an unusual desire for high prizes.
I have never entered my photographs into a contest. If I had to offer a formal reason, it would be this: competition introduces motivations and temptations that in my mind are incompatible with creative self-expression. Informally, I really don’t care what some random judge(s) may think about my work, and I don’t think there is anything for me to gain from having my work ranked against others’ by someone’s subjective opinion. Having accomplished sufficient knowledge and skill in operating my equipment and processing my images, my priority is to explore the boundaries of self-expression in landscape photography, to see what I can do that has not been done before me and what novel ideas I may contribute to the evolution of photography as a medium for art, and to incorporate photography into my experiences as a person and naturalist. All these are subjective and personal goals, having nothing to do with competition. Whatever inspiration I find in the works of others, doesn’t make me want to compete with them or to be like them.
Among other unfortunate effects of our achievement-driven attitude is that many are under the mistaken impression that competition and “winning” are essential to success and satisfaction. Studies show that this is not the case. Human beings are prone to hedonic adaptation—returning to our emotional baseline soon after a desired achievement has been accomplishment. A truly rewarding life is not one of anecdotal honors bestowed by others, but one of sustained interest and satisfaction, regardless of the judgment of others.
Another unfortunate effect of our brave new hyper-connected society is what’s now termed, fear of missing out (FOMO)—a form of (largely self-inflicted) anxiety that occurs when one is disconnected from others and fears that important and consequential things may happen without their knowing or participation. Rarely mentioned is the flip-side of such anxiety: the sense that a rewarding experience is not worth having if others don’t know you’ve had it. It’s no wonder that studies show a persistent decline in creativity in recent years.
Should you realize that you are prone to such feelings, resist them with all you have. If you hang the value of your experiences on the opinions of others; if you feel your life is so devoid of meaning in its own right that you must find meaning in what others are doing; or if you feel your living experience may be diminished if you miss something other people do, you will never—NEVER—be satisfied. If you’re afraid of missing out on things other people might do, you should be outright terrified of missing out on things you might be doing.
The most rewarding experiences in my life occur when others are not present to witness them, or even know that they happened. I don’t need awards or recognitions, and have no need or desire to compete with anyone. Why would I need to compete? I get to do what I love, to live and work and explore in a place I love, to be inspired often and without regard to who knows it, to enrich my knowledge and understanding of the world and of myself, to set my own schedule, to follow my whims almost any day.
Give the trophies to the less fortunate. I already won.