I Already Won

High achievements demand some other unusual qualification besides an unusual desire for high prizes.

 ~George Eliot

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.

Psychotropic Sandstone


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9 thoughts on “I Already Won

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  1. One thing I would like to add and I know you are not of the same feeling on this, but it is pleasant to share your experiences with others. Especially those you are enamored with. A sunrise is just a little warmer when you have someone to share it with.

  2. Hi Guy,
    Totally agree with you. I steadfastly refuse to enter contests. I have encountered one person who edits her photos based on her understanding of who the judges will be. Totally wrong emphasis in my opinion. It is so good to know there are others who share my opinion.

    I share my photos with friends and sometimes give them a gift of a print. The highest compliment I have gotten came from my daughter who has asked for several prints so she can decorate her apartment, and from her friends who have asked for prints. Good enough for me


  3. This only makes me think about more things: the muse, egos going the way of Icarus, society’s need for self identity and belonging, and how we seek knowledge and happiness. Bertrand Russell says, “There are forces making for happiness, and forces making for misery. We do not know which will prevail, but to act wisely we must be aware of both.”

  4. I have discovered JOMO–the joy of missing out. Of not checking my phone, of ignoring e-mail, of not knowing the latest outrage in Washington. Instead I witness the redtail swooping down on the squirrel stealing seeds from the bird feeder or the eagles feeding on the canada goose on the icy edge of the river. Whenever I stop seeking for something, something amazing presents itself.

  5. Guy – your brief essay expresses beautifully feelings and beliefs that I have long held. It disturbs me the way that some respected photographers continue to maintain that one of the best ways to improve your photograph is to participate in competitions. Like you, I believe that just the opposite is true.

  6. I understand and agree with your point of view. I just don’t live it.

    As a professional, you must market your talent, skill and services to survive. That requires competing with other photographers who offer similar services, etc. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you are constantly in competition for patrons, customers and fans.

    I’m one of the many amateur photographers who in the latter, creative part of my life, does not have to make a living in the world of photography. For me, entering competitions is fun and enlightening. I don’t take it seriously as a roadmap to self-esteem. I still get to create, do what I love and share with others.

    And be your fan! Whether you know it or not, you competed with many other professional photographers who want my attention and my money. You win!

  7. For so long I felt that saying I didn’t wish to enter competition was a way of saying, ‘I don’t think I’m good enough to enter a competition’. And that is a very hard thing to overcome as it seems to stamped into our DNA that they way to prove yourself is via winning competitions.

    Thank God I have escaped that.

    And I do think that its been through reading and re-reading (now on the 3rd reading) ‘More than a Rock’ and thinking about it and reflecting on who and what I am and want to be, that I have found the peace and reassurance to say, ‘No, I don’t enter competitions’

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