I recently stumbled across a post titled “The #FOMO Epidemic” by a blogger named Eugene Phoa. “FOMO” is an abbreviation for the “Fear Of Missing Out” and according to Eugene “has become so rampant in recent times that it was added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2013.”
The definition of FOMO is as follows: Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.
Eugene goes on to talk about how a lot of us are so easily affected by what others are doing that it can leave us chasing dreams or goals that we might not necessarily want. While reading through Eugene’s article, I was constantly drawing connections to similar thoughts that both myself and other artists I know of have experienced in the past.
I’ll be completely honest here—finding your purpose and direction as a photographer isn’t an easy task. Not only that, it’s something that’s going to change throughout your journey. Fulfillment wears many different hats depending on what point you’re at in your career. As you mature as an artist, your expectations for yourself are going to be more complicated, and satisfaction at times will be harder to grasp hold of.
The solution, in my opinion, to the constant thoughts of indecisiveness, doubt, and inaction, is to make a daily habit of reflecting on what you want your work to achieve, and what accomplishments mean the most to you—not others.
The problem with photography and the internet is that we’re exposed daily to a constant and overwhelming flow of work from others. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can be easy to suffer from similar FOMO effects and end up chasing another person’s dream instead of living your own.
Nowadays, most photographers only share their work online. The options when it comes to choosing a platform are vast, but most revolve around posting images and updates about travel, adventure, workshops, product launches and so on. We see other photographers on epic adventures in remote places, backpacking for days on end, and we think to ourselves: “that’s where I need to be”. We spend the next couple of days preparing our task list for our new adventure before slowly starting to fill our head with doubts and excuses.
Or in other situations, we strive to create the next award-winning image that will grace the front page of our favourite social media website—a goal that a number of photographers achieve on a daily basis. When we don’t get there ourselves, we crash back down to reality and accept our self-instated “mediocrity”. Some people even choose to take it to the extreme, making up excuses why other photographers succeeded or talking about how their work isn’t even that good. My personal favourite is the people who complain about how “digital cameras have ruined things because now everyone thinks they’re a photographer”. It’s safe to say that this is often the result of a strong case of jealousy and inability to take action.
What get’s lost in all these situations is the same question: What do you actually even care about?
Seriously, what work is going to be the most meaningful to you? What do you actually want to create? What is your message—your meaning? What do you want to get out of the process?
Sure, maybe exploring the world and building a gigantic following are things you truly want and you just need a bit of a kick in the ass at times. But regardless, in most situations, immersing yourself on a daily basis in a curated life of another photographer isn’t going to be healthy for growth, or authenticity. You need to figure out what you actually want, and then tune out the noise and start making steps in that direction, even if at first those steps seem like they’re only covering inches.
Don’t Overcomplicate Things
It’s important to understand that achievements can be anything you want them to be. Maybe you don’t actually care about becoming the next great explorer, and hiking in your local area provides you with a sense of adventure. Maybe you really don’t need to be the next rockstar social media celebrity and simply capturing moments and learning daily is what makes you most happy. Maybe the satisfaction you’ve been searching for has been right in front of you this whole time, you’ve just been too consumed with celebrating other people’s achievements that you forgot what yours actually look like.
Now, I’m not saying that it isn’t important to be influenced by others, set goals, and push yourself; I constantly draw inspiration and ideas from other artists on a daily basis. Just make sure that what you think you want is actually what you want.
There’s a lot of beauty and potential surrounding all of us that’s often missed due to a self-inflicted tunnel vision of grandeur. I’ve come to understand that there really never is a finish line; no point you reach where you master your craft and live out life in complete bliss. You need to make sure that you embrace your true interests as they’re what will lead to the creation of authentic work.
The easy solution to all of this would be simply tuning out social media as a whole. But the reality is that there are a lot of positives that social media brings with it. I believe the bigger picture revolves around the placement of your attention and how you digest the information that’s presented to you.
Take the time to learn about yourself on a frequent basis—not just once a year. Be aware of the point you’re at in your career, and what your interests are. Don’t be afraid to make changes if something isn’t working for you, even if it’s comfortable and common. Chase the achievements that mean the most to you.
I’d love to hear what you consider an achievement when it comes to photography. What are you after? And what are some of the challenges you have gone through while trying to find your purpose?