Comparison and Validation

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There are so many people that are way cooler than I am. Silly I know. But there are. And I’m ok with it. There are celebrities, photographers, people who just sell shit online because they are prettier than I am, and there are also people who don’t promote their lives on social media who I would really like to meet because they are probably the coolest people who don’t need validation. I wonder what that’s like - to not need any validation. I compared myself to others to see what I could do to get more validation and attention. Then I realized… wow. How dumb is that?

There are different ways I thought about starting this blog. I have some ideas about getting ready on the day of, the delivery of your photos, lighting, and so on but I don’t want to break into those too early. There is something bigger that always weighs heavy on my heart, one that I have tried very hard to push to the side. At some point I think that everyone has moments of self-awareness and doubt. It’s a human characteristic to point out flaws in ourselves and be our own worst critic.

 I have a really bad problem of comparing myself to others personally, professionally, and everything in between. We are flooded with pictures of small waists, perfect skin, contoured makeup, and fake relationships manipulated by the producers of Bachelor Nation. I formed a bad habit of Instagram shopping and buying the items the models were selling just to try to get a shout out from someone for a little bit of attention. Yes, I have the HiSmile teeth Whitener and a Disco Cowgirl t-shirt. But, again, something I think everyone goes through at some point in his or her lives—wanting a little bit of attention.

 From a photographer’s standpoint, I have hundreds of screenshots from other artists stored in my phone, and probably something others do to call upon for inspiration or collaboration. I tell myself that’s the purpose for holding onto them myself but in all reality, it would put me into a place where I doubt my own abilities as a photographer and artist. I’d never be like these amazing visionaries who could capture adventure in silly smiles or the velvety texture in pale pink flowers. The shine of the ring shots I have taken would never sparkle the way Erich McVey can capture the stars.

 When I started working in the wedding industry I held varies nine to five jobs. Half of my attention was finishing tasks directly related to who was paying me and the rest was looking at Instagram wishing I could be a better photographer. I took on the role of lead photographer for a San Francisco based company—I cannot begin to say how much I appreciate the experience I gained from that company. Slowly I also started booking weddings of my own.

 40 hours a week working, 20 hours a weekend shooting, roughly 50 weddings in two years, I was fried. The opposite of what I felt should have happened occurred. I became uninspired, lonely, and completely exhausted. It was hard work and my confidence had sunk to a low where I didn’t want to do anything. Just go in, do my work and go home. I blamed living in the bay area for the pressure of getting a nine to five job to get a steady paycheck, benefits, and work perks. I thought this would make me happy and no longer need to stress over how I’ll never be as good as Ginny Au or Jose Villa. 

It did for a while. I worked in the wine industry, got pretty great discounts, learned an incredible amount about wine, and got to be part of what a lot of people consider “being a big kid” living the corporate life. Restructures and layoffs are a part of that life—role changes, promotions, never ending numbers, budgets, project management, and disappointments also come with it. Needless to say, I fell right back into the nine to five monotony just trying to get through the day suffering in a job I hated while still looking at photos of velvet pink flowers and ring shots. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. I put my two weeks in, rode the longest train home, drove to my driveway, sat in my truck in the rain, and cried to my dad asking him if I made a huge mistake.

For months, I stressed over finding another job that would pay well. But this was most definitely forced. My heart couldn’t take any more applications; ‘tell me about yourself,’ upload your resume here for something I didn’t really want. I spent weeks in my bed and on my couch putting off doing anything with my life scared shitless of actually starting over from scratch. Literally. My body physically wouldn’t let me. The validation I would get from my friends and family would not keep me from wallowing in my own self-rejection. But then I realized that my own self-rejection was the issue.

My identity had been my salary, my job title, and my status. For some reason, this idea to me was so much scarier than taking the leap to full time photographer. I touted to others to be true to themselves, whether it is personally or professionally, but I hadn’t been taking my own advice. I had to evaluate who I was—well who I am, which I find just as scary as not getting a paycheck every week. I didn’t like me. I didn’t like who I had been trying to be so who the hell had I been before? I reflected to a time where I remember really loving my life—it was when I was being a creator.  

Being forced to take a serious look at what I consider to be ‘Erin,’ my comparisons across the board had significantly lessened. Like almost gone. I say almost because, like I said before, I find it human nature to so I can’t avoid it completely. But what I found is that I like this ‘Erin.’ She is VERY talented, kind, well-liked, loveable, valued, worthy, and is capable of doing whatever she wants. She is kind of country, kind of rock and roll, loves binge watching Grey’s Anatomy for the 100th time, makes an ok omelet if it doesn’t break first, and would rather stay in that go out. She knows that sometimes, people don’t like her. That’s ok. Sometimes, a couple would rather use a different photographer other than me.  

Before, that would crush me. Why did they go with someone else rather than me? What am I doing wrong? How can I change my filters, my lenses, my camera? Sometimes, they come back saying I wish I had gone with you. To me, that is almost worse because they didn’t get the best experience on the biggest day of their life.

Vendors in the wedding industry, from what I found, only want to work together for the common good of the bride and groom. And that is who ‘Erin’ is. Erin is someone who only wants the best for people—personally and professionally. And it took me reevaluating who I am to know that I deserve the best for me too. And I deserve to be just as happy as everyone else. For me, that means having the awareness that when I start comparing myself to others, I need to remember that I am JUST as capable, just as awesome, and just as deserving.

Remember when I was talking about validation? Getting back to how dumb that was. It’s not dumb AT ALL. We ALL need validation from some source or another. Some people process it better than others. Some people need to be left alone. Some people don’t give a shit. Some people find it by going out and getting drinks bought for them at the bar. Others need it from a thank you note for a birthday gift they sent. Those models on Instagram need it from likes. We all need it from somewhere. And that’s definitely ok. The most important form of getting validation should be from yourself. It’s a circle. The more validation you give yourself, the more confident you’ll be.

Hopefully I didn’t go on too much of a tangent, but if you get the jist of what I am trying to say, we would probably get along just fine.