10 Things I Would Say to Myself at the Beginning of My MFA

In the fall of 2011 I began my Masters in photography. Last week I completed it. If I could go back in time these are 10 things I would say to myself beginning my MFA.

There will be times when  you’ll want to quit—I guarantee it. You’ll question yourself. A lot. You’ll question your skills. A lot. You will feel like everyone else is a better photographer and that you’re an imposter. It’s okay, it’s all part of the process. It’s likely that your goals will change as you develop your skills. That’s part of the process, too.

  1. Experiment, try new things and don’t be afraid of failure. Everyone fails at some point. What’s important is to learn from your mistakes.
  2. Trust your intuition. It seems like there’s always this need to know why but sometimes you don’t. Or you don’t know then, but you may know later. Trust your instincts and go with them.
  3. Only compare yourself to the photographer you were yesterday. When you look back on your earlier work you’ll see the difference.
  4. Celebrate how far you’ve come and remember that what you see others do is only half the story. You don’t know what happened behind the scenes. Green apples
  5. Have support somewhere—emotional support. Friends, family, someone you can talk to when things get tough. Don’t try to do it all on your own. When you have moments of doubt you’re going to need people that are there for you. People that won’t let you sell your gear and stop taking pictures.
  6. Take a camera with you everywhere, even if it’s just your phone, and take pictures all the time. Don’t worry if it’s not your professional gear. Tools are just that, tools, and you can take a good picture with anything.
  7. Shoot what you love. Who cares if it’s been done or if it’s not exciting to others? Your love for your subject will come through.
  8. Life will happen—take pictures anyway. There’s nothing like the regret of not taking a photo when the moment has passed.
  9. Listen to feedback from everyone but only keep what is of value to you. Some of what you hear may not be helpful now but as time passes it may turn out that they were right.
  10. Take breaks and find different ways to create. Working on one thing all the time is exhausting. Personal projects, other art forms, cooking, whatever you like doing but that’s different.

Most importantly, do it for the joy. Always remember what it feels like when you produce good work and why you decided to do this in the first place.

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