It's Not Fair
I came across a comment the other day that I can't get out of my head. I want to - because generally I try to avoid the thoughts that are behind that comment - fear, uncertainty, entitlement - but if I'm being honest with myself, it's also because there is a lot of vulnerability in it, too. The comment said something along the lines of "it's not fair".
It's not fair that a competitor lowered her rates. It's not fair that someone else got picked for that cover. It's not fair that the photographer one town over is booked solid, and all I hear is crickets. It's not fair that one workshop sells out in minutes, and another is struggling to even give away a seat.
Okay. So the truth is - I see this kind of comment all over the place. It's not just one person, one comment. It's so many of us. I'm not talking to any single person. I'm talking to all of us.
And I'm talking to myself.
I feel this way, too. I get jealous. I worry about what others are doing to get ahead that I'm not. I feel like after all the work I have put in, the literal tears and figurative blood, that it isn't fair when someone else makes it look so easy.
And yet. I know I'm someone else's "not fair".
Because that's how life works. We are trained, thanks to biology and a competitive society, to worry if we aren't rising to the top. "Survival of the fittest", and all that. We compare.
And you know what? It isn't fair. It isn't fair who gets picked for what sometimes. Or why the photographer with half your skills and education is closing with clients left and right.
All else being equal - it isn't fair.
But the work doesn't care. It isn't equal. It never once asked me to agree to "fair". That wasn't the terms when I signed on to all this. In fact, I'm pretty sure the terms went something like this:
"The creative life is hard - impossible, at times. You will likely fail to earn a living at it. It will wrap you up and spit you out, and the best you can hope for is a chance. A chance to earn this sort of living, and a chance to have your work seen by more people than just you. I make no promises, save this: I'm going to make it hard for you. Because if you want to live the dream, you have to do the work. And even then, no amount of dreaming and working can guarantee this will turn out for you. The hard truth is that sometimes the work isn't enough. The timing isn't right. Or the world just doesn't care."
But you know what? I don't care. I'll take those terms - because if you read between the lines, there is an awful lot at stake, and an awful lot of potential.
Yes, you may fail to earn a living at this. But - you have the chance to try, to be your own boss, to make something that matters.
Yes, this will be hard. But - the lessons you learn from all that hard will change you in ways that go far beyond the creative life. It will make you a better person, if you let it.
Yes, you have to do the work. Not because of the end result, but for the sake of the work itself. For the joy of creating art. For the joy of helping another person. For the joy of knowing you are in control of your life, and setting a good example for your kids or husband or most importantly: the self you never thought you could be.
I'm well aware that I write this from a position of someone who is seeing the work pay off. I am making a living at this, and it may seem easy to dismiss me because of that. But if you only see the "success" - the perception that you have that I am doing well - you miss the point. And maybe that is my fault, for not being more transparent.
Maybe we all need to be more transparent.
Yes, I am successfully living this creative life. But you weren't around for the years and years before it clicked. You didn't see me put my camera away for a year and let it collect dust. You didn't see me struggle to learn Lightroom, and resist a prime lens for far too long. And you aren't with me now when the rejection emails come in. When an idea falls on it's face. When an image just isn't good enough. When someone who doesn't know me tells me I can't do what I'm doing.
And you aren't with me on the long nights when I can't sleep, because I'm worried about the future and how to keep living this life. When the inquiries have been few and far between, though the bills seems to be able to find me every month without fail.
But. I'll take it all in a heartbeat. Every set back, every struggle, every chance to adapt and continue moving forward.
Even the ability to have a shot at this creative life is a gift. We aren't entitled to anything, though the "it's not fair" voices make us think so. Life isn't fair, and the creative life is no different. But we can support each other. We can brighten someone's day, and let them know that they are seen. We can remind each other that what we do matters, and even to have a chance to live this life is more than so many others have.
And then we can dig in, and focus on doing the work, rather than worrying about what's fair. I'll take a chance, over fairness, any day.