I’ve been thinking a lot about specialization lately – it’s part of the natural evolution of an artist, so it’s not that unusual to think at length about it – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a bit scary.
There’s a new book out – which I haven’t read, but I did read the reviews! Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell outlines why some people are lucky enough to live “remarkably productive and impactful lives, while so many more never reach their potential.” And he puts forth the premise that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach mastery of your field. Back when I was an actor I heard it took ten years, when I started studying photography I also heard ten years. Of course, everyone thinks they’ll do it faster and better, and sometimes you think you really are ahead of that curve – but now that I’m in my 13th year as a photographer, I can look back and agree that yeah, it really did take me about 10 years. I produced some amazing images in my first year – natural talent does have something to do with it! But after ten years, it was just different. Better. I’d never thought about the number of hours – but 10,000 sounds about right. That averages out to about 20 hours a week for 10 years – and that’s hours of “practice” which means hours where you were pushing yourself in some way. If you spend 20 hours doing the same thing every week you’ll get very good at that one thing!
Last week I went to a big Studio Opening in LA, and specialization kept coming up as I talked to other photographers. To be remarkable, you really do have to narrow your focus – it’s impossible to be everything to all people. And it happens naturally as you progress in your career. Certain projects elicit great passion, and others not so much, so it’s only natural to follow your bliss – right?
But what if your passion is leading you into areas that are less than profitable? And you see your peers scooping up money in buckets all around you – and the only difference is that their passion leads them into more profitable arenas? What then? Do you follow the lead of your friends and try to feel the love for something new? Or do you forge ahead on your own path, knowing that the only real success comes from passion. Think about it – if you’re like most people all your great successes in life came in areas where you felt great passion, and that passion fueled your drive, and led directly to success. It’s the natural way…
So why then do we balk at following our own path? I don’t know. I just know that at times specialization comes easy for me – I strip away anything in my life that doesn’t excite me and move me. And other times, I agonize over the next step and find it hard to take any action at all. Right now I’m in a stage of big growth – and I’m stripping away some things that no longer work for me with great glee, and holding onto other things out of fear – and it’s not over yet! After all these years I’m still narrowing my focus as an artist, and it’s scary and amazing all at the same time.
Specialization, passion, and evolution as an artist… Overthinking it can make you crazy, but sometimes a little overthinking feels good, if it helps you get back on your OWN path. You know that path? The one where your passion leads you!