On Specialization and Passion

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!

3 Replies to “On Specialization and Passion”

  1. Holy cow girl… this is one little piece of a larger pondering that I am doing right now. i am just getting started with my passion (canvas, paint, paper, pencil) and have had a LOT of trouble focusing in and even getting started for that matter. most of what you say here is well into the future for me.. (10 yrs? really? do you know how old i am? augh!) i figure that i am following the passion and really not concerned about the $$ rewards.. but i still bounce from one idea to another and from one medium or method to another with no plan in mind for my overall and long term process/goal. this blog will be my inspiration to think more closely about what i am doing and i am sure will help me to focus better.. maybe.. after i have considered all the … hmmm… ha ! welll ..thanks just the same.

  2. An interesting premise for sure… >And following your bliss is always a good thing as far as I am concerned… I suppose, my dream would be for my bliss, passion, etc…to be able to be merged with my livelihood… I imagine as you trim your focus, it is possible that these paths both converge but then diverge again, and perhaps again and again… But I still dream the dream…one day…lol…of course, for me, I still have to figure out what that all is… Bliss for me now is more figuring out what balance of life makes me happy… Life right now is full of a plethora of things…I am anything but focused, but eh, it’s still lots of fun exploring…and meandering along random paths…

  3. Fransi, as far as I’m concerned, following your passion is the VERY best thing you can do – you’re on the right track! And bouncing from one idea to another, can be a part of that. I guess my point was that when I know something isn’t working for me anymore, it really is good to eliminate it from my life – even if it feels scary to do so. And believe me, it feels scary! But it also feels right, so I’m forging ahead. But if the bouncing from idea to idea feels right in the moment, I’m all for that. I don’t want to artificially narrow my focus, I just want to drop the dead weight. You know? And Elisa, I agree, with the converge and diverge comment. Never say never, and all that jazz…

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