When is it ok or acceptable to finally let go of dreams or aspirations you may have had? Is it ever? Should we strive incessantly to chase our dreams? When does it become alright to say to yourself, ‘Enough is enough’, and to alleviate yourself of a dream you once cared passionately about? Is it a healthy and liberating thing to come to that realisation, where you come to terms with the shortcomings in your life, or is it something monumentally and catastrophically detrimental [and wrong] to do?
Is it ever ok to give up?
So much of life is built around the concept of achieving success and fulfilment in our lives, as well as giving our lives purpose. We as part of the wider world can strive to reach and surpass our potential, or we can simply ‘tread water’ and float through life being content with how things are. Those who take this path are inevitably looked down upon as not contributing to society at all. Some may contribute in other ways that aren’t necessarily conventional; perhaps in the case of an artist who is contributing not by their ability to earn money per se and contributing back to an economy, but through their contributions in culture. So, we are all seen as better beings for improving ourselves and becoming the best version of ourselves we can possibly be, usually by being motivated and attaining these set goals in our lives.
But how hard and how long do you try for something before you throw in the towel?
In my life, I always wanted to be a photographer. It was my dream as a teenager to make taking photos my means for a living. I still remember when dad came home one day when I was 14 with a beat-up old Canon film SLR from the 1980’s that he bought at a second hand and antiques auction. I still remember the magic and mystery about this now benign piece of equipment, and how I desperately wanted unlock those mysteries and take pictures. I remember buying 2nd hand How To photography books, as well as joining my school’s Photography club. I dabbled with photography over the years at school, entering the school’s photography competitions held annually, and going on to do photo collages for my major project in my final year at school.
I got accepted into the College Of The Fine Arts to study Photography in Paddington in Sydney once I had completed school, yet on the advice of my father I decided to follow my sister and do a Communications degree at another university instead. Photography, according to Dad, wasn’t a career choice. It was a hobby or novelty. As an impressionable 17 year old who was fearful of his father, I took that advice. Perhaps that was my first mistake, as I didn’t enjoy the Communications course and subsequently struggled and took 2 years longer to complete than it should have. After another year or two of malingering about aimlessly and simply working in restaurants and making do, I decided to make the decision to finally study Photography. My generous parents were gracious enough to endow me with a camera [A Nikon D200, still a great camera], and started working harder to buy all the necessary bits and pieces one needs as a Photography student. It was the most creative point in my life up to that time, studying Photography at an art school in North Sydney. It was so exhilarating and stimulating having the privilege to create without bounds. I made so many friends, created so much work and gained a lot of knowledge and experience. It culminated with the fact that I met my boyfriend of six years there; something that I know would never have happened had I gone to do the Photography course at COFA years before. I think about this sometimes and think that it’s serendipity that we met. The fact is that had I not gone there to study Photography at that time, I would never have met the love of my life, and I most likely wouldn’t be sitting here writing this.
Since completing my Photography degree years ago, I’ve worked a number of jobs as a freelance Photographer as well as an Assistant and contracted Photographer. However, it never seemed to pick up or take off as much as I had hoped. Maybe I wasn’t talented enough. Maybe I wasn’t trying or pushing hard enough to get to where I wanted, which was simply success. I began to regret my choice of wanting to become a Photographer, and in the last couple of years began to despise Photography itself as an art and lose interest in it. For me, it used to be an exercise in creating worlds that are set apart from mundane reality. It was my way of recording my subconscious, my thought processes and visually getting out those flashes of inspiration that would hit me like a wave in the small hours of the morning.
So what happened, and what now?
I’ve slowly come to terms with the fact that I won’t, and honestly nor do I want, to ever be a professional full-time working Photographer. I don’t think I’m put together right for that world. I’m not a hustler, not a pusher or a mover or shaker which I find is essential for that role and lifestyle. A great Photographer is someone active, vibrantly larger than life and full of personality and energy. Their drive, passion and exuberance is something that I lacked. As a friend once said, I wasn’t ‘hungry enough’ for it. This rang true with me for a long time. Maybe I truly wasn’t hungry enough to want success as a Photographer. This thought was oddly liberating, mainly as up until that point the effort needed for me to reach my goal far outstripped the gains from it. I could no longer afford to do shoot after shoot for agencies for little to no pay. I could no longer afford the stress of organising whole shoots for little in return, or live with the pressure that I needed to try harder and harder. As stoic and uplifting as Winston Churchill’s famous quote is,
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.’
It felt more productive for me to come to the realisation that things do not always go as planned, and to accept the reality of the situation, and to come at it from another angle, and/or find a new path to walk down. These days, writing has become my means of expressing myself. I am a visual person, yet I can also create worlds and vision with my words. My words have become my pictures, and my computer and notebooks my camera.
And you know what, I’m ok with that. Photography will always be something that I love and have an interest in, but I no longer care to put myself under the pressure and resulting pain from failing to reach where I want to go. It’s time for me to let go.
Is it ok then, to finally let go of a dream? I think many people will disagree with this, that it is indeed the wrong thing to do and like Winston Churchill’s aforementioned view on this subject, it is never ok to simply lie down and give in. Where would we be as a species had we just simply gave up whenever anything became to difficult? Still in a miasmic pool of genetic soup. I agree that in this situation one has to keep trying and trying to get to where they deserve. Determination pays off in the end. But on the other hand, I feel that it is a very Western, Americentric thing to believe in absolute self-determination and rugged individualism. I feel this attitude of one simply being able to be or do anything in one’s life is admirable, yet can also be dangerously misguided. I grew up being told I could be anything I wanted to be. It’s great and necessary to have ambitions in life. Yet the obvious truth is I could never be that astronaut, or the Prime Minister. Imagine a forty year old fervently believing and endeavouring to become that astronaut after years of being an accountant or working in marketing for instance. It’s a practical impossibility. As much as I’d love to lead the country in the right direction, or blast off to space, I know that this isn’t going to happen. Sometimes, it seems preferable and feels better to be told that a goal is not realistic and that it is better to find an alternate avenue. It can be supremely liberating to come to this realisation. Which is where I’m at now.
So for me right at this moment I feel it’s ok to give myself a break and let go of an aspiration or dream, or at least change it; make it more manageable and realistic and therefore enjoyable. Without enjoyment what is the point to anything? The important thing I’m finding as I get older is that dreams, goals and aspirations change, evolve and are in flux. Much like we do as people. We are constantly changing, growing and become a new version of ourselves. They say a person’s skin is completely regrown in a seven-year cycle. I’m beginning to believe this pertains to the mind and soul as well. We shed our old selves, as well as our old selves aspirations, thought patterns and dreams. To be replaced by fresh new ones. As long as there is something in your life which is good for your soul, it is a liberating thing to let go of a dream, yet an even better and healthier thing to gain another in it’s place.