I have never been one for competitions, or even competition. I know it is meant to make us stronger, hungrier and more aggressive, but that's just not me. My greatest challenger is me. I think everyone, even if they square up against others for top prize, is actually competing with themselves and their own expectations first, the difference is I have never cared much what others think.
Am I scared of failure, or even success? Not sure....maybe. Am I driven to do better as I define better to be, yes definitely.
Standards are important, accolades are not.
Standards allow you to strive for and attempt to reach a point you feel is the best you can do on your journey to do better. Being happy, but restlessly unsatisfied at the same time is a good thing. If you ask the world's top image makers if they have reached their maximum potential, or if they have stopped learning, most will tell you no.
Accolades are other people telling you have reached their required standard or at least have done the best out of a limited group of offerings, within a limited envelope, in their view. This is someone else applying their expectations or the limited expectations of the task given, to your work, not you.
How often does the best work fall short because it is a bit left of centre of the brief or the expectations of the judges. How many of the greatest images in history would fail to get a mention at the local photo club competition? A couple of years ago HDR images ruled the photo competition world (if I see one more rusty old car with cartoon HDR...), now it's a guarantee of competition failure.
We all make simple choices every day based on our instincts and experience, but how often do we let others tell us what to think when the stakes are higher? The opinion of others can be constructive, but it can be equally destructive. I remember when a friend won a photo competition and we all thought we knew which of the submitted images was the winner. When it was another "filler" image used to make up the numbers, it left us all with mixed feelings. Winning was great, but winning with an image that almost did not make the cut was confusing.
How many times do you see a sports person have a really great year, then crash out the year after? Maybe they have lost sight of what got them there in the first place, and when that solid ground crumbles, when the fear of not doing their best is replaced by misplaced confidence, overthinking or bad habits, they have nothing to support them. Often a team is running on that winning feeling, then a couple of setbacks come along and the unbeatable team turns into the easy beats, because they lost sight of the work needed to hold onto top spot.
If something is worth doing it is worth doing well regardless of the reason.
If you have little confidence in your own images, then use that to drive you to do better, trust that little voice of doubt, but make it a little voice compared to your bigger voice of determination. Other peoples opinions are fine as far as they go, but they are either pumping up your ego or making you to question your work. There is no middle ground here and both are a distraction. Take all criticism with open eyes and the same for accolades, be capable of seeing what others see, but keep a steady path, be true to yourself and move on. The same goes for inspiration. The photos of the greatest photographers help to set a standard in your own head, but that is their standard not yours, be firm in your vision.
If you do not trust your own images, no one will.
The message? Do your work to your standard, set your expectations as high as you can imagine and try to reach them. Anything less is selling yourself short. If you find yourself asking the question "I wonder if this will sell?" or "I wonder if others will like this?", you are already compromising your own standards. If you find yourself asking yourself the question "Is this what I am after, or can I do better?" you are on a better path.
Accolades and sales may come, but only if you stay true to the path that lead you here in the first place.