Stop Whining and Grow!
Pilot p-500 by © Matthew Wright[1. Available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license]
Back in the late 1970’s, I was a student at Murray State University in Kentucky. My major was Broadcasting and I also double minored in Photography and Journalism. Five years earlier I had been diagnosed with severe dyslexia. Up until that point, I had gone through most of my life hearing teachers say I could do better if only I would apply myself but I never knew why I couldn’t spell, no matter how hard I tried. Live like that for all your childhood and your self-esteem will be a train wreck. Mine certainly was. By now you might be asking, why would a dyslexic student minor in Journalism of all things? Because, having majored in Broadcasting, by the last quarter of my final year I had already managed to attain all the credits I needed for a minor in Journalism without ever actually taking a writing class. All the credits but one: writing. My adviser said it was silly to miss getting a second minor in Journalism just because of one class so I was advised to take the intro journalism writing course.
Writing? I could hardly spell the word let alone write a feature article for a newspaper or magazine. Here I was in a journalism writing course trying to make sense of inverted pyramids and something to do with 5 W’s. This was nuts! But then something happened that changed my life forever. My first story was returned to me and it was, as we used to say, “Bleeding”. My prof/editor made it bleed. She used her red pencil and edited it. She marked all the misspelled words, bad grammar, bad paragraphs and well, anything else that stunk. It looked like the Battle of Little Big Horn and I was General George Custer. I was crushed. It was true; the pen was indeed mightier than the sword. What little self-esteem or ego I had, now lay dying. I so wanted to pull out my dyslexic card. You know, the one that gave me the sympathy vote and said: “Be easy on the kid. After all, he’s dyslexic.” But I didn’t. Instead I listened to my editor who saw my wounded and humiliated face. What she said changed my world. She said: “Matt, you can whine, protest, complain and make up excuses and never amount to anything, or you can listen, learn and become teachable. Editors can make you look good. They can be a writer’s best friend. But you have to trust your Editor and let them bring out the best in your writing.” My best friend? Really? This lady was on my side and somehow I passed that course. To this day, I can’t tell you how. Maybe just by sheer determination and listening to my editor but I got my minor and went on to work in broadcasting for five years.
What this professor said has stayed with me ever since. Now, 30 years later it still rings true. I may not be a lot of things but one thing I am, is teachable. How about you? Do you listen to criticism and direction or do you get defensive and try to defend your point of view? Are your images all they can be? Are you willing to let someone tell you the gut-wrenching, honest truth? If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s those online forums where everyone says how great an image is without ever giving any honest, critical feedback. What good is that except for boosting your ego? Certainly your talent, skills and abilities won’t grow. Do yourself a favor, find a mentor or at the least an honest friend with a good eye and let them tell you the truth about your work. Be willing to grow. Be teachable.