Stop Whining and Grow!

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.

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About The Author

Matt Brandon

Matt is a Malaysia based humanitarian and travel photographer. Well known as a photographer and international workshop instructor, Matt’s images have been used by business and organizations around the globe. Matt also on the design board for Think Tank Photo, a camera bag manufacturer. In 2013 Matt founded the On Field Media Project to train the staff of non-profits to use appropriate technology to produce timely as well as quality images.


  1. Sabrina Henry

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Matt. I’ve found it a challenge to find people who are able to give good feedback on my images but now I do have a few key people whose opinion I value. Their ability to explain how my image works or doesn’t work has helped me enormously. Thanks for another thoughtful post!

    • Matt Brandon

      Sabrina, Bambi Cantrell offers her readers a chance to have an image critiqued by her on her blog. She posts the image and writes a short but succinct critique of the image submitted. The photographer and her readers both get a chance to learn from it. I think Scott Bourne just started something like this as well. Do you feel something like this would be helpful here once in a while?

      • Sabrina Henry

        For me, there needs to be a dialogue between me and the person giving feedback on my images. We both need to ask questions to gain a better understanding of intent and expession. This approach doesn’t lend itself to receiving feedback through a forum or one-way form of communication. Something more real-time is better for me. I’ve heard good things about Bambi Cantrell though…

        • Jere Judd

          I go with Sabrina. Give and take is good and perhaps less intimidating. The very word criticism bring with it images of gallows and painful torture. Recently went thru a course at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke which was the best constructive criticism I’ve had in a while but not torture.

          Open, honest, called it like it was.

          But am I teachable? There’s more to the teaching than criticism and direction. I have to be willing to follow it.

          Some days I think I”m teachable. Then I review my own work, where I made the same mistakes, and wonder…

  2. David duChemin

    Truer words ne’er spoken, brother. Each time I get an email from my editor I cringe. My inner diva protests the changes and suggestions but you know what? He is always, always right (my editor, not my inner diva) My work is significantly better, and more true to who I am, for having an editor. Arrogance and a teachable spirit are mutually exclusive – the key then is finding an editor who “gets” us and whom we trust.

    • Matt Brandon

      Long time no hear. Thanks for chiming in. Yeah, that’s the trick. Someone that not only “gets” us but has the ability to push us forward to be our best.

  3. Thomas

    Maybe dyslexic people are teachable, some photogs may not, coz they simply lack in talent?

  4. Chris Plante

    It’s all about keeping an open mind.

  5. Dru

    Honest critique is hard to come by. People who simply say…nice image et al, do not help me a bit! Thank you for the suggestions. I wonder if there are others who are more inclined to the type of photography I do out there, to submit photographs to for critique? Evocative and in the moment? When you are searching to improve and need some pointers or suggestions, where DO you go? Thank you for the post, no whining or excuses…I just keep plugging away.

  6. peter berg

    good post Matt. Good mentors are as rare as hens teeth, not just in the world of photography. There is also a time and place for cutting the apron strings of previous leaders/mentors and stand on your own two feet for a bit. I think the issue is ultimately where we place our trust. – just felt like throwing in my 2cents worth. have a great Christmas Matt. Blessings-a-plenty 🙂

  7. Keith

    Let me critique this post: A+

    Teachability can also be defined as humility. And thats great thing.

    I had to take an English class 3 times before I could graduate.

    • Matt Brandon

      Thanks Keith for chiming in. Lets catch up.

      • Keith

        How about some mustard too? I’m going to N. and S. Vietnam in Feb. for a shoot and then heading over to Siem Reap, finally.

  8. Anonymous


  9. Thomas Schmidt

    Thanks for the post, Matt, insightful and aweinspiring, given the fact that you overcame these obstacles and write things like this today!

    I can only go with Keith in saying that teachability can also be defined as humility. Compared to my sister I had the huge luck to never really have problems with either reading, writing or spelling in general. My sister always struggled, but she pulled through. She sat down and worked hard, spending much more time on homework assignments than I ever did, learnt Russian despite herself and currently even is learning French, something that came easy to me and has always been like a minefield to her.
    But what my sister had – and I’m sure, still has – as advantage, is a better access to the word “humility” in the face of learning. Knowledge came to me, lodged itself and wouldn’t leave anymore. That worked most of the time. And when it didn’t just come like that, I left up, deserted the battlefield and ran for the hills.
    This, funnily, is something that photography has taught me in the recent years: If you can’t do it, go on, listen to people who KNOW and tell you that you need to study harder (or at all!), and just stop bitching about how it doesn’t come easy.


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