I recently read that whenever Pablo Picasso learned how to do something, he never did it again. He left it behind and continued on to learn something else. Not evolving is a creative's worst enemy. A school photographer is not an artist. He is doing the same thing over and over without too much creativity. A newspaper photographer, coming in to work every day to get his assignments that he thoughtlessly carries out, is not an artist. He might be producing, but he is not creating. After some years, their work is just that - work. A necessary evil that you’ll have to suffice to get your paycheck. But it won’t add anything to your life.
Coping with stress as a photographer
I try to stay away from every assignment and every project that does not contain a challenge. Small or big, but something that I do not already know. Not only for my own sake, but also for the client or viewer. If a photographer or artist treats an assignment like another mundane chore, it will show in the final result. Then, it is better to leave it for someone else to do, someone who enjoy it more.
I have a way to test myself to know that I continue to evolve, that each thing I do will teach me something new. I call it the Scared Shitless Test.
It is simple. If you do not feel a pretty hefty amount of stress/anxiousness before or during a creative assignment, you know it too well. If you weren’t scared shitless, even for at least a few minutes - you will come out on the other side with the exact same knowledge than before.
You might believe that after almost ten years as a professional photographer, I would not feel a lot of anxiety before a big job? Or when I’m travelling and trying to collect all the photos for an article? But I do. Almost every time. And whenever I have a big commercial shoot at home, I usually have a hard time falling asleep the night before- going through every part that could possibly go wrong or wondering if I forgot something. Even if it is mentally quite painful at the moment, I am glad that it is so!
"Man should not try to avoid stress more than he would shun food, love, or exercise."
That is the words of the Austrian-Canadian biological stress scientist Hans Selye.
Stress is good. It keeps you on your toes and makes sure that you are running idle, producing without thinking. It makes me go through all the photos I have taken every day, checking off the list in my head of all the “standard” images I will need for a travel article. The slight feeling of anxiousness makes sure that I know exactly what the article pitch is. And it definitely keeps the amount of photos to go through later down, because I never take a photo without thinking.
Also, this test is a great way of knowing if you are doing something you like. You wouldn't be anxious of failing unless you are doing something you care for, right?
Use the test to try out every project you do to see if it is making you develop as a creative or if it is something that you have already mastered. If you aren’t scared shitless, at least for a short while, you should do as Picasso did and try to find something new to learn.