Don’t Define Yourself

Portrait by Luis Donoso
Portrait by Luis Donoso

I recently re-read the “Tao Te Ching” and came across a quote that said something like, “If you define yourself, you will never know who you truly are.”

I’ve read hundreds of business, marketing, branding, and advertising books. They always tell you that you need to define yourself— define your mission statement, your “brand”, or what your specialty is.

For a long time, I’ve done that. I wanted to focus on branding myself as a “street photographer.” Of course it is my passion, and I wanted people to know it.

However in the recent few years, I’ve felt a bit trapped. I felt that by pigeon-holing myself into “street photography”— I haven’t been able to spread my wings as much.

At the end of the day, I see myself as a teacher.

So recently, I tried to change all of my biographies to something more general — “photography educator/teacher.”

But perhaps that is a bit too specific as well. Maybe I should have no biography, which would give me ultimate freedom.

Why is it dangerous to define yourself?

NYC, 2014
NYC, 2014

Many of us have many interests and passions in life. To simply define ourself with one definition can limit us. It can make us feel trapped.

By defining yourself within a narrow genre of photography, you might not have as many opportunities to “cross-pollinate” your style in photography.

For example, I have been criticized a lot for not being a “real” street photographer. And it is true. I mix fashion, portraiture, and other forms of photography into my work. Not only that, but I gain the biggest inspiration from sociology, psychology, and philosophy in my photography.

I know a lot of other photographers who consider themselves first artists and painters, and secondly photographers. I know many musicians who also do photography as a side-hobby. And their creativity knows no limits; because they don’t put themselves in a small cage of definition.

Un-define yourself

Hong Kong, 2014
Hong Kong, 2014

So friend, as an experiment try to “un-define” yourself. Don’t put cages on your limits. You were born for great things, not just one small thing.